So, let’s try something a little different. As I’m currently participating in a Writer’s Workshop, there are of course, a lot of writing exercises. This one from a couple of weeks ago was the most fun and the most intriguing. Basically, I read Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, and continued the story by choosing one of the characters and writing their point of view via close-third-person narrative.
If you aren’t familiar with Hemingway’s story, you can read it here: http://www.mrbauld.com/hemclean.html
Now, I’m not even going to pretend to have read anything Hemingway before because I haven’t, and so I apologize if I can’t get all literary snobbish as might be expected of someone arrogant enough to use one of his stories as a jumping off point. However, it’s all in good fun and I really want to share this idea because it helped me see how his voice is A) impossible to copy, and B) his dialogue style is deceptively simple, and also impossible to copy. Obviously nobody should be copying anyone, but I think it’s a terrific learning experience to study good works and use them to contrast your own, after all, nobody expects us to be literary masters! And let’s face it, only about one in a million of us will be. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but that’s the reality in this wanna be author’s opinion.
Anywho, back to the point of this little post. For this exercise I chose the married waiter’s POV, and I’ll post my short 750 word version of how I expanded that character here:
About Goddamn time! The young waiter huffed and shoved both hands into his jacket pockets while walking away from the café, the echo of brisk footsteps on concrete the only sound as the neighbourhood slept.
Stupid old man, I don’t care if he never spills a drop and walks home with the dignity of a sober man half his age, he’s a worthless drunk.A real man would never drink alone in an empty café; he’d self-destruct in private and die rather than become a laughing stock.No wonder the old fool botched his own suicide.
He turned a corner, staring at the ground with a scowl, remembering what his co-worker said. A clean, well-lighted place is better…Bah!
It was pathetic. Only witless drunkards would believe that could disguise a wasted life sitting night after night with nothing but cold brandy and failure as companions, that a restaurant’s innocent light could make an aging drunk respectable.
The town’s clock tower chimed for three a.m.
Damn. He should be rushing home to be with his wife because she had an unholy knack of waking every night to see whether or not he was on time as promised. If he wasn’t, well the sweet tempered little country girl he’d married would turn into a screeching banshee that could scare even the most terrifying Harpy.
He cringed recalling the last time he came home late, and it opened the mental suitcase containing years of buried resentment and anger. Hot shame turned his neck and face red, a muscle in his jaw ticking until he spat a wad of passive disgust on the pavement.
Turning another corner, he saw the soft neon glow from an all night bar’s “open” sign and it grabbed his attention, a familiar friend reaching out with the promise of warm welcome and lively company. Even though he was running late, it wasn’t his fault and it would be rude not to stop and say hello. Pushing on the swinging glass door, he smiled. Yes, wouldn’t take more than a minute or two and none would be the wiser.
“Mon ami!” A forty something Frenchman called to his friend from behind a worn oak bar where the smell of stale beer and sweat competed with the heavy cologne the he always wore.
The young waiter wrinkled his nose and squinted in the dim light, but grinned while rushing forward to shake his hand. “Hello my friend! How’s business?”
“Oh, you know,” he shrugged, “it is not Paris but even here there are always people needing good drink and music.”
“Hah! Right you are, and it seems busy enough.” Tossing back a shot of whisky the Frenchman placed on the bar, he glanced around at the odd mix of weeknight barflies.
The boisterous laughter from two young men bragging and sharing tales of dubious conquests at one end of the bar, matched Glen Miller’s cheery Chattanooga Choo-Choo blaring from the jukebox. Chuckling, he tossed another whisky back when he saw how a bleach blond prostitute spilling out of a red dress two sizes too small, pressed herself against a dishevelled businessman, encouraging him to take another drink. At the very back of the room, a navy officer clutching a letter handwritten on pink stationary, lay slumped over a beer covered table snoring away. Poor bastard.
“Anyway, I can’t stay of course. Was on my way home from work and decided to check in and see how you’re doing.” Grinning, he downed another shot and then two more, but spilled the sixth all over his chin and shirt.
Shoving the empty glasses out of view with the back of his hand, he attempted to stand. “Have to get home to the wife and all that, the poor dear worries so when I work closing shift. You know how it is.”
“I never married.”
“Lucky bastard,” the waiter laughed and slapped the other man’s shoulder, then gripped it for balance, “you should see this old guy who comes to the café and drinks brandy until all hours. A hundred bucks says his wife drove him to it.”
The bartender, frowning in concern, sighed and shook his head when the younger man lost his balance, slipped off the chair, and crashed to the floor almost unconscious.
“Alright, I’ve got you.” He hauled his friend up by both arms and dragged him to an empty booth where the drunken man slumped against the seat slurring incomprehensible nonsense. “Sleep it off here friend, you sorry old fool.”
So, pretty crappy in comparison Mr. Hemingway, I agree! You’re welcome to critique the hell out of it. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, I loved doing it and I learned a lot about the two different writing styles. So, I urge you to read his story and then think about how you’d take one of the character’s and flesh him/her out, including their back story. It’s a great way to get inspired and read some awesome literature at the same time! Oh, and feel free to post your versions here.
The Cheeky One