The ear can see things that the eye can’t hearUnknown
Listening to the words we write is important. And the only way to do that, to know if they resonate, is to speak them out loud, and listen.
Hardwin Rust leaned forward and stared at the transmitter, he gently twiddled a brown knob and listened to the fizz in the ham radio set.
That’s how I started a short story about a ham-radio guy. Sitting alone in his garden shed, listening to voices that could come from anywhere around the world.
In this case, the voices are just along the road from his home.
At the beginning of any story I am always full of doubts about the whole thing; should he be a she? I prefer she. It’s like giving myself the opportunity to explore my own feminine side. I know It’s in there some place.
Writing comes from a deep place in the soul, and we should yield to it. If your writing comes from a dark cavern of monsters, well, that’s probably where it should come from. I’m no Edgar Allen Poe. But, we are all made of light and darkness.
I used to be a man’s man. A Hemingway type — I still am, but his sulking male big game hunter personality gets on my nerves. His prose is intimidatingly wonderful, and like Chekov, he’s hard to emulate. So when you try, you end up with words that sound like a piece written for 5–7-year-olds in a starter book.
John and Jane go Big Game Hunting on the Russian Steppe.
The apparent simplicity of Ernest Hemingway’s style is deceptive. Anyway, all I know is that he told me to write whatever I like, and then cut out the juicy bits, and that’s that. And that’s hard to do.
Hardwin Rust is a good name that I’ll keep. There is something important about a character name; it resonates, or it doesn’t. It’s the first thing that rings true in the ear of any writer and reader.
When I speak out loud those first words in my story, I know they’re not right. They don’t ring any bells in me. And they seem flat and obvious. Where’s the bang?
I like something that I read in a book by Lucia Berlin. She noted that sometimes when we tell a story in the first person, the reader can feel embarrassed by it. The acts described in the first person can be too close to the reader’s feelings, so the objectivity is lost. The embarrassing acts are not observed but felt, as if the writer is blaming the reader about those feelings.
To write in the third person allows the writer to stand back and keep the character in a dignified position. An observer who sees something silly, and knows that the character is a fool, won’t feel as if she’s too involved in the foolishness. It’s a fine weight to balance without losing the emotional impact of a story.
Often, “bestsellers” come across as cold and emotionless. All that paring down of sentences until the author is happy with the reported act of murder in three-word sentences. No wonder so many successful bestseller writers are ex-legal reporters.
Short stories require short, snappy dialogue, and each sentence should justify its existence. “Snappy”, doesn’t mean frivolous, or off-handed. A sentence must have weight — even a three-word sentence.
Read the first page of an Anton Chekov short story, and you’ll see what I mean; at first, you could imagine that it’s leading into a novel length work with so much descriptive narrative. He depicts the cold harsh nights on the Siberian Steppe in winter, two Shepards hear the footfall of a horse in darkness. They fear that the rider will steal their food or take their lives. The snort of the horse in the freezing air, the glint of a hardened face high in the saddle, the moonlight…
Then the story becomes dialogue. The men try their best to offer a greeting that won’t provoke the rider, but they want to know what motive he has to be out on a winter night. The only people who travel at night, are robbers and murderers after food and coin.
But as we read on, and the narrative and dialogue intertwine, the beauty of the short story reveals the sharp witted dialogue, and the words, whittled down to their truths, reveal the emotions and the motives of all the characters. Late night reading that chills in the ribs, and causes the cold and hunger of those dark days to rise in the room.
I’ve been working on Hardwin Rust and his ham radio fiasco for three weeks now. It’s not a thing to hurry, it must grow in its own time. To make his garden, the fox, the ham radio set, and Hardwin, all meld into one tightly connected bundle of nerves that shiver and shake in the dark garden.
I think I should pare my first sentence down to, “Hardwin Rust leaned forwards, and listen to the voice on the transmitter,” I don’t think the reader will mind. And listening to a fuzzy sound isn’t much fun, nor is it of any consequence to the story.
Hardwin Rust is a foolish man. He doesn’t have any friends, and that’s not because the world is harsh on him. He just doesn’t like people. He prefers a lifestyle where he can avoid people much of the time.
He owns a beautiful home with enough room to house a large family, but he lives alone. And prefers to spend his nights huddled over a ham radio set in the garden shed.
A large garden between himself and his house. Often, while he is busy twiddling knobs and carefully listening for call signs, he hears the rustling grass. He’ll stop what he is doing and creeps up to the shed door, then peeks through a crack that allows him to spy on a red fox.
The fox has chosen Hardwin’s garden as part of its territory. Hardwin lives in Battersea, South West London. It’s 1979, and the foxes are already beginning to move into the city.
Battersea was a breeding ground for criminals in the 1970s. It wasn’t uncommon to walk along the road at night, and see a group of men stealing the wheels off a car, taking the carburettors out of the engine, and unbolting the rally-steering-wheel from the driving column. All to be flogged down at the market the next day.
CB Radios were a craze back in those days. You could be sitting on a bus, going along Battersea Park Road, and see somebody standing on a street corner speaking into a CB Radio.
Criminals tried them out. Robbing a house, CB radio in one hand, torch in the other, and a look-out on the street corner.
More ambitious robbers used them too. Bank Heists, and local firms were robbed of wages stashed on a Thursday night in the safes. Men with CB Radios dodging about in the shadows and the yards, keeping each other informed about where, when and how they’d make their getaways.
Hardwin Rust has his house tucked away in a small and narrow road that has been spared the eyes and ears of most robbers. A little paradise in the mayhem of the Big Smoke.
Of course, something interesting must happen to Hardwin Rust. And it does, he hears something that makes him perk up, and become interested. Hardwin, not to forget, is a selfish fool. And fools rush in where angels fear to tread, so Hardwin Rust will learn his lesson in due course.
I’ve written many notes about Hardwin, that I feel like a school teacher writing a report about an unruly student.
“Hardwin expects everything to fall into his lap — he has to learn to apply himself more”.
“It’s hard to report anything of value about Hardwin, he is the class fool, and it will lead to his own downfall.”
Note-taking at the kitchen table, first thing in the morning is the best time for me; coffee, cats and Hardwin for several weeks more.
Prefer to read on a bigger platform – My articles on Medium.com