I’ve been thinking about the new year and all the exciting things I have to look forward to, and while I don’t make resolutions (mostly because it’s always disheartening when I fail to keep them), I like to say I’m going to try… I’ve also been thinking about how there was a period in my life when I wrote a lot of short stories, and even attempted a novel. It’s been a very long time since I wrote prose, and decided I’d try to do more of it in the coming year. What follows is the first of that effort. It’s not really a story. It’s not really an essay. I think it may be a prose poem. It’s a start anyway.

You Wanted a Story

You asked me to tell you a story, but I have none to tell. That’s not exactly right. I have lots of stories, but I’ve told them all so many times, I don’t think they bear repeating. You told me to make something up, so I tried to remember how I made up scenarios for my dolls when I was a child. They were so vivid, my mother used to think I had friends over, but it was only me.

Ah, but I’ve told you that story before. I tried to recall the imaginary games I played when I was young and thrived on make-believe: school teacher, movie star, rock singer, a model, someone—anyone–who wasn’t me. I remember pretending, but now it seems the stories were all the same. They always had love at the core and they always had a happy ending.

Some people write novels, but I’m not one of them. I’ve tried, but I’m a poet at heart, which requires fewer words and less plotting. Poems are more about thoughts and feelings, than plot, conflict, and resolutions. I’ve had some luck with short stories, but even those tend to be vignettes, largely focused on characterization. I tend to leave them wanting more, which may or may not be a good thing. They say write what you know and I avoid conflict whenever possible. That may work in real life, but makes for dull stories. I know because I’ve read books where the author shared my issues with conflict, where all problems were easily solved to get to the happily ever after. As a reader, those books left me wanting. As a writer, they highlighted my weakness.

A friend of mine, who does write novels, told me I should look at the conflict in stories as fun, something I could control, and feel satisfied by how my creations had grown through their trials to reach their happy ending. So often in real life we don’t have control, but in a story we can make anything happen. She had a good point, but I still have trouble with it.

If you talk to most writers they will tell you that every character they write is a part of them, villains included. None of us is all good or all bad. I guarantee you that the nicest person you know has a dark side that would surprise you if you visited it. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I’ve written stories about vampires, burn victims, AIDS victims, lonely people out on the road, middle-aged single women, circus performers, mimes, drunken rock stars, women who forged the west in the 19th century, victims of mental illness, or a nun turning 100 years old. I’m not any of those things, but I think the humanity in each of them comes from the humanity in me; it could be argued that they are all me, though none of them are. Maybe they are all glimpses of past lives, subconsciously remembered. I don’t know. It might make for an interesting story.

~Elise Skidmore ©2023

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