The Challenge

This short story was written in response to a challenge set by Martha at The John Roan’s Creative Writing Club.  She asked us to write a narrative where the first sentence began with A and we worked through the alphabet consecutively.  I decided that a short action-driven narrative set within a family home would provide a coherent structure that I could embellish with description as I wrote.

The Process

What was challenging and supportive about The Challenge?

After 15 minutes of writing, I’d reached the letter Q and whilst others said they found it hard to keep track of alphabetical order in the throes of creativity, I had jotted the alphabet down at the side of the page in advance.  During the act of composition, this list-like structure stopped me ‘looking’ at it like a story even though it sounded like one when I read it aloud.

I’d started with speech and from there the action flowed quite freely and generally chronologically.  As I approached P however, I realised I could begin the sentence with the character’s name, so slotted that in and at the same time decided that the penultimate line would be an accusation (of what nature, it would soon become clear) beginning with: “You… ”.  When I found myself stumped generating verbs beginning with J and Z I Google-searched for a selection, before opting for the words that best conveyed the action.

It was fascinating to hear about the other writers’ experiences and their story outcomes.  In one story, I loved the clever way that the ‘superior writer and narrator’ broke the fourth wall at one point to address the audience directly and introduce a fresh perspective.  It also turned out that most of the other writers had relied heavily on characters’ names to help them ‘deal’ with challenging letters like X and Z.  How I wish I’d employed the same trick!  We all had a giggle when Ximena was introduced as a central character early in another story, whilst another was set in an epic world populated by animal tribes including one beginning with X that I’m not sure how to spell…

After the session, I couldn’t leave it.  I had to finish the list, of course, and then I wanted to reformat it into paragraphs.  Every time I read it aloud, I continued to tweak the language and was grateful I’d made the decision to underline the letters of the alphabet, so I didn’t lose sight of the challenge during the editing process.  I hope you enjoy it.

The A-Z of Pants

Alright, get off me!” Backing away from Daniella’s dirty pants, Payton smacked his head against the bathroom door frame.  Coloured spots danced before his eyes as that familiar, hated face slowly came into focus.  Daniella, his bully-cousin, looked genuinely concerned; something Payton hadn’t seen before.  Ever.

For the first time, it dawned on him, he could have the upper hand.  Grimacing, he rolled his eyes back in his thudding skull to what felt like the point of no return.  He moaned and muttered almost inaudibly, allowing a little spit to bubble at one corner of his mouth.  “I know you’re just pretending,” Daniella fired back but Payton sensed doubt in her tone and feared he might never be offered such an opportunity again.

Jerking his head from side to side before lying dead still was sure to alarm her further, he reasoned.  Kneeling over her older cousin, Daniella began to sweat; it was working.  Looking at Payton’s lifeless body, barely daring to believe, her chest tightened.  Mum would kill her and she only hoped it happened before she had to face lovely Aunty Becky.  No one had the slightest idea how truly nasty she’d always been to Payton and now she’d accidentally murdered him.  Over a pair of pants!

Payton lay perfectly still.  Quite still, despite the warm liquid slowly seeping into his T-Shirt and pooling under his neck.  Realising, as the unmistakably acrid smell filled his clear nostril, that Daniella had wet herself was a turning point.  “Sorry Payton, I’m so so sorry,” she stuttered.  Tears welled in Daniella’s eyes; Payton could almost see them in her choked voice.  Uncomfortable as this was for him physically, his chest swelled imperceptibly in celebration as he held his breath.  Victory was in sight!

Waiting until Daniella’s head was close, so close, he could feel her ragged breath on his cheek; Payton’s face burst back into life.  X-ray eyes penetrated Daniella’s wretched soul, cementing the way things would be from this day forward.  “You wet yourself, you baby!” he jeered at her, cowering unsteadily on her haunches.  Zeroing in on Daniella’s blotchy face, before quite deliberately shifting his gaze to her sodden shorts, he laughed triumphantly.


Naming and characterisation

The cousins in my story were originally called Dave and Paul.  The back story in my head is that their mums are sisters, so the cousins end up spending a lot of time together. They are a similar age and appear to have lots of shared interests but Dave has secretly bullied Paul for as long as he can remember.

I thought that creating a short action-driven narrative centred on a fight the cousins have one afternoon would be manageable in the 26-sentence limit.  I alluded to the back story by explicitly calling Dave a bully early on and it was appropriate to reference his mum and aunt (who I called Becky) later in the story.

Towards the end of the writing, using pronouns to differentiate between two male characters was becoming increasingly annoying.  Especially, as I had not created especially ‘rounded’ characters on the page and I was dealing with some of the trickier letters of the alphabet at the same time.  I also didn’t like the names Dave and Paul; I always have trouble with names and often use ‘holding names’ so I can progress with the narrative.

I had to stick with names beginning with those letters to meet the challenge, so I Google-searched female names beginning with P and male names beginning with D.  This led me to my characters: Phoebe and Dylan.  I was working through the narrative, adjusting the pronouns but hit a snag when I reached H.  (I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.)

So, with playing Fairy Godmother once again, Payton and Daniella were ‘born’.  I knew my characters were now ‘real’, as when I continued to edit the pronouns, I automatically adjusted phrases and dialogue that didn’t sound like ‘them’ and the story packed more of a punch when I made Payton the elder of the two.  Their many re-christenings notwithstanding, the relationship between the two remained utterly pants and provided me with a title to boot!