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!