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I’m on a fourth re-write of a short story. I kind of like it. I kind of also feel like some parts need to be “fleshed out.” That dreaded phrase you hear when you think you’re done. Ugh. I’m posting this as a reminder to myself. I asked myself, what the hell do my characters really, really look and act like? I’m so enmeshed in them, they kind of float around in a world of fiction. I need to touch them, pull their hair back as they puke, or take the crusts off their bread because that’s how they like them.
How do I get re-inspired and step back to see them sit down at my dinner table? I scanned my bookshelf. Which author on that shelf would show me characters who were so real, you knew them as neighbors, as guys in the bar, as family…who wrote that concrete?
I knew Carver would drop into my hands. I thought of the peacock. I needed to re-read Feathers. Carver’s details in this short story propel plot and develop character through their reactions.
Here’s the peacock part, where the word “peacock” is only mentioned once.
“What’s that sound?” Fran said.
Then something as big as a vulture flapped heavily down from one of the trees and landed just in front of the car. It shook itself. It turned its long neck toward the car, raised its head and regarded us.
“Goddamn it,” I said. I sat there with my hands on the wheel and stared at the thing.
“Can you believe it? Fran said. “I never saw a real one before.”
We both knew it was a peacock, sure, but we didn’t say word out loud. We just watched it. The bird turned its head up in the air and made this harsh cry again. It had fluffed itself out and looked about twice the size it had been when it landed.
“Goddamn,” I said again. We stayed where we were in the front seat.
The bird moved forward a little. Then it turned its head to the side and braced itself. It kept its bright, wild eye right on us. Its tail was raised, and it was like a big fan folding in and out. There was every color in the rainbow shining from that tail.
“My God,” Fran said quietly. She moved her hand over to my knee.
“Goddamn, ” I said. There was nothing else to say.
The bird made this strange wailing sound once more. “May-awe, may-awe!” it went. If it’d been something I was hearing late at night, and for the first time, I’d have thought it was somebody dying, or else something wild and dangerous.
Carver uses voice and diction to develop the characters in this scene. Also, find all of the active verbs going on in this passage.
I always seem to rush through scenes and not rest on them like Carver does so well. Here, we don’t just get a sense of a random look at a peacock. No. This is a family pet. The couple are eating dinner over with this family. There’s an internal struggle where the wife wants to let the peacock in the house and the husband doesn’t. These details reveal theme, character, and then propel us into the following scenes. Even when the bird isn’t present, he’s still so much a part of the story’s meaning about couples struggles to stay together.
I recommend reading Carver.
Now, I have to take my own advice and leave you with the resonating “May-awe.”
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