Imitation of Flannery O'Connor

There is also a copy of this exercise in the Google Doc Imitation Exercise folder. If you'd like me to read what you come up with, please email it to me or post it here in the comments.

Write an Imitation of Flannery O’Connor’s 

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find”


The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.


O’Connor starts us off with a simple statement about what the main character doesn’t want to do.


1. Let’s think of some opening sentences that introduce a character by telling the reader what he/she/they doesn’t want. Write three. 




The babysitter didn’t want to ride home with Mrs. Collins.


Anna didn’t want to go home.


Miss Elsie Lott did not want to move out of her two-story house.


She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting at the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sport section of the Journal.


O’Connor is doing a lot here. She follows up what the character doesn’t want by stating what she does want and then introduces the second character as a way of the first character trying to get what she wants. Let’s try to do the same. Pick one of your sentences from before and continue by following the same pattern: “He/She/They wanted to ________ and he/she/they was/were (some action or description that involves the second character). (Second character) was_________________. He/she was (action that establishes place, coupled with specific, vivid detail.)




The babysitter didn’t want to ride home with Mrs. Collins. She wanted to ride home with Mr. Collins and Cat had been wracking her brain all night over how to manipulate Jaden to make this happen. Jaden was the Collins’ only child. He was currently sitting on the edge of the marble countertop in the kitchen, legs swinging, sneakers beating scuffs on the formerly-pristine white cabinet below, dipping a butter knife into a family-sized tub of peanut butter.



“Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”


This is where O’Connor really lets us start to see the grandmother’s character: through her words and her actions. She also does something so hard here: she brings up, in a seemingly random and unimportant way, the very serious trouble that is going to befall this family. As we try to imitate this, first focus on getting the dialogue and action of your character to be a clear and telling as possible. But if you can suddenly think of a way that this story could end up being about what the character is bringing up here, by all means, throw it in. (For me, I generally have to muse on this a bit, or I’d choose to wait until I’ve written a draft of the story and rewrite this opening to bring up the main conflict this way, once I know what that main conflict is going to be. Anyway, to the imitation: “A line of dialogue addressing character 2, ending with his/her/their name,” he/she/they said, “second line of dialogue,” and she/he/they describe an action. “Longer bit of dialogue, with no speech tag.”




The babysitter didn’t want to ride home with Mrs. Collins. She wanted to ride home with Mr. Collins, not for pervy reasons, but because she preferred his awkward silence to his wife’s incessant chatter, and Cat had been wracking her brain all night over how to manipulate Jaden to make this happen. Jaden was the Collins’ only child. He was currently sitting on the edge of the marble countertop in the kitchen, legs swinging, sneakers beating scuffs on the formerly-pristine white cabinet below, dipping a butter knife into a family-sized tub of peanut butter. “So hey, Jadan,” Cat said, “how about after this we make a video for your mom?” and she took the knife from his grubby hand and dipped it into the bowl of chocolate chips she’d poured for him and promptly returned it. “I can take the video on my phone and there’s an app where we can edit it and add music and special effects and stuff. It’s easy. We can make a funny video that will make her laugh and will probably also make her cry. Moms always cry about things like that.”


Hopefully by now we have a solid sense of the situation--and the big trouble that might be on the horizon for these characters!


  1. Catherine generally hated going to the optometrist. It’s not the dentist, or the doctor, but the strange being that checked up on your eyes. It’s weird. Like you think of metal scraping against enamel in a way that sounds like nails on a chalkboard. Especially when the pokey bit taps against your gums. Or feeling that heart beat thing squeeze around your arm in a strange way. Your brain screaming that they are gonna force you to loose your arm. One that makes you think if health should be so akin to torture. But the eye doctor? The way you have to look at shrinking letters, or stare into a light so bright it nearly hurts. Makes you wonder if they are messing with your eyes on purpose to make more money. How it also combines the waiting room of the dentist with the forced wait in the office for the doctor? Catherine can hear her mother chatter in her ear like a specter. “Cat. You have to go in, your glasses aren’t even doing what you need them too anymore.” God she wonders if she’ll be able to get there before the dry heave prevents her from operating her ancient Toyota corolla.

    If a God existed, she wishes he would listen and just give her 20/20 vision already.

  2. Hannah did not want to leave her room. She wanted to stay tucked under her bed, and she was we the crevice between the floor and her bedframes with blankets to ensure her mama couldn’t pull her out. Her mama was stubborn. She was digging her fingers around in the blankets, feeling for a weak point that she could wrap her slender fingers around and tug off the ground like one yanking out a weed. “Come on, Hannah,” her mama said. “It’s not good for you to be under the bed like that. I know dad gets a laugh out of it, but he won’t find it funny after a couple of minutes. You know he won’t be gentle pulling you out from under there. So why don’t you just surrender peacefully, with some dignity?”


    1. I liked this--it's got a nice, physical sense to it. Is there a way to add a layer of conflict beyond her not just wanting to get out of bed? A secondary reason?


  3. Elsie did not want to go to the Parent Teacher Conference. She wanted to go the grand opening of a new restaurant with her husband. He was already turning the car towards the school, and Elsie was thinking of all sorts of excuses to make him turn around and go the other way. Maybe she can joke that he missed the turn, that the meeting was taking place next week, or they actually missed the meeting altogether. Though none of those excuses would have worked due to him also receiving the same email. The funny thing is that she wasn’t the one being judged in the meeting, but rather her son.
    “I hope that this teacher is nice.” Elsie thought aloud.
    Her husband gave her a quick glance and raised his eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
    “It’s just in the past, teachers usually judge Roger so harshly. Saying that he tends to daydream all the time, but that’s not a bad thing. Having an imagination is good especially at that age.”
    “You can have an imagination, but a college only cares about grades.”

    1. What I like about this immediately is the instant prickle of conflict that the reader can feel. Nice.

  4. Mr. Robinson did not enjoy his book sent back 30 pages shorter than what he submitted. He wanted to see his editor recognize the beauty of the content crafted by his own ingenuity. He grew up alone, without the baggage of family. He taps his foot against aging hardwood floors that creak against his every step, the scuffed marks of the wood chair being dragged wel tread upon. Mr. Robinson did not want his book to be cut down to such lengths. He wanted to show the world what genius flowed undeterred by his editor, whose profession became more akin to a lawyer. He loathes unnecessary time spent hunched at a chair that doesn’t fit him, at a computer whose display is two inches too short, and he types away 30 minutes of wasted life. The science is missing, and he never finds himself alone. “It is within your best efforts that begin trouble throughout the clarity that begets the aforementioned angst you seem to beacon. I urge you to reconsider the value of repetition.”

    - Tomio

  5. Slyvie didn’t want to go to the drive-in movie. She wanted to go to the concert with her friends and she was forced by her mother to go to the movie as “family bonding time”. She sat in the backseat with her arms crossed in show of how much she didn’t want to be there, smashed in between two of her younger brothers who were fighting over her and making crude sounds. It was starting to get dark and the sunset gleamed through the window, cascading pinks and purples over her white skirt.
    “Hey mom,” Sylvie said. “I heard it was going to rain tonight.” She pulled herself out of the grasp of her younger brothers and lifted herself into the front to where she could easily see both of her parents. “If we leave now we could still make it home before the crowd gets here and once everyone is here it will be more difficult to get out and so if we leave now we have a better chance of doing something else. Otherwise, tonight will be a waste.”


    1. This was a really nice imitation. I'd be curious to see where it goes.

  6. Ted did not want to be at the zoo. He wanted to get home in time to watch the new episode of Space Missionaries, and he had been stuffing sugar down Zane’s throat every chance he could in order to force an outing-ending gastronomical reaction. Zane was his older sister’s youngest 5 year old. He was getting his face painted to look like Spiderman by a clown whose bright red smile was starting to get eroded by the flood sweat dripping from under his wig; however, the empty carb pinballing through Zane’s veins were causing him to jerk and fidget so much, the design was more like a sunburn victim passing from 2nd to 3rd degree. “Well, look at you, Zane,” Ted said, “I went and got you a Mountain Dew” and he handed the novelty cup in the shape of a monkey to the child whose face contorted mightily as he sucked on the straw, which caused the clown to throw me a nasty glance. “So I was checking out the big map over there, and it looks like we have seen just about all the animals worth seeing. I know your mom wants to spend all day going through every single boring goat pen, but why don’t we skip to the end. See that big cage over there? That’s where they keep the bears. Now, doesn’t a cool guy like you want to see the scary bears?”

    -Logan O.


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