I’ve started working on my short story for my creative writing class (one that I will hopefully parlay into a proposal piece for a grad school application) and would love to share the first draft of chapter one that I just finished. Take a look at that and the proposal/outline I created for it – it’ll give you a sense of where I want to take the entire piece.
“Letters to Serah”
By Nick Christian
The bar was unusually packed for a Saturday night. There was new music, new people, new smells – why was there new smells? I was just here yesterday and everything smelled normal. Everything smells so different now.
Paul and George were in the corner booth watching Kami do a lap around the room. Paul, a 38-year old surfer with a penchant for high-quality weed works in the English department with me at state. George, a travel writer whose age I have never really been sure about, has been in town for a couple months after doing a 12 month stint following a Sherpa around central Asia. When they saw me they were loud.
“Taren!” the two screamed in drunken unison. I made my way through the insufferable menagerie of men and women in form fitting clothes, doused in a selection of various fragrances, rationalizing their intentions with every sip of overpriced booze and pharmaceutical grade drugs. After losing all faith in humanity, I got to the booth.
“What’s Kami doing?” I asked, sitting down.
“He’s pulling a Hitch” said George.
“Remember that scene in Hitch when Will Smith talks to Eva Mendes for the first time by posing as her husband so she doesn’t have to talk to the dude that’s trying to hit on her?” began Paul.
“Well, that girl in the booth next to us has been knocking pucks out of the crease like she was a good goalie on a bad hockey team. He’s gonna try and make his move soon.” Paul finished and we all looked over at Kami who suddenly was walking towards the woman. Kami, a first-year math teacher at state, was just out of grad school and had horrible luck with women despite a natural rapport with everyone.
Kami walked next to the booth and watched the red-haired woman subtly disregard the latest random guy to sit opposite her. After a beat, he made his move.
“Hey baby, sorry I’m late. How was the meeting?” Kami handed her a new drink and stood beside the table.
“It went great, thank you for asking” the woman looked over and smiled but winked at the other man. The man across from her rolled his eyes, got up and began to walk away. Before Kami could get a word in the man came back to the table.
“I’m going to go call the kids and order the pizza” the man said and proceeded to walk away once more.
“He’s your husband” Kami stated blithely.
“Yep” smiled the woman.
Kami, dejected, finally made his way back to our table and sat down, drawing a ceremoniously well-spirited slow golf clap.
“I thought you had her buddy,” George said reassuringly.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Kami, taking a sip from his beer, “What’s going on here?” After a moment of nothings, I relented.
“I got her first letter today.” A deft silence overtook the three for a brief moment as if the energy of our friendship crashed and had to be restarted by some sort of backup generator from within each of us.
“What the fuck did it say?” demanded Paul.
“I haven’t opened it yet.”
“Why not?” chirped George.
“I honestly don’t know. I’ve been moving all day and wanted to wait until I was in a place where I can have some privacy to read it – just to respect and contemplate the whole process.”
“Your agreement was fucking stupid, man” Kami blurted and waived the waitress over for another shot and a round.
Maybe it was stupid. When Serah got offered the teaching gig in London we talked, at length, about what it would mean for our relationship. Neither of us wanted to be waiting by a phone or a computer for the mere chance that the other might call and the waiting for each letter would only build the passion and yearning towards each other. It would have been so easy to call her, so easy to message her on one of infinite devices that are exceedingly readily available, but would each communication be meaningful if it was so easy? The fact that we agreed to write these letters makes every damn syllable special.
“Read it already” Kami said. I pulled the envelope from my pocket and took the letter out. It smelled like her. It smelled normal. Like lilacs.
“You’re going to read it aloud right?” Paul asked as I was opening the fold.
“Why would I do that?”
“We’re her friends too.”
He had a point. When I landed the fellowship at state a couple of years back Paul was the one to introduce me to Serah. George edited her earlier papers and Kami, well Kami was just a Lothario we lovingly laughed at – like Barney, Stinson, not the dinosaur.
“What if it’s personal?”
“Then summarize” added George.
I looked at the paper and looked up at the eagerly awaiting faces and Kami, who was already planning his next failed conquest. Screw it.
“Taren,” I started, “All I wanted to do for the first three days I got to London was post pictures to Instagram. You should see some of the cool things I’ve taken pictures of. The sunset from my apartment is insane. I have this patio outside my apartment and my favorite thing about London is sitting outside and watching the sunset. You would love it. You’d sit out there and write your shitty poetry in that old brown notebook. It sucks you aren’t here. I miss you.”
“Why aren’t you there again?” interrupted George.
“I had just gotten tenure. I’m 29 and a tenured professor at a university. I couldn’t give up all of that and she didn’t want me to do that. Serah’s guest lecturer series will only last a year and then she will be back here, back to me. I guess I wanted to keep a home for her.”
With that I started reading again. “The campus is so beautiful. There is this tree that has these lovely pink petals that seem to fall down to create a blanket every afternoon. I like to sit there, sip coffee between classes and watch the freshman flirt with each other. It’s rather funny.
“Bullet points, please, bullet points,” pleaded Kami. George and Paul let out a muffled laugh and I scanned the letter for things they might be interested in.
“She likes the faculty, hates the food, and mentions a pub and how she can’t wait to actually have cold beer again.”
“Oh that would suck” overlapped Paul.
“Then she goes on to list some people that she has met and talks about missing me.”
“Any dudes?” asked Kami.
“One or two.”
“How much detail does she go into them?” Paul added.
“Not much, just a list of people she hangs out with really. It isn’t much more than that.” I turned my beer over nervously and scratched at the back of the label.
“Don’t worry about it. If she doesn’t go into detail about any particular guy then there is nothing to worry about” Kami said, backtracking. We all paused for a moment afterward, internally convincing ourselves of the probabilities. It wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen. We are stronger than that.
And then my proposal…
Final Project Proposal: “Letters to Serah”
For my final project I will write a 15-20 page short story that I am currently calling “Letters to Serah.” I view the work as sort of a modern, social version of The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. It’s going to be a love story but the love story will eventually deteriorate and they’ll (potentially) find themselves parting as the distance between them becomes insurmountable. While I will explain the plot, I want to point out that there are a couple of things that I am really excited about in regards to this project.
Communication in our society is instantaneous. Someone in Massachusetts can contact a person in New Zealand and see them in a matter of seconds if they have an appropriate internet connection. The idea of having the two lead characters write letters (or agree to write letters to each other) is fascinating to me because it stands in the face of social convention and says very specific things about their relationship: Why are they delaying the gratification of seeing each other? Does one person want more space than the other? Will the longing intensify the relationship and cause a stronger connection?
The social aspect to this is interesting to me. When someone thinks of a letter they think on an innately personal and private thing. But what happens to a letter when it is read in public? In front of friends? In front of family? Does the sanctity of a letter, of the emotions expressed in ink, change with who and how it is expressed? I want to look at that in my story and see what any specific setting brings out of the characters. It will also be able to provide the text with additional voices – something to take away from the heaviness of “I love you, no I hate you, yadayadayada”.
As of right now I am envisioning the plot structure mirroring the chapters. Chapter one will be the exposition, two will feature the inciting incident and rising action, three will be our climax and so on and so forth.
The story will feature alternating points of view and will begin with Taren walking into a bar to have a drink with his friends. This will cover a lot of exposition and he will eventually get pressed into reading the letter, which he hasn’t read yet, aloud to his friends which will garner their own specific reactions and incite him to write his own response.
The second chapter will be from the point of view of Serah and we will get the first glimpse into her world. At the moment I’m torn on how to first portray her setting. Part of me wants her isolated, trying to adapt in her new world, and the other wants to have her with a group of people from the beginning. Regardless I want to have Serah’s situation evolve to a point in which she is constantly meeting new people and questions her relationship with Taren as the story progresses – I’m just a little hesitant to do it from the start. I might have to, due to space concerns, but it will definitely be something I work and rework in drafts (maybe even write a couple of alternates).
Chapter three will feature the climax. I don’t know if I want it to be Serah meeting another guy, another girl or be some other reason why they cannot stay together or why their initial plan can no longer change. I do want it to occur at some sort of family event – something along the lines of Taren having a family event and agreeing to read the letter aloud so everyone else will learn what Serah has been doing lately. How Taren reacts could be really interesting.
Right now I am thinking of four as a shift. Having a shift in the falling action is intriguing to me. It could possibly find Serah waiting for a letter that never comes and she almost breaks the promise they made by either trying to call Taren or potentially logging on to some sort of social media to see if he has broken his promise. Another idea is to feature Serah in her room, with some sort of action happening around her, trying to write a response to Taren and dealing with feelings of isolation in the massive group of people she has collected.
Five, my potential denouement, will be a reconnection in which they either break up or they get back together. I know I want it to involve a phone call. Taren reads her latest letter and needs a response – needs gratification – so he calls Serah. If I decide to take the story on the “Love rules all” road she’ll pick up and they will work stuff out. If it’s more of a breakup I’d love to write about her staring at the phone and letting it go to voicemail – maybe texting back a one word response of “sorry”. It will honestly come down to feel when I start writing.