For my longest “I Tried Writing Like…” experiment yet, I figured check-ins were important!
As a refresher, or for those of you who don’t know, Ray Bradbury’s ~practical advice~ to writers can be boiled down to:
1) Write 1000 words a day.
2) Read a poem each day.
3) Read an essay each day.
4) Read a short story each day.
5) Write one short story per week.
And to keep track of my progress on those 5 goals, I’ve been using Notion:
Which is all fine and good and my chart looks pretty, being mostly filled in.
This isn’t the type of accountability I need. Though the daily reading is both harder and easier than I expected — easier because it’s quite nice to sit down with a cup of coffee and flip the pages for an hour or so and harder because what I really want to do is just read all day instead of working — I was never worried about getting it done.
I wasn’t even worried about the 1,000 words. Even on weekends, when I half-ass taking time off and not writing, I still get 500, easy.
Nope! I was worried about the short story each week. In part because I don’t often write short stories, though I’ve been trying to flex that muscle more recently. (Which actually is the main reason I decided to try writing like Ray Bradbury in the first place…) Mostly my nerves were because I could so easily see myself completing the zero draft of the short story, forgetting about it amongst all my other Real WorkTM for the week, and then looking at what I’d done and calling it “good enough.”
But if I had to post about it on the blog…
And if I had to share the short story…
Well, look. I’m not saying this short story is perfect. No one but me has read it, and I had a very specific goal while writing it in the first place: not using any dialogue. (Because I’m a genius with titles, yes, that is why it’s called “No Dialogue” in the Notion screenshot.) This short story has gone through a couple revisions though! The zero draft was a mess (as always), the first draft was at least cohesive (though a little ham-fisted), and HERE is the 2nd draft (in which I don’t think I completely got rid of the ham-fistedness. Perhaps now bacon-fisted? I’ll see myself out…).
So may I present to you: No Dialogue.
(Seriously, I need a better title. Maybe this should be part of the challenge, to legitimately title my work. Alas, that’s a problem for next week and Future Kate.)
First came the stomps. Second, the shouts. Either way, the house rattled, the tiny crystals on the chandelier clinking together as they shook, overwhelmed by the noise. Trinity dropped her head slightly to look up the rest of the stairs. Even from behind two doors, muffled as they were, she could still make out the words. His. Hers. Shouts. Screams. Howls of misunderstood agony and accusations, not-so-idle threats. Always, always, always loud.
Trinity scaled the stairs slowly, a war waging in her mind as brutal as the one a few rooms away. She let her backpack slide off her shoulders and slump onto the white carpet next to the double doors. She lifted her hand, resting it on the doorknob. It was cool to the touch, a pretty bronze. Her parents had fought about that too. Her dad had wanted silver ones, something that matched the other appliances, but her mom won that fight. She often did.
Trinity’s breath shook as she finally twisted the doorknob, but she couldn’t push it open, not yet. She hadn’t decided what she wanted. To break up the fight? She didn’t know. Sometimes, if her parents knew she and Serenity were around, they’d stop screaming. Not for long. But they would, for a moment, pretend that everything was okay. Trinity liked pretending sometimes too.
After silently counting to five, Trinity pushed the door open, only to find she wasn’t the only one in her dad’s library. Her sister sat on the white loveseat, a book in her hand and a glass of sweet tea to her right, set on the side table constructed out of wood and carved to look like a hand flipping someone off. Another fight. Her mom thought it gaudy; her dad thought it novel. Dad won that round, but only because he’d snuck back to the shop and bought it, waiting until mom was out of town for Fashion Week to place it in his library. Even though her own office was connected to it by the bathroom, where their voices now echoed, she rarely entered “his space.” She had hers and he had his, and if they could divide the rest of the house that way, they probably would’ve tried.
Sometimes Trinity wondered if the table was more than just a metaphorical “fuck you.” A physical expression of how her dad felt. A picture of their “family vacation” to the Evergreens, framed in silver, sat next to the sweet tea. She and Serenity were eleven then and spent more time with their nanny, grandparents, and the photographer. With people meant to keep them busy while their parents were off doing who knew what for “the business.”
That was the first time Trinity remembered the “how dare you”s, the “I thought we talked about this,” the “shh, the kids are upstairs.” She also remembered how quickly the reminders to be quiet turned into accusations of silencing turned back into screaming, turned into the routine they all knew now so well.
Something smashed into the other side of the wall, and a few collectibles fell off the bookshelf, crashing onto the hardwood floor. A few more teetered, then fell, tiny crystals shattering. No more banging, no more shouting, as if everyone had realized something had gone too far.
Was it a bar of soap?
Trinity didn’t want to imagine. The impact played over and over in her mind, amplifying what might’ve been, favoring the worst-case scenario.
Without the shouting, the gentle whirr of the overhead fan filled the silence, as did Serenity’s finger as it brushed against the page. Even Trinity’s own heartbeat tried its best to be heard, thumping against her ribcage, repeatedly pounding, louder and louder, as the silence stretched on.
Taking a few steps forward, Trinity opened her mouth, desperately needing the words to find their way out, to stop the fighting, at least for today, at least for an hour. From her periphery, she saw Serenity’s arm-waving wildly. Already unsure, Trinity stopped. She glanced over. With a finger pressed to her lips, Serenity shook her head. So together, they waited. They watched. They wondered. The prolonged silence stretched, somehow more scary than the screams. Never before was Trinity thankful for the odd comfort of knowing they were home.
Eventually, Serenity’s arm outstretched, pulling Trinity down onto the couch. She sank into its plushness, instinctively wrapping the waffle blanket around herself. She needed comfort, what little she could find. And for a few eons more, time seemed to stretch, no one speaking, no one shouting. Not even a whisper. Trinity would have thought her sister was somehow immune to the clutches of discomfort except that her eyes continued to skim the same paragraph over and over. Not really reading, not really seeing.
When the low grumbles began from the other side of the door, Trinity sunk deeper into the couch, relief flowing through her that she’d have to question later. Grunts answered the grumbles, both sounds merging, becoming louder and louder as they fought to be the one heard, and soon the shouts were back. Trinity shuddered.
She glanced away from the door, more confident now that her parents wouldn’t come out for a while. They’d likely forgotten the time. Didn’t realize summer school was over. That it had been for hours.
The bookshelves were littered with novels of all genres, research papers from several fields. Still, Trinity’s eyes instead focused on the abundance of family portraits. The ones their parents bought specific outfits for, matching, of course, up until they were about ten. The ones they posed in for hours, changed locations, plastered smiles on their faces that melted as soon as the lens pointed elsewhere.
Pinstripe overalls when they were five, Hawaiian shirts on vacation when they were seven, tie-dye and sparkles and tutus and tuxes. All the same smiles, none too wide, mostly perfected.
Fingers tapped at her palm, and Trinity looked down at her hand, her sister intertwining their fingers together. Trinity looked up to see Serenity’s face mirroring hers. No fake smile there. Her glass was empty, her tea gone, and a bookmark stuffed between the pages. The screams and shouts waged on, but they’d faded into the background again. Just the sound of coming home, the sound of her parents, the sound of family.
Serenity squeezed her hand once. Twice. Three times.
A chuckle escaped Trinity’s mouth and she slammed a hand over her face. That only made her giggle harder, and soon Serenity was stifling her laugh too. Trinity’s own eyes began to well, at the pain of trying to stop her laugh and also from keeping that fake grin on for so, so long.
Once upon a distant time, their parents had taught them that squeeze, what it meant. When they were forced to pose together, often hand-in-hand, they’d take turns squeezing, reassuring. Sometimes they’d squeeze too hard, and they’d start fighting, and it was always the nanny or their granny that stepped in.
Then their granny passed, and grandpa moved away, and they grew too old for a nanny, or their parents could no longer afford one. Trinity was never sure who won that fight or truly who was arguing what. Sometimes she wondered if her parents knew what they were arguing about. The words themselves never seemed to matter, so much as who could make the other hurt more.
Trinity’s giggle died in her throat, the few tears that sprung still trickling down her cheek. She stared into her sister’s eyes, not welling with tears but sad and disappointed and unsure all the same. Trinity squeezed Serenity’s hand three times, an echo of the unspoken words that their parents no longer said. I love you.
Tada! At 1,294 it’s my “completed” short story.
I want to reiterate again that this hasn’t been beta read or edited or seen by anyone but yours truly. (And you now, I guess! Bahaha.) I only want to emphasize this because of how much better stories are once they’ve been beta read, once people question your work, once they point our where they were confused or where they think you were bacon-fisted (sorry, again, so sorry), or any number of other things.
In Ray Bradbury’s challenge to writers, he basically says that if you write one short story a week for a whole year – 52 short stories! – there’s no way they’ll all be bad. He thinks eventually you’ll stumble upon a thing of greatness. One or two or three out of the fifty-two.
So while my personal challenge is only four weeks long, I’m kiiiiiind of hopeful I’ll stumble upon a hint of greatness. That I’ll find a short story that I’ll want to submit to a magazine or journal.
This one isn’t it though. But it was fun! I challenged myself not to use dialogue and to post it up for people to see and by those measures, I feel successful. 🙂
Please do let me know if you’re also participating in this challenge, and if you’ve decided to post your short stories for others to read, leave me a link! Thanks everyone and happy writing!