Childhood

Painting of siblings used as microfiction prompt
Portrait der Geschwister Fromknecht, Alwin Arnegger 1915

She’d resigned herself to her fate. It hurts knowing she was younger than my two children are now. Carefree and with a resolute sense of entitlement, they claim stakes on all their wants and needs. There I was, eager to please and do my best to negotiate a better outcome. It was hard to balance the joy I felt with the sadness at what it could mean for her. That day shaped me. Yet another piece of baggage I’ve hauled from one year to the next. I have never stopped feeling the guilt.

With time, I’ve been able to rationalise and know it was no fault of mine, but there is always the little boy inside saying maybe I could have told them how clever she was, how kind, how good she was at drawing. Maybe I should have said that if they don’t take her too, then I wouldn’t go. But how could I say no to the one thing we all wished for? Praying like the sisters taught us, hands pressed together tight, as thought that would make a difference, asking for nothing more than a family. Except family for me meant Adelais and a mum and dad.

 

Exactly 200 words for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #1. What does the image say to you? This was the first train of thought I had, seeing the expressions on the subjects faces. Join in and share your take on the prompt (follow link to Jane’s challenge for details).

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19 thoughts on “Childhood

  1. Another sad story. I completely agree there’s something in the girl’s expression that says she knows something tragic is about to happen. I’m intrigued to know how the boy/man has found the portrait, and what the kind of upper class children who had their portraits painted were doing in an orphanage. An other story or two in there?

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    1. Thanks Jane. I’d already thought of the reason for the outfits but with a 200 word limit, I thought it best to go unwritten haha. Ditto how he found it haha- seriously- you guessed the exact thought process I went through. I’ll see if I’m up to writing another one or 2 tomorrow, or maybe just be boring and explain the rest of the story that was in my head here in the comments.

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      1. oh trust me, I had boring in mind haha. As in … the clothes are blah blah and the reason he had the image was blah blah….

        Btw, I didn’t take it literally as the guy looking at a painted portrait in the story- was thinking of maybe a photo, and not necessarily 1915.

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  2. If you want thoughts on the technical aspect, I’d say to have a look at the tense changes in that first bit. I had to go back over it carefully to work out who was speaking and when. I think you need to get the reader perfectly clear who is telling the story and from what point in time, right from the outset. In a very short piece there isn’t the space for going back and clearing things up. You have to do it with suggestion. A strict word limit encourages you to think very hard about what facts/description to leave in, and what is unnecessary. Maybe writing very short fiction is more like writing poetry than writing novels. It certainly requires different skills. I think I’d be tempted to take out the reference to the narrator’s own children. They distract from the point of the story and don’t really make much of a point in themselves if you see what I mean. You’d have more space for the boy and his sister then. They are a different backstory, the kind of reference you’d put into a novel because you are going to expand on it.

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    1. Thanks again for the feedback Jane 🙂

      As I said on the other thread, I deliberately try to make my stories a bit riddle like, but perhaps it is overly so? Before writing, I pictured the MC, his background story and the chronology clearly in my head. But sometimes the world needs the back story that I have filed away. The bit about his kids was deliberate, to indicate it was a grown man’s POV and highlight the added dimension to his guilt in that contrast of childhoods, but again- maybe only clear in my head (it’s kinda lonely in there sometimes…). A fine balance between piquing interest and making something a little too inaccessible and hard work to read.

      So…how do I go about writing a short story and remaining true to my style of leaving a little unsaid or just enough clues for the reader to pick up on? Happy to hear from you and/or others who may read this comment and I will also check out what material I may find online on the topic.

      I see the snippets I share here as a chance to refine the craft, and feedback (critical or otherwise) is welcome. I would like to be able to have the range of a short story and novel writer- there is a more immediate satisfaction in writing a short story- a welcome break from the marathon of writing a novel.

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      1. You can do anything you want in your short story, as long as it’s clear. I admit, I’m easily confused (and I mean that most sincerely folks) but anything that makes the reader stop and wonder if they’ve got that right, when you only have a few lines to get the point across, needs clearing up. I take the point about wanting to hint that this is a grown man speaking, so keep his kids. I’d still see if there wasn’t a way of tweaking the opening phrases so the tense changes don’t sound so abrupt.
        Ambiguity is a refinement to strive for. It’s so much more satisfying than a straightforward what you see is what you get kind of story. I suppose the trick is to try and put yourself in the position of a reader who doesn’t know the story. Is it intriguing even if you don’t give away everything, or is it just a confused mess? Some people don’t want to have to pick the bones out when they read. Other people love it. As long as it makes sense, go for vague and suggested 🙂

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      2. Thanks Jane. I’ll think about clarity and imagining what a reader might make of it without the unwritten backstory (this will be a challenge). Aiming for vague and suggested 🙂 Thanks again for the prompt and the prompt prompt feedback!

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