“Butterflies” Write Up by Hannah Wolfe

I feel like many of us take our parents for granted. Even the very idea that the person who is taking care of you and raising you is not of your flesh and blood is a foreign idea to many of us, myself included. That’s part of why Roger Dean Kiser’s “Butterflies” is so interesting; it explores an aspect of childhood that is shrouded by mystery in many ways, and with mystery comes automatic intrigue. There are also a lot of long-winded sentences, which pull us in and don’t let go until we’ve accidentally read an entire page. And by that point, we need to have some kind of conflict resolution, so we read until the end. And even after the end, and even after we know how the story ends, it still grips us, and it still leaves us wanting more.

The sentence structure mentioned above felt very childish to me, but in the sense that it made the voice of the narrator more authentic. It also gives the story a very confused and flustered tone, which is what the narrator felt during this time in his life. He also brings up the house parent and the orphanage a lot. The orphanage is only portrayed as a place where people’s souls go to die, and people who live there become cruel and stone-like. The house parent is only shown as murderous towards the butterflies, which are the only thing the narrator casts in good light. There is no other hand, no concession. This is also characteristic of a young child who lacks the intellectual development to fully understand counterarguments, so it is believable to us that we would see a “biased” view of the institution and its workers. These techniques all help portray Kiser’s ultimate purpose, which is to symbolize the way that orphanages affect the lives of young children. This idea of the ruination of innocence and just general violence against those who cannot defend themselves is enough to drive strong emotions into anyone. This all sums up to a story that is poignant and shocking, and makes us reevaluate the way we view our parents. It serves to remind us that even when we think we are the most hopeless beings on Earth, there is always someone who is suffering worse.

This story had a great ending, one that wasn’t cheesy or melodramatic; it was just heartbreaking. I think writing something that is genuinely sad is very hard to do, because I often feel like the writer is too close to the emotion to know what it feels like to someone who has not experienced it firsthand. Kiser, I felt, did a wonderful job of making us feel empathy for this child who we did not know, who was growing up in conditions many of us have probably not experienced. That, the skill to write something truly tragic, is the main takeaway I have from this story. I also thought that the symbolism in this story was artfully done. It was subtle, and even when he said it outright, is was almost too subtle to catch. I think it’s really important not to be obnoxious to your readers, and heavy handed symbolism is a quick ticket to losing the audience. Kiser, however, teases us with these beautiful images and symbols and refuses to tell us what they mean in an obvious or unimportant way. That’s very admirable to me, and I think that it’s one of the story’s biggest strengths.

This story is structured somewhat chronologically with moments of reflection in the beginning and fifth paragraphs because it is a story about a specific event in the narrator’s life that changed the way he viewed the world. It gives us an idea of what his state of mind was at the time versus what he thinks now, and plants a seed in the back of our mind that asks, “What has crushed this man’s spirit?” while we read. He uses the image of the butterflies resting on his arms and head to show us that both he and the butterflies are spots of innocence in the narrator’s corrupted world, and also uses the image of the butterfly with the broken wing to show that destruction of innocence, be it by the narrator’s mistake or the house parent’s cruel hobby. There is also the powerful image of the boy being pounded over the head with the “butterfly pieces” (which I personally would have used as the title for this piece), which portrays that his innocence will be what does him in.

Ultimately, the narrator represents the orphanage’s destruction of who he was as a person through the death of the butterflies, paralleling their beauty and serenity to his own, and letting the audience know that for both him and the butterflies, the orphanage was a bad place to live.

Intersecting Character Arcs Plot The Leftovers

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I haven’t watched the series adaptation yet, so I have no idea how many seasons I might be about to spoil…

Tom Perrotta’s novel The Leftovers (2011) has five focal characters, four immediate family members–two parents, Laurie and Kevin, and their near-grown son, Tom, and daughter, Jill–and a woman, Nora, one of the Garvey family’s fellow Mapleton citizens. Nora serves as a foil to the Garveys, having lost her husband and two young children in the catastrophic event that occurred prior to the novel’s beginning, in which millions of the world’s citizens disappeared in a Rapture-like event that would seem not to be the Rapture from the number of sinning nonbelievers who vanished.

The Garveys have all remained in tact following the non-Rapture–at least physically. But the family itself has pretty much fallen apart. The main action of the book occurs three years after the non-Rapture. Laurie has run off to join the Guilty Remnant, a cult-like group that refuses to carry on with life as usual in the wake of what’s happened. Kevin has become mayor of the small town, trying to restore normalcy through the very activities his wife has fled. Jill, a senior in high school, slips from stellar student to party animal when her new friend Aimee moves into the house. Tom, away at college when the non-Rapture happened, has also joined a cult-like group that differs from the Guilty Remnant in that it follows a single leader, Holy Wayne, whose pregnant teen wife Tom is charged with protecting once Holy Wayne is arrested for having sex with teens.

The book, with five main characters, is notably divided into five parts, though these aren’t individually given to each character. Instead each chapter flits between the main characters’ points of view, switching at section breaks, representative of the ongoing influence the characters have over one another, and the entanglement of their fates.

Kevin begins dating Nora, who finds herself unable to emotionally invest in him, and so Kevin increasingly takes solace from a questionable developing friendship with Jill’s friend Aimee, who, once she’s drawn Jill into sufficient delinquency, abandons the party scene for a job and maturity. Jill, clearly the one suffering the most from her mother’s absence, hangs out with friends she doesn’t emotionally connect with and is eventually persuaded by a former teacher to swing by the Guilty Remnant’s headquarters to see how she likes things there. Tom falls in love with his pregnant charge Christine as they travel across the country together disguised as “Barefoot People” and await the birth of an alleged prophet. The Guilty Remnant, whose members work in pairs, partners Laurie with Meg, whom she forms a strong bond with and is eventually ordered to kill as part of a G.R. tradition in which a martyr situation is staged to call the public’s attention to the fact that things ain’t ever gonna be the way they used to be. Nora, following the flameout with Kevin, decides something is irrevocably broken inside her and to change her identity and appearance and move away.

As per standard Perrotta fare, what initially appears to be merely character-driven vignettes showing us what life would be like in the wake of such an odd incomprehensible disaster, making us ponder how our actions and reactions define us and how we ourselves would react if put to such a test, is actually tightly plotted. The threads come together in a bow that’s pretty much as neat as it can be without being too neat. The plot trajectory could be described by a passage from the last chapter, when Kevin’s playing a softball game:

It must have been a towering shot, because it seemed for a second or two that the ball had left the earth’s atmosphere and wouldn’t be coming down. And then he saw it, a bright speck streaking across the sky, arcing downward. He lifted his arm and opened his glove. The ball dropped into the pocket with a resounding smack, as if it had been heading there the whole time and was happy to reach its destination.

And just as that ball is reaching its destination, so are the plot threads. While Kevin is at that game bumming out about Aimee’s having moved out that day, Tom, whom his dad hasn’t seen in probably a year and whom Christine has left with the baby after Holy Wayne finally plead guilty to his crimes, swings by and leaves the still nameless baby on his father’s front porch. Nora then discovers the baby when she comes by to leave Kevin a note telling him she’s leaving forever. Meanwhile, Jill is on her way to her very first “sleepover” at the Guilty Remnant when she hears a gunshot–Meg killing herself when Laurie is unable to pull the trigger. Laurie gets in a pickup car that speeds off, and in the next scene we see a car stop in front of Jill. But it’s not Laurie’s. It’s two stoner acquaintances of Jill’s from school whom she refused a ride from early on in the novel in an effort not to skip a chemistry test she winds up being too late to take anyway–a scene that seems trivial until you realize later that this was Jill’s last-ditch effort to cling to her old pre-tragedy self, the moment she realizes it’s too late and she can’t anymore. (This is the dilemma all the characters are facing to one extent or another, the organizing principle dictating what scenes we’re getting: attempts to salvage and/or discard their pre-tragedy identities.) This time, Jill accepts a ride from them, choosing not to go down the path her mother went down to the Guilty Remnant. And finally, in the last scene, Kevin returns home from his game, the big question being what he will or won’t find on the porch. He finds Nora, holding the baby. And the last line:

“Look what I found,” she told him.

Perrotta’s treatment of this plot embodies the difference between literary fiction and fiction designed purely for mindless entertainment. In the latter, the plot trajectory would have been dictated by the discovery/revelation of what actually literally happened with that whole non-Rapture. We would have gotten some explanation about where the disappeared had gone, or where they had gone would wind up becoming directly relevant to the plot in some way–like someone coming back from the beyond, or a followup catastrophe occurring. The question of what was the unifying factor in those who disappeared would likely be answered or at least broached. But none of that is what this book is about. It’s about how we live our lives in the face of the unknown, how we get out of bed every morning when we know in the backs of our minds that the eventual price for being able to do so will be death. Really, the characters in the novel have just entered a more extreme version of our own circumstances. The non-Rapture event merely presents them with more unignorable evidence of the plight we’re already in–that we’ll all disappear one day, and we have no idea where we’ll go when we do. A plot that actually answered that question wouldn’t be true to life. It would be an escape from it.

-SCR

“The Pelican Bar” Write Up by Talis Bradbery

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So for the story “The Pelican Bar” by Karen Joy Fowler, I focused on setting and images. This story is full of images as it is constantly describing how Norah is feeling and exactly what’s going on. The journey the character takes is much wider than the amount of places or relative locations mentioned and described in this story.

So for the people that DID NOT read the story, the first thing I want to say is that YOU SHOULD READ IT. This story’s plot and the things that that occur really make you question your life choices and the way you handle certain situations. I wouldn’t say it CHANGED my life, but it defiantly made me think. So the second thing I will say is that this story’s plot is AMAZING. The main character Norah, encounters so many situations that question who she thinks she is and who she really is. The journey she takes and the experiences she endures are quite rough and cruel, but she learns.

Now onto the topic of setting. The setting was obviously a HUGE part of the story, and every place in the story had a really deep effect on Norah and she took in her surroundings and voiced her opinion on them. Obviously the main place in the story is an old motel, but the Pelican Bar is a more emotionally connected place to Norah, and that’s what she looks forward to when she eventually gets out. After she gets out, after 2 years, the first place she goes is to the ocean which could represent the “warm embrace” that she got from her parents when she got out, which burned her wounds and rashes, but she knew it was helping. I still think that the Pelican Bar was her only destination and since she had been ruined as a person, she had nothing and nowhere else to go. The Pelican Bar represents home in this story and is her “secret” which she kept for so long. The Pelican Bar is the story.

So now onto Images, which are everywhere in the story, making me want to throw up, but they are crucial for a GREAT story, and they are very prominent in this story. For some reason the line, “They seemed to think there was water in the pool, fresh fruit at lunchtime,” stuck out for me and the author included selection of details like these and it really built up the story. This helps the story in ways most authors cannot achieve and sets all sorts of tones and themes.

There are many ways I could incorporate this author’s writing techniques and fluidity of writing into my own. The tone of this story was deliberately created like this, and a lot of times with my writing, the tone just comes naturally as I write, and I would love to learn how to control that exampled. I would love to, over time, learn how to incorporate those small details that really build a story and make it unforgettable. So many of the details of the way she was living, the description of the other people there and the setting really put you in her shoes, and I would love to be able to do that with my writing. I think that sometimes my writing can get vague and uncontrolled, but this author was able to stay on topic and make it super cool and flowy.

“The Same Story” Write Up by Jackson Wagner

I really loved the contrasting ideas Suzanne Roberts used in “The Same Story.” I also felt like her way of describing people, even just referring to them as “miss goody two shoes” or “my on-again off-again,” gave the reader a very clear picture of who these people are in reference to her story. Without even going into in depth descriptions of what these people were like, I felt I had a good sense of them by the end of the story. She was able to portray her “on-again off-again” as a messed up individual just by describing his actions and the conversations they had together.

I also loved her pointing out the meanings of mistake and where it came from. At first I thought it was a strange and an unrelated addition to her story, flavor text, as it were. I later realized upon reading it again, that those meanings helped show how her understanding of what had happened evolved and changed. I would like to implement her use of outside information similar to her mistake idea in my own writing as I felt it really added a level of depth to the story. She also worked it in smoothly, to where it didn’t feel like it had been abruptly thrown in.

I also really liked how she portrayed the other woman and how she left it unclear as to which one she was. I personally think she was the goody-two shoes, however, she left it vague enough to where the reader can come to his own conclusion. This overarching question had me thinking throughout the entire story and is something I would really like to mimic in my own writing, especially in more serious pieces, as I felt it gave the reader something to take away from the story and to think more on. This, in my mind, ensures that the story told is not lost in the ether of the reader’s poor memory.

This story also helped me realize that creative non-fiction can include a great deal of the writer’s train of thought. This makes it much easier to write about personal stories, as you’re able to add your own take on the experience, thus adding depth to an otherwise mediocre story.