The Writing Group

“I’m new to this writing group, so please forgive me if I don’t do things correctly.”

“Have you participated in other writing groups?”

“No, this is my first. You might say I’m a group virgin.”

“Do you want to read today? Since it’s your first meeting, we’d all understand if you’d just prefer to listen.”

“No, I’d very much like to read. It’s why I’m here. I need your feedback.”

“Well, then, why don’t you have the honor of leading off? That way we’ll be sure to have plenty of time to discuss your work. What would you like to read?”

“It’s a short story. It’s about a murder. The narrator is….”

“Don’t tell us in advance, just read it and then we’ll discuss it, that’s the way this group always works. The author reads the text out loud without any extraneous comments. And we listen all the way through to the end without interrupting. Then we ask questions or comment on your work. Is that OK with you?”

“If that’s the way you work, I’ll go along with it. Here goes….”

****

“Thank you. That was a fascinating piece, an unusual story. We don’t often see a murder story where we know who the killer is but he gets away with his crime.”

“Exactly. I wanted to write a different kind of story.”

“I like the first-person narrative, It puts us right into the killer’s mind. You know what he is thinking every minute of the time, from the moment he first approaches his two victims to the climax where he shoots them to death.”

“That’s the effect I was striving for. I’m glad you feel I’ve succeeded.”

“Yes, that part is very well done. But there’s something else I am curious about, that I don’t understand. What is the relationship between the author, that’s you, and the narrator. You give the narrator your name. When the narrator looks in the mirror and comments on his appearance, he has glasses and a beard and a deep suntan just like you. He is even wearing a blue jacket over a striped shirt just like what you are wearing today.”

“Yes, you are a clever observer. I can see why you are the moderator of this writers’ group. To answer your question, I made the narrator as much like myself as possible to make it easier to get into his head, to understand his thoughts and motivation.”

“Hmmm, interesting technique. And I guess it succeeded pretty well. You certainly leave no doubt that you understand the narrator. But there’s something else.”

“What’s that?”

“The author seems not only to understand the killer-narrator but to sympathize with him to a remarkable degree. There’s no distance between the author and the killer, no implied judgment, no sense that the narrator might be an unreliable observer of his own actions and motives. You take everything he says and thinks and does at face value.”

“Well, that’s the choice I made, the technique I wanted to use. I wanted a reliable narrator that the reader could trust and believe in, not an unreliable narrator that wasn’t putting it all out in the open, that was holding back, keeping secrets.”

“I see what you mean. But the narrator is such an unpleasant person, a braggart, totally self-involved, a manipulator. In a word, an evil man who betrays his closest friend and kills him for no reason but petty jealousy.”

“Now, that’s where I have to disagree with you. The narrator it seems to me, is a highly intelligent person, a very sensitive man, who is deeply offended by his friend’s accusation that he was trying to steal his girlfriend.”

“But isn’t that exactly what the narrator was trying to do—steal his best friend’s girlfriend?”

“Well, I don’t know. ’Steal’ is a pretty harsh word.”

“What word would you use?”

“I’d say the narrator was flirting, just playing around to see what kind of response she’d make.”

“But the scene in the bar? Or rather, that night in the parking lot after the narrator and his best friend and the girl leave the bar? Where he shoves her up against the outside wall of the bar, twists her arms behind her back and pushes his body against hers? Is that just flirting?”

“Sure. Flirting is what happens when you don’t have sex, and they didn’t.”

“It seems like only the intervention of her boyfriend, your closest friend, stopped him from raping her.”

“Well, there again I have to disagree with you. It’s never a question of rape.”

“Why not?”

“Because the narrator sees that a little bit of force, just a hint of violence, turns her on.”

“And that’s why she screams?”

“You know, there are screams and then there are screams.”

“So why then did her boyfriend knock the narrator down?”

“Ah, you see, he got carried away, he shouldn’t have done that, and that’s why the narrator had to shoot him.”

“And the girl, too?”

“Well, I do regret that.”

“Thank you for reading your piece to us. But I am sorry to conclude your writing is not a good fit with our group. You see, we only deal in fiction.”