Live Lit @StoryStudioChicago Descriptive Exercise

  • Sumo

The assignment was to be descriptive, choosing one of three scenarios presented, and condensing it down to a 2-minute piece.

She looked normal. Cake foundation pock-marking the wrinkles, enhancing the fine hairs above her lip. The lips were curled as if they couldn’t decide to smile or scowl at her last breath. I watched closely, expecting her jaw to move as she was prone to chewing her words before spitting them out, ending with “yeah” or “hun.” I caught myself doing that now and then, cringing just as I cringed at myself in the mirror when the light hits just right, showing the hairs on my upper lip mocking me. They find genes for everything but unwanted facial hair and common sense.

They had dressed her in her favorite blue dress with the pleats across her chest. A kind of wrap dress before they were en vogue. There was a tied knot just just above the waist, like a sash that always looked like it never came off. Her hands were folded neatly across its middle, fingers interlocked. I looked down at mine. They were folded the same. I unclasped them, made a fist with one and covered it with the other, only crossing my thumbs.

Her body seemed longer, stretched out in the casket. She was slightly taller than me, but looked tall like Grandpa now. My eyes darted up to the space between her collarbone and left breast. She always wore the silver lapel Grandpa had given her when he returned from the war. Didn’t matter what outfit she wore, even after he passed, the lapel always appeared. I was fascinated by it, as most children are by shiny objects. It was always shiny, like she polished it every morning before pinning it in place. It wasn’t there now.

I reached towards the space, believing my eyes were deceiving me. We all knew she wore it. No one would have forgotten to pit it before laying her in the casket. A stern grip at the neck forced a quick retreat. I refolded my hands like hers and looked up at my father.

“The lapel,” I mouthed.

He nodded and motioned towards the chairs.

It was someone else’s turn.

The feedback on this piece was interesting to me. The instructor pointed out how this was a great example of starting in the middle. He made the point that if I had stated I was at a funeral instead of gradually revealing, the audience would have checked out. I hadn’t thought much of it as “in medias res” is how I learned to write good stories from my high school English teacher, Mr. Wick.

The class wasn’t sure from the opening paragraph what was going on, but they were interested and wanted to know more. The reveal, the scenario I had chosen of seeing a dead body, they all thought was masterfully done. The detail, the comparison of facial hair, the folding of hands, spoke to a deeper connection that they enjoyed. They all wanted to know more about the lapel and what happened to it. They also liked the touches to showcase, rather than tell, a child’s perspective. Reaching for the lapel and being quietly reprimanded, noticing it’s missing and bringing it to the attention of adults. They liked those, examples of showing instead of telling.

Overall I’m pleased with this piece.

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