Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"Untitled Short Story," Author's Commentary

First of all, all credit goes to Islamic for publishing this story. The original version of the story was extremely well-written, and packed the punches in all the right places, but I've always had a penchant for adaptations. I thought I would adapt this into a story, and thus was born my first short story.

Of course, strictly speaking, by the length of the narrative I constructed, it isn't really a story. The word count is too low and if the story was portrayed in real-time, it would probably span 10 to 15 minutes. With the general guidelines of what sort of narrative density a short story should be, it should be noted that a short story is actually something that can at least be adapted into a 2-hour movie. Several good examples of short stories on the big screen is the award-winning Shawshank Redemption, a short story by Stephen King, and Minority Report, a short story by Philip K. Dick.

Therefore, all apologies for the misnomer. It's up there now, and I don't think it right to change it. "Untitled Short Story" it remains.

The inspiration, like I said, was from Islamic, but the drive was actually an external one. Having been involved in the campus magazine for the past 2 years, I was approached by a particularly intelligent young man who wanted to work for me. It being the middle of the semester, and the magazine not recruiting anybody till the next year, I had to turn him down, but I had seen some of his work in a "teen magazine" in Bangladesh, The Daily Star's "Rising Stars" feature. As such, I approached him if I could contribute to the magazine.

Once confirmed that my contributions were welcome, I was adamant that my short stories had to reflect well on the people who were reading them. I had realized early on that it was a "teen magazine," and having read several thousands words of drivel passing off as "stories" in the Rising Stars, I wanted to make my mark by having a story rich in not only language and narrative, but in a message, a hidden ideal that I might brush off on the unwary reader. I had read everything from SWAT-team sieges of banks to the most awfully mass-produced, tacky, tasteless romantic literature on that magazine, and I wanted to offer something different.

As such, true to the Hollywood spirit, I proceeded to tear apart the characters in the story skeleton I took from Islamic Everything would be different, save the main story, and the message intended in the original. Firstly, I changed the setting from the Masjid Al Haraam in Makkah, to a local mosque in some other country, so readers can relate more immediately. Secondly, I changed the African sister to a little girl, to represent innocence. Thirdly, I changed the main character who was a rich Saudi in the original story, to a bleeding-heart fool with a decent head on his shoulders, named Fareed. Fourthly, lastly and most importantly, I changed the beggar, from a run-of-the-mill beggar to an introspective, slightly exaggerated old sap.

The extremity of the character of the beggar was pointed out to me by a friend, but I have to maintain that stories, at times, tend to have exaggerated characters. The storyteller does this on purpose, to get a point across. Subtlety is an important thing, but even a sledgehammer is a useful tool at times.

It was a tremendous experience crafting all these elements into a story. It is indeed most surprising, that a lot of the creativity involved in such work comes spontaneously, almost out of the blue, as if my hand were forced. As my first story, I had a good deal of fun writing it, and even more fun reading it afterward. Many of the changes, for example, the little girl, were spontaneous. Many others, for example Fareed's unwillingness to pay, but his inner desire to, was not, and it had to be beaten into shape at the smithy.

So as it evolved, and I added a few more elements here, some thoughts to the self there, subtleties in Fareed's unwillingness to pay with his stiff jaw and terse reply, subtely acknowledging his desire to give in to the emotions this beggar is inciting, things started working more and more, the tones began to resonate, and constructively interfere.

Then, after I had finished my final draft, I let it sit for a few days, and then read it again another day. I noted things I had not noticed before. For example, Fareed, the emotional sap he is, is a direct reflection of me. He also happens to be the only person in the story with a name. None of the other characters have any, and the only person that I can relate to most personally, is the only person with a name. A subconscious stroking of the ego, perhaps. Then I noticed, for all the love that went behind constructing Fareed, the true main character of the story is actually the unnamed little girl, because it is in the actions of the girl that the message of the story lies! What that message is, of course, I'll leave it to the reader to think about, because that's where the real fun lies.

Then I realized, perhaps the subtelties I note in many authors isn't something that they consciously put into their stories, but something that their subconscious puts into the narrative, without their necessarily knowing it. Perhaps the way we think and the way we look at the world affects us at every level, even when we are moulding a story to make it work with an audience. Maybe hidden messages we try to reveal in our stories, be they short stories on a blog, or ghost stories by a campfire, or small anecdotes of what happened to you at the immigration office, is a reflection of our own larger perceptions of the world around us.

Although the story was very nice, it wasn't mine. As far as the messages are concerned, although they may be practical and noble and praiseworthy, I didn't explicitly put all those messages into the story; some of them just found their way there. As far as the telling of the story goes, I'm a little disappointed by it, and I think it could use a rewrite. I will, however, not indulge, and leave it as it is, in all its imperfection. As such, all good in that story didn't really come from me, and all bad did.

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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)