Oh families. The source of so many off the stories we whisper to friends, but are afraid to commit to paper for fear of offending anyone. Today’s prompt encourages you to dig into that vast repository of family stories for a ‘cheap’ way to find a plot.
Write a story about a stranger at a family gathering.
Think about a family gathering you’ve been to (yours or someone else’s) – preferably one where one of your most colorful relatives was on great form.
What would that look like to a stranger? (Uncle Bob’s new girlfriend or the lonely new neighbor someone invited as a nice gesture)
Take that real-life story as a jumping-off point.
Decide on a protagonist: is it your stranger or the person who invited them? Think about the protagonist’s history. What’s in their past that’s going to make this situation especially hilarious or poignant or tragic? (You don’t have to explain this in the story, but if you know about it, you’ll be able to make this character richer as you write.)
Pick one tiny incident — someone storms out, someone smashes a plate in frustration, someone swears inappropriately. Illustrate the moment and/or the ripples around the room after it happens. (Remember, this is a short story. You can’t tell too much.)
Concentrate on making the reader feel something: make me cringe with embarrassment, make me love the old grandpa, make me feel your protagonist’s regret when he misses a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say what he really feels…
One thought on “[Write On Wednesday] Family Drama”
Are you sure? I was asking for the nth time as we walked up the stairs of his family home. He didn’t hear me because I kept it under my breath. I suppose I was really asking myself if I wanted to be here? How long had we dated? 3 weeks?
I brushed a wisp of hair from off my face and wondered how he would introduce me? Friend? Girl-friend? Significant other? I could feel my cheeks grow warm. I had to let it go.
In the next few breaths I had been swept up into the arms of his mother’s bear hug and enscounced in her sweet but dated perfume. As I let go of her embrace I felt the air thicken. I wanted to gasp for air but I caught sight of his father’s bear grin and regained my composure.
His round belly shook like jelly. His little droll mouth rolled up at the sides and his long white beard flowed down and down and down. Now my eyes were betraying me and I had to keep myself consciously aware that I shouldn’t let them follow his beard to his knees. I had to shut my gapping mouth.
“Joy, Joy, Joy, You are hear! We are so glad you have come to join our merry gathering. You will fit right in.” Was he calling me by name or exclaiming yuletide greetings?
Wait,” My ears were hurting or was that my pride? How much did Joel expect from me? What did he mean, “fit right in?”
I looked up at Joel for an answer but he was deep in some sort of family ritual hug with his siblings. We had barely closed the front door before they had swarmed upon him, like bees after honey.
His father was undeterred by my reddish cheeks and seemingly bashful ways and soon he had steered me into the center of the room where he was introducing me to all of the family as if I had been some long lost cousin. I looked about for Joel for a rescue but soon realized I was on my own. In a family of piranha-like personalities I had better learn to keep my wits about me and not splash around – not call attention to myself. I might say something that I might have to explain latter.
After meeting the entire clan I felt like I could at last relax and find a corner to watch the action go down. From across the room, Joel kept shooting a caring stare at me. Nothing too revealing just something to let me know how I was doing?
I thought I was doing okay, but 3 weekends of texts and phone-calls does not prepare one for the mustard required for this type of family encounter.
His Great Aunt Milly caught me in the corner staring out the window and related dark stories of the families past life as secret agents for their home country. She had not participated but her grandfather had been a double agent before he defected. The family felt they were steel being hunted. I had actually liked her. I mean I felt sorry for her until she revealed that one story about torture and their family being hunted.
I left her and moved onto the stairs. I was glancing rather curiously up their dark railing when Joel’s cousin from Milwaukee came up behind me. He wasn’t very coy. In fact he was a bit too forward for my comfort level but hey, I wasn’t in a committed relationship. His dark complexion and stiff accent helped to soothe my nerves. He was leaning into me rather heavily when Joel showed up to check my drink.
Brett what stories are you passing on these naïve ears?”
Joy, Be careful what you believe. He loves fish stories.”
He had been sharing with me how his brothers and Joel’s brothers had grown up together in the remote parts of the Australian Outback. I must have looked dubious because the pitch in his voice raised a bit as he shared a few of their rather bizarre experiences. I started to question the time period when Joel showed up with a refill.
It was too bad because even though I found his story a bit over the top, I found his personality a bit enticing.
Joel drug me out to the balcony that overlooked Lake Erie. The breeze from the cool water helped me think about Joel. But not for long. Stroking my brown hair as it fell over my shoulders he looked as if he wanted to say something but then he was gone – to the kitchen I believe.
And taking his place was a rather large character with heavy and thick brows. Or was it one brow? A Uni-brow. He walked with a limp as he shuffled across the floor, but it was a lively limp, filled with spirit. How old was this guy? Was this Joel’s grandfather?
No. Thank goodness. It turns out he was friend of the family who had been with them when they journeyed as gypsies. Gypsies? I was beginning to discover that Joel’s family had a colorful past.
Before the night was over I would speak to his cousin who had married into the mafia. She couldn’t speak much about it other than she realized that she would never have children because of the family conditions. And there was the brother to one of the astronauts who recently flew in orbit and came back with photos of the earth.
If the stories were not enough the personalities were all a bit overwhelming: Astronauts, spies, Secret Agents, Gypsies,
Even his grandmother had been a famous mystery novelist. I think I wanted to like her but by the time I had met her I was feeling more and more out of place.
Maybe it was the way his brother all hugged one another as if they were in a sorority? I had to say there was a resemblance but I had to strain to see the DNA evidence. When I asked he said his father had been married more than once. He refused to say how many times.
Or maybe it was the bizarre way they looked at me or considered me so easily as family? I wanted so badly to return the feeling but there was an air of disbelief in me. I couldn’t breath.
I’m not sure what I had expected when Joel had invited me, but I guess it would be safe to say that I had expected more casual common conversation. You know. Chit Chat. Maybe around a dinner table? Maybe with 8 adults. Not 35!
They asked about my family? Did I know where I was from? I lied and said something about being an Inuit from Alaska? You know several generations back and there was some tie to Jack London? I could honestly say I was beginning to hear a wild call?
When asked what business my family was in. I thought that coming from a family of nurses was lame, so I told them that my father was the 2nd cousin of Dr. Kovorkian and had actually helped him with a few of his “surgeries.” That got a few stares and helped end a rather boring conversation with his extra large professional baseball player cousin from Des Moines who had helped build the Field of Dreams before there was movie by that name. Because it was a true story. Did I realize that?
When asked about my own siblings. Again I lied and said I was an only child. I didn’t want to bring my sister into this. I couldn’t think fast enough to keep up with her real life antics and I had already decided that a bit of protection might be in order.
My childhood came up too? Where was Joel? Did he not intend to protect me? Apparently it was open season and I was the game of choice.
His father’s love of the North Pole led me to tell a great story of me and my Dad taking a trip to Anchorage to visit my Inuit relatives. Only we traveled on the real Polar Express.
I had been getting into the detail of a few personal events that happened to me on the train. I actually thought I had found the lost jingle bell and wanted to share the excitement with Joel’s oldest sister Noel when I noticed that I was the only one talking. The entire room was listening to me lie to them! Joel stood not too far off and acted like he knew every bit of what I was saying was true. He nodded at all the right times. When I said something that seemed just a bit too good to be true and my audience turned their heads to him for verification, he pursed his lips and bobbed his head in a slow motion as if to say, “It’s true.”
I finished my story and everyone started clapping.
I flushed red and my stomach tightened. I just wanted to leave now. Now before his mafia cousin put me on a hit list or his gypsy uncle stole me away. Now before he discovered my exaggerated life and realized that I would never measure up. And,now before something in these people changed to make me love them.
Joel’s “father” bellied over to me and grabbed me around the waist in an endearing manner. “Not too shabby for a future member of the family.”
I shot a furtive but now angry look at Joel, “What had he told them?” My pulse quickened, but my pride bridled my hot tongue.
Joel came over and wrapped his whole body around me. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t.
“Can we leave now? I have to feed my goldfish. I mean your family is wonderful and all but if I don’t feed my goldfish I’m going to cry.”
He wasn’t having it. He was leading me toward the middle of the enormous living room. He was stronger than me and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever leave? This was a strange family and what if he brought every date of 3 weeks here never to return. Panic pulsed inside my irrational skin.
His feet straddled mine. Someone turned the music on to a dance song that I know I recognized but I needed a few more bars. What was it?
We are Family. And now everyone of his family members were watching us and singing the song Karaoke style. I felt my palms sweat. I felt he was going to ask me to marry him right here. I wanted to run.
After the song ended, he fell to one knee. Someone ran across the room with a small box and gave it to him. I was looking past his smelly rolly polly mr & Mrs. Clause parents toward the front door. I wanted to bolt.
Joy, based on the stories you told tonight, I Joel Mathers, as an executive board member of the Nominating Committee want to tell you that you passed your iniation in full colors. You are now the newest member of the Midland Family of Story Tellers.
What did he say. My ears were ringing and the clapping and laughter made the ringing sour. Wait. He said Midland Family of Story Tellers.
Joel had asked me to meet the family. Had he said the entire name? Had he led me to believe the alternative? He was on his feet now. The disguises were being peeled off as my new fellow artist filed by to congratulate me and let me know how they enjoyed by participation in this monthly game.
I later learned the month’s theme had been a holiday famlly party and they needed someone to be the unknowing guest. Although Joel and I had been dating only a few weeks he knew right off the bat that I was the one. He loved my stories and how realistic they were. He loved how I listened to his stories. And mostly he loved that I laughed and took his stories all in stride, not caring if they were true.
He felt, after all the best way to build a strong relationship was with a healthy imagination. I have to say, I agree.