Chasing Shadows: A Young Writer Tackles The Short Story


Lelia Goldoni and Ben Carruthers on the set of John Cassavetes' Shadows, 1959
The following is a random glimpse into the creative process of a writer at work on a short story.

Part I: Motivated by an exciting idea, she begins to write the actual story:

They meet on the subway. She gets on first at Broadway. Slipping a hand just inches before the sliding doors shut, he squeezes himself through at 14th Street. She is reading a worn copy of [INSERT a title that foreshadows the story and also serves as a metaphor for love and loss. A classic, but not too old. Something from the ‘50s. Maybe the story should take place in the ‘50s, leaving room for a film adaptation in black and white with lots of smoke and jazz playing in the background...] found buried under a stack of books on I Ching at the Eighth Street Bookshop. Sitting across from her, he opens his brown leather satchel and pulls out a copy of the New York Herald-Tribune.

Part II: The initial burst of inspiration begins to fade, but exhaustion has yet to creep in. Still excited by her objective and the desire to nurture her story-baby, the young writer takes to her journal to flesh out the plot, the details of which have changed. Attempting to get it down before it vanishes, she feels like a child chasing her own shadow. No matter how quickly she writes, the idea is just beyond her reach.

OK. Must start from scratch. The two encounter each other on a New York City subway platform on their way home from school. Having been distracted by their reading, they both miss their stops and wind up taking the train to the end before they notice. They exit and head across to the opposite platform to catch the train back in the other direction. They're the only two people there for some reason. It’s late! That’s why, and there are less trains running at that hour, so they notice each other. This gives time for stuff to happen.

Since want readers who don’t live in New York to fall into my story, must make some details explicit and clear. Explain stuff with similes! And other devices, too. Okay, make time to research all that stuff, filling in the lines later. Also, use thesaurus. 

Wait, where was I going with this? What was I thinking? I'm hungry.

Writer takes a break. Comes back some time later.

So, there’s an announcement over the crackling PA system: trains are delayed. They-- what the hell should I call them? Maybe they don’t have names…  “They” both swear at the same time, and this is the moment when the two actually notice each other for the first time. They eyeball each other furtively. Not enough to really notice more than the other's general attractiveness. They start talking, slowly. It takes a couple of minutes because loneliness and living in the survival mode of seeing through people as if they don't exist, has made them socially awkward. But they are charming and awesome not so deep down, and conversation begins to roll easily, especially because it’s revealed that they have seen each other on the train before.

As they wait for the train to arrive, the conversation begins to lag naturally, which gives them the opportunity to look at each other. Lots of description here. He looks into her big, lovely eyes. The swirl of her hair. She sheepishly traces his lips and gets distracted by his manly hands, stuff like that. Yes, that’s really good. Maybe some creeper comes out from the corner and causes a bit of tension and conflict. Since the timeline is olden time-ish, the guy doesn’t hide behind the girl, tossing her to the wolf. Instead, he defends her. Okay, work on conflict later. Back to romantic stuff.

By the time the train arrives, they are mesmerized with one another. Palpable feelings of dread envelop them at the thought of having to board the train, leaving behind the space where they talked so comfortably. They are suddenly overcome with shyness, silence befalls them. No, no. Tension must build here, what’s going to happen? They make plans to see each other! They share a kiss! They profess their undying… desire to meet up soon and pursue this thing. They are both so shiny and new and hopeful. It’s gonna happen! <3

By the time they reach the first of their final destinations, Hers, the spell is broken. They say their goodbyes, lacking any familiarity, it's almost mechanical. She jumps out of the doors as soon as they open and doesn’t look back.

At this point the young writer is completely drained. Makes a quick mental note to work on it the following day after a good night’s sleep.

Part III: Years later, during a period of painful writer’s block, the young writer, now graying at the temples, finds the forgotten journal and reads her old notes. The fog in her mind begins to lift. She smiles and turns on her laptop.


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