As work on my novel continues, and continues, and continues... I've needed to take a step back and breathe. For me, that means writing and hearing fresh voices in my head. If you're not a writer, the idea of voices in your head that don't scare the pants off you may seem odd. But for my peeps out there, you understand.
I walk around this world overhearing snatches of conversations that make me wonder what is the story behind that. On Monday, I was shopping at the local CVS with my daughter for some last minute Valentine's Day candy for a class party.
We witnessed and overheard a mother and daughter. Sounds innocent right? But here's the story part. The girl was having an absolute meltdown over buying a gift for what I suspect was her father. She kept saying, "I know he likes tools. I need to get him tools." The mother (my heart did go out to her) was exasperated beyond belief. Her idea, based on what I saw her picking up, was candy and a Valentine. The daughter was having none of it and full-on meltdown, screaming, tears, the works followed. What made the exchange interesting from a story perspective was the girl was about nine or ten. This was no toddler tantrum.
We made our purchases, politely gave the family their privacy, and left. But that exchanged left me thinking about the story. I surmised that this was a divorced mother and father. She wanted to help her daughter maintain the important other parent relationship. A card and some candy was an easy and inexpensive give. But the daughter had other ideas. It's hard to be a single parent. And if you have an emotional child upset about something that is your doing - the divorce - your heart would be breaking and your patience wearing thin that yet again your husband was causing such a commotion. Add in all the thoughts and feelings the swirl around the holiday of love and this is a story that has emotion, is oozing conflict, and sympathetic characters. It's a great start to a short story.
During my book break, I've been exploring short stories. It's not my usual medium. I like the flash fiction medium - stories that run 500 to 1500 words. It's hard. You need to write more than a scene. You need to establish a setting, a mood, motivation, and a full character arc. My CVS Valentine's Day encounter has all of it.
The hard part with writing the stories is the courage to let them go into the wild. I've pulled on my thicker skin and I now have several stories out for what I hope will be acceptance in some literary journals. We writers, all creative types, need acceptance and ego boosts to keep us writing. My hope is to craft better stories, find the common tug that makes my view of the world interesting to others.
I do hope that the mother and daughter at the drug store found an acceptable gift - a compromise that didn't boil into the rest of their night and into Valentine's Day. I left with a story idea and that maybe the biggest gift off all.