Sunday, January 31, 2016

Twist Endings - Writing Class Assignment

I debated on whether or not to post these next writing assignment submissions or not, as they've already been published on my blog once. In the end I decided to go for it, because they've all been edited for clarity, plus I have stuff I want to say about how each one went over.

One of the kinds of writing that we were supposed to do for my creative writing class was an autobiographical story. This could include a straight up true story, or it could be one that had been "Enhanced," in some way. As soon as I heard that, I knew I wanted to submit some of my "Twist Ending" stories. They are all true stories that have been significantly enhanced by a twist ending.

I picked out three of my favorite ones to submit, three that I was still pretty happy with, as a few of them, especially the early ones, I'm not that fond of any more.

All the stories went over pretty well. I got great feedback, and people loved how real they felt, right up until the ending that completely changed things. I got many specific comments on the "Excellent" dialogue, specifically how real it seemed. Well, little did they know that everything felt so real because it all is real!

I had one classmate go so far as to write that all these stories felt like real interactions that she had had with terrible customers while working at Village Inn or Hy-Vee, and that the end seemed like something she might wish would happen to all her terrible customers! Little did she know that this was EXACTLY what these stories were!

Probably the best thing that anyone wrote to describe these stories was what one of my teachers wrote on my first draft:
"The satirical take that emerges in all these 'cautionary tales' reminds me of some strange modern-day, sci-fi Willy Wonka set in a grocery store!"
I did not even think about that when I was writing these, but I read Willy Wonka countless times as a kid, and I have no doubt that the bad children's comeuppance in those books had some sort of an influence on me. Perhaps I was subliminally channelling Roald Dahl. :p

One of the best bits of usable feedback I got about this first story was the fact that I used the word "Flock," to describe the swarm of crows, when I could have used "Murder," which is what a group of crows is actually called! That was genius! I don't know why I didn't think of that myself! So I took it for my revision. :p

The main change I made to this story was in the way I formatted the ending. As I gave this to everyone cold, they all assumed that this was a fictional story, as would seem obvious with the ending. The most common critique I got was about the abrupt change in POV (Point of View) at the end. As this, for the most part, is a true story, I wrote from my perspective, in the first person; but at the end, I wrote in the third person, as this all, for the most part, was happening beyond my knowledge. Technically this is not good writing, so I tried to format the end so that the shift in POV isn't too jarring. I was unwilling to change the POV of the entire piece to third person, as would be necessary, so this was my compromise.

Twist Endings 1
"Isn't there a senior discount?" The elderly woman asked sorely, as I gave her the total. It was under twenty dollars.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," I explained, "The senior discount is on Wednesdays." I didn’t think it would be that big of an issue, the discount would have amounted to less than a dollar. 
"Well, not everyone can get here on Wednesdays!" She exclaimed angrily.
"Sorry," I apologized. "I'm not allowed to give discounts unless it's Wednesday," 
"Yeah, well, this place is sick!" She exclaimed, shoving the money towards me. "And getting sicker!" 
I really didn't know what to say to that, so I finished her transaction, and wished her a nice day. She just looked at me and scornfully laughed in my face. I decided to just ignore that and I turned to the next customer, a little girl. 
"Hello," I greeted her, as I began to ring up her items. "Did you find everything okay? 
"No she didn't!" The elderly woman exclaimed loudly, and left, laughing derisively as the little girl just looked at me, confused. 
As the old woman marched out of the store, the sky grew dark, and faint, raspy, “Caw!” sounds clouded the air. A massive murder of crows had filled the sky, temporarily blocking out the sun. The swarm got into formation and swooped down toward the old woman in a massive black cloud. The flock engulfed her, and as the crows disappeared over the horizon, the woman was gone. 

The next story is still pretty similar to my original story too. I didn't make too many changes beyond the formatting of the last paragraphs, and to make the action take place outside, so I would not have seen it, so I'd have no excuse but to write in the third person.

People loved this one too, and the most common feedback was how great my made up words were for the alien's dialogue. There were a couple people who did not like the words, but the positive feedback vastly outnumbered the negative.

Twist Endings 2 
"Keep the change," the little girl told me, as I counted out the 31 cents in change from her purchase.
"Okay..." I replied, unsure of what else to say. I wasn't used to people telling me to keep the change. I set it aside and moved on to the next customer. 
A little later I heard a loud berating voice shouting from around the corner. "$1.69 out of $2.00 is NOT two cents! Get over there and ask for your change!" 
"I don't want to," the little girl said quietly, almost in tears. "UGH!" I heard the mother exclaim angrily, and she marched off. 
A few minutes later, a much younger girl approached my counter and looked up, barely able to see over the edge. 
"My sister said to keep the change, but my mom wants it back." She said in a tiny voice. I picked up the change from where I had set it, and handed it to her. She walked back to her mother and gave her the change. 
"Not you!" The mom shouted at her, pointing at the other girl, "I wanted her to do it!" 
As the woman marched her children out of the store, she was frozen in a beam of light projected from the sky. Two green-skinned humanoids wearing blue uniforms materialized beside her. 
"Is this the intergalactic criminal known as The Abuzor?" The first humanoid asked the second. 
"Affirmative." He replied. "We've been searching for her for the last 13 parstinkles. She will be taken back to Gozox, to be put to work in the Plootonx mines, digging for Croylon Yarf." 
"What about these innocent children?" The first humanoid asked. "They had no part in their mother's heinous crimes." 
"We will take them with us." The second replied. "Queen Aultramira loves children. I'm sure she will be thrilled to adopt a few more." 
The entire group vanished, and they were never seen again.

The last story underwent the most heavy editing, and for good reason. When I first wrote it, I put it into a blog post, and I prefaced it with an explanation about the customer, how she is a regular at the Harlan Hy-Vee, how she does this kind of thing all the time, but I did not realize that this information was not clear at all in the story itself. So almost everybody was completely confused by the fact that it seemed to be three different stories about three different women, and only one of the women was punished for her behavior. Some people understood that it was the same woman, but with so much confusion, I figured I needed make it clearer.

Not all the feedback was negative though. Most people loved how dark the ending was, I got many positive comments on the dark humor of all these stories, but people really liked that this one was just a little bit darker. I even got comparisons to the Twilight Zone, not just on this one, but on all of them, which is high praise indeed. I don't think they're that good, but if someone wants to think that, I'll let them. :p

Twist Endings 3
"Woah, wait a second," the woman said as I scanned her groceries. "That toilet paper is supposed to be $3.29, and it rang up $4.99. You know what that means," she said, barely able to hold in her glee. "If the item rings up wrong, it is automatically free," she pointed to the sign hanging above the store.
I called my manager, who first went to make sure the price was wrong. "I'm sorry," she said walking back from the display holding a smaller sized package. "This is the size that's on sale. The other one is larger. Would you like to buy this one instead?" 
"No," the woman said, frowning. "I don't want either of them. The sign back there was misleading. I should get it for free." She begrudgingly paid for her groceries and left, silently mumbling to herself. 
As she fumed out of the store, a small green creature peered out from behind the ATM with a scroll of parchment and a quill of ink. It checked a box and slunk back out of sight. 
A few months later the woman was back in my line. 
"Excuse me, those batteries are marked as $2.99 on the sign over there," she said as I slid the packages of batteries I had just scanned down the counter to be bagged. I looked at the monitor; the prices on each read $2.79. 
"Well," I said with a smile, "Looks like you just got a good deal." 
"Um, no, they rang up wrong," the woman said with a scowl, "I get them for free." 
I looked at her to see if she was kidding. Surely no one was that ridiculously petty. She wasn't kidding. I called my manager who double-checked the price, got an earful from the woman, and gave her the batteries for free. 
As the woman marched victoriously from the store, the little green creature watched her silently from under a bakery display table, and marked another box on his paper. 
One night, a few months later the woman came through my line one last time. 
"Hold on," she said as I scanned several packages of bologna. "These are ringing up $1.69. The sign says that they are 3 for $5. I've done the math; they should each be ringing up $1.67. Ask your manager to go check, these are wrong." 
Once again my manager dutifully went back to check the price. While she was gone the woman started talking to those around her who were being inconvenienced. 
"Sorry about this, I'm such a pain," she said in a voice that clearly indicated that she wasn't sorry at all. "I've just got to be careful you know. Gotta always watch these prices! You never know when they're gonna get you!" 
My manager returned and said that, yes, the bologna should indeed be two cents cheaper. "Well, I guess that means they're free!" The woman said triumphantly, as though she had just won some kind of reality game show. My manager took the cost of the bologna off her order, and left her to pay. 
From his hiding spot around the corner of the pharmacy, the little green creature ticked one last box off his list, and as the woman left the store with her load of bologna, it crept after her, sneaking into her car through a rear window while she loaded her trunk. 
As the woman drove home in the dark, she had the creepiest feeling she was being watched from the back seat. She looked into the rear-view-mirror, and saw the glowing yellow eyes of a Greed Goblin staring back at her. She screamed and began swerving violently as the goblin leapt into the front seat. After a minute the swerving vehicle corrected itself, and kept on driving down the dark highway as normal. The woman was never seen again.

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