Monday, November 7, 2011

50 people, 500 words

One day in creative writing class, one of my class mates raised her hand and asked, "How many characters should you have in one piece? Are there any rules about that?"

And my teacher replied, "There aren't any rules--you can have as many characters as you want. Just be careful that the audience can keep track of them. Too many characters can become boring--for instance, you probably wouldn't want to squeeze 50 characters into... 500 words."

He was using hyperbole when he said this, because no writer was going to try to fit 50 different people into only 500 words.

I, however, chose to ignore the hyperbole.

I took his statement as a personal challenge to my skills.

So,without further ado, here are 500 words about 50 people in a restaurant eating Saturday brunch.

The gentleman in an outdated suit rants politics at the girl who smiles, all except her eyes. The biker scowls at the girl as he leaves. He ran away from home and drunken wife.
The mother of five is reading Stephen King. Her oldest boy plots to startle her. Her five year old refuses to speak to the brunette cheerleader with a blinding smile.
A librarian who secretly loves parkour enters primly next to a skater-boy who claims he never reads.
His sisters trail behind; twins, hand in hand. One hates being a twin but will never tell. The other silently guesses this.
The crazy cat lady, all alone, doesn’t actually own cats. The freshman, one table over, knows this but taunts her anyway.
His friend, the sophomore, is cruel because his mother is drunk because her husband ran away.
The jock hides behind teasing and wishes she knew, but the blonde isn’t flirting, she’s being polite.
Two scrabble-players deliberate in icy silence.
A tomboy scorns the blonde for flirting and scorns herself for not knowing how. Her boyfriend is thinking but doesn’t say how glad he is to have her.
The cat lady’s grandson comes to her defense. She didn’t want him to.
Pink hair covers one book-lover’s eyes. She wants to talk to the mother of five but doesn’t.
A skinny girl meets her sister. She is self-conscious. Her sister is chubby and okay with it and happy. Their brother enters, covered in tattoos. The librarian leaves before he can recognize her.
A schoolmate sees the twins, but can’t tell them apart so doesn’t acknowledge them. His father reads the paper. His mother sits sighing, vying for attention.
A group of friends laugh from the corner. A boy who likes his sister’s best friend is trying too hard. The sister and the other boy share a glance. Everyone knows but the one who should.
The overworked waiter is about their age. They ignore him. His coworker sees and decides to misplace their food. She smiles at him but he is tired.
The manager tries to calm the political man as he raves.
The cat lady’s boyfriend comes to get her in a jeep. Pink hair brushes past him. No one sees her leave.
One of the scrabble players is cheating.
A person at a middle table scribbles notes on a napkin. A bearded man nearby wonders what but never asks. His mom finally shows up, half an hour late on his birthday. She forgot. He worries.
The hostess’ smile is empty. She wonders how long she can hide her pregnancy. The busboy with a crush sees her fear. He spills on an elderly woman no one noticed until now.
Three cooks are shouting over misplaced food.
A toddler presses his face against the glass partition. The twelve year old on the other side who always wanted a brother does the same and gets yelled at by his flustered single father.  His soul mate walks in. He doesn’t notice.

I didn't intend for this to be so depressing when I took the challenge, but it occurred to me that people tend to focus on themselves and ignore the people around them. There are people you encounter every day who have things going on in their lives right now--good things or bad things, and you never stop to think about what those things are or the little ways you can help them.

When I was in Florida, (I went to Florida to stay with my Aunt for two weeks and did all kinds of Flordian things by myself and forgot to tell you people anything about it. Oops.) I went to an Ihop by myself to get lunch and met a waitress who told me she had stopped at the dollar store the night before and someone had mugged her in the parking lot and stolen her purse. She was really freaked out about this and unsure of what she was going to do about her credit cards and everything, but she also told me that her daughter had shown up unexpectedly for a visit that morning. She hadn't seen her in months because they lived in separate states and couldn't afford to travel much. She was so upset by one event and so thrilled by the other, that she couldn't help but share them with me, a perfect stranger, and my life was made more rich by finding out about her life. I saw through someone else's eyes for a moment. I felt the excitement and joy with her of a perfectly timed visit from someone she loves, right when life seemed like it was out to get her.

There is a point to this. We need to be aware of the people around us, even the ones with whom we feel we have nothing in common. They have hopes and loves and hates and horrors going on in their lives as you do in yours. Life is about finding the connections.



Bee said...

I think you need a "like" button. I don't have much of a comment except to agree wholeheartedly.

The Director said...

That was amazing. Thank you, Jane.

Sienna North said...

I didn't expect to like this--after all, you're breaking pretty much every rule in the book--and yet, somehow, i did. You gripped me emotionally and, really, each character stood out to me and caught my attention in a different way. I am honestly quite envious of your skills! Great job :)