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Monday, June 25, 2012

Straight-forward First Person Point of View: Blue Kansas Sky

Blue Kansas Sky is a short story set in my high school town of Larned, KS. It's autobiographical in the sense that I did go play snooker, a lot, at Duke's Snooker Hall. Always curious to me is why snooker was the pool game in Kansas. I didn't play eight-ball until I went to college. All we had in that small town were snooker tables. I never rode the bus with the insane to town, but I remember there was one. So here is the opening:

There really is a Kansas sky, wide as the land is flat. On fall mornings it seems as if the stratosphere drops down just before dawn to touch the trees, make crisp the leaves of brown and red and yellow, rise again to paint the sky a deep blue, and leave the air as clean and as fresh as a newly-cut lemon.
This Saturday the crystals of the first light frost melt on the buffalo grass and wet my shoes as I go to catch a ride to town on the bus for the insane.

This is what I call straight-forward first person. The opening paragraph is the character making a kind of proclamation. The second paragraph sets the scene. Not a bad scene when you are riding on a bus with insane people to town. Hope that provides the hook.

First person allows for the narrator to do summary descriptions from his point of view. Such as this one

Later in the morning the old men will enter: ancient men who have become a part of the soil and are only waiting to reenter it. They sit in chairs against the wall as if they are still waiting for the Great Depression to end. Their faces have been furrowed by watching mud balls form in the air as rain fell through the dust storms of the 1930s; faces creased by seeing wheat burn in the sun, eaten by disease, consumed by floods. They have smelled their neighbors lucky oil wells, have plowed and plowed the soil like a sailor the sea, always searching, hoping, and finally despairing of making a living on their land. Yet somehow, like a stubborn leaf, late in fall, still on the tree, not knowing summer is over, they persist. Finally, near 70, perhaps the wife dead, the children who want nothing of farming gone into the city, they sell their land. Then, their soul torn from their body, they fill the poolroom with their lost stares. They come in hopes of finding a brief friendship and a bit of humanity over a game of dominoes.

It allows, too, for action:

I bend down to shoot at the pink six, but stop when I see the huge insane man is watching me and drooling on his folded hands. His hands are in direct line from the six and the pocket. I can see the pool of saliva run off the back of his hand onto his pants and another glob drop down as I shoot. The pink ball, as if repelled by the hands, catches the corner of the pocket, bouncing away.
As the ball comes to rest, two of Larned's best snooker players, Jackson Jones and Melvin Washington, walk through the front door. They are black, they are feared and Duke's is one of the rare places, other than school, where we have any kind of social contact with them.

This was a good story for first person, too, because of the time frame. Everything happens in a few hours. I think not a bad rule of thumb is that for first person the shorter the time frame the better.

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