“On Hope” by Spencer Holst starts off with a description of the ‘demon monkey,’ the one the main character has trained to bring him jewels. The monkey has brought the gypsy a cursed necklace with the Diamond of Hope on it, the largest diamond in the world. The necklace was traveling with the royal family, and the gypsy is dismayed to realize that the stone would be useless with the whole of the Gibraltar police searching for it. Because he was terrified of being caught, and entertained the idea of the princess, he sent the necklace back to her with a note telling her to guard the necklace more carefully. This goes on for three nights, but on the third, the monkey comes back shot and dies soon after delivering the necklace. After this final receiving of the jewels, the gypsy is pleased at being the chosen one to relieve the royal family of the curse, and walks to the Mediterranean Sea. The gypsy swims a mile out to sea to the Gibraltar Trench where the water is a mile deep. There, the gypsy drops the necklace down in the water, and starts to swim back, not realizing that the necklace had gotten caught on the fin of a shark and is floating back towards him. After the man realizes that the necklace is swimming towards him, he thinks he is either seeing a hallucination or a miracle. He decides to swim towards the necklace, waving his arms and shouting and splashing. The story ends with the possibility of four endings, one where the man is eaten by the shark, and three others where the man escapes the shark.
The chronic tension in this piece is the curse on the necklace, and the way that that plays into the narrative and the gypsy’s actions through the necklace. Because the curse affects more than just the necklace in this case (the shark?) it counts as chronic tension. The acute tension is the scene where the gypsy is swimming to dump the necklace, and everything that follows. The shark presents a conflict for the story, and is, therefore, a piece of acute tension.
Throughout this story, I tracked tell-don’t-show. (Sentences without imagery where there very easily could have been.) I’m sure we’ve all heard enough of show-don’t-tell, and I think that this story is a perfect way to oppose that argument. In the entire story, there is only one sort of lyrical line:
…now ablaze as never before with the royal festivities, with a million electric light bulbs…
Every other single line in the story is very simple:
There was a full moon, and the sea was perfectly calm.
Quietly and secretly he buried the animal.
There are much more elaborate ways to say these kinds of things, but the author chose to keep the narrative short and concise, and I think that that makes this story, one, very easy and pleasing to read, and two, quite the interesting thing to look at in comparison to the “rules” of writing. Being composed of short, quick sentences, there are not many architectural marvels so to speak, but the story makes sense, is entertaining, and provides exposition all the same, definitely proving that a story does not have to be super lyrical and metaphorical to be good.
The other thing from the story that I tracked was simple sentence structure. This relates back to the telling not showing idea, and that a story doesn’t have to have melodic language to be powerful and have meaning. I think that in each example of the simple sentence structure, there is an example of strong writing that communicates its ideas and functions without having to rest on lyrical language. The themes and plot of “On Hope” come across just as well, if not better, without the use of thick setting description and emotion-filled phrases. I think that the author was able to get get the setting and feelings of the piece without directly saying them, and without burying them in metaphorical language.
I think that from this story, I can work simpler language into my own writing because it’s so different from the way that most short stories are built and praised for. I would like to use this technique in a way that makes my writing sound sophisticated and at the same time relatable and easy to read. Since I am one to rely on imagery to help my writing along, I think that trying this technique will be helpful for growth.
Ok so questions:
- Do you think that the gypsy escapes?
- What was the curse on the necklace?
- Does this story have a deeper meaning than what’s presented?