Just blogging

What makes a good story?

This semester, I’m taking part in a photography workshop. And even though the main focus is set on photography, obviously, we’re also doing some exercises to help us become more creative. One of these exercises is writing short stories.

The first one was pretty simple and very very short. All we had to do was sit down somewhere and describe our surroundings. Then, in a second step, we had the task to develop that description and create a short story from it.

Initially, I was super excited about that. Mostly because it gave me a good excuse to go to Starbuck’s and stuff my face with cake. But also because it sounded like a fun thing to do, especially because somehow I always have some fighting couple or gossiping teenagers sitting right next to me. It’s highly entertaining. Btw, I seem to attract crazy people in general and I think (but am not sure) that I already wrote about this a few years ago. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

This day however, there were no gossiping teenagers and no fighting couples, just boring, normal people and a crying baby. So the transcript of my surroundings was just a bunch of onomatopoeias for the opening/closing door slamming and the coffee machine. Which was totally fine with me. I even thought it had some sort of experimental character to it. But apparently, the teachers hated it, because I didn’t get any feedback (not even bad feedback). Besides, it’s quite difficult to turn “clong” and “crshhhhh” into a short story. So the story I wrote instead was pretty shitty and didn’t have a story line at all. I basically just wrote down my thoughts but called myself Nancy. So no big literature at all.

Still, when some of the other short stories were presented in class, I was pretty underwhelmed. Or maybe our teacher praised them way too much before they were read out loud. I thought they were pretty cliché, from their story lines to expressions such as “unruly hair”, that everyone’s read at least a million times. Which made me wonder: “Am I just immune to good writing?”, and: “Is it ok to hate on detailed descriptions or am I just a moron who doesn’t have the slightest idea of art?” And anyway, “What makes a good story?”

Of course, you can look up all the technical stuff online somewhere. And of course, lots of practice makes your work better (hopefully). But besides that, I guess it’s like categorizing a joke (which is nothing but a very short story) as funny or not – purely subjective and depending on the reader’s taste.

However, since I can’t come up with fictional stories, I’ll share one of my personal life. As I mentioned, I attract lots of crazy people. Some would maybe be annoyed by that, but I find it rather funny. And it always gives me something to talk about.

Anyways, during my first two years in Paris I used to live in a chambre de bonne – a tiny studio that used to be intended for the maids back in the 19th century. My floor even had a seperate entry, so I would only cross the people living in the bougie apartments down in the hall.

One day, a couple of months after I’d moved in, a middle-aged lady who was living in the first floor approached me. She seemed nice at first, but also quite nosy. In just one second, she went from the regular small talk to rather personal questions, including for example how much rent I paid. I guess for her, the concept of boundaries just didn’t exist, as she then started to talk about how annoyed she was by her husband. I’m normally really good at getting rid of people that unnerve me, but it was different with her. Not only didn’t she notice the common signs of disinterest, but she also followed me after I told her for the umpteenth time that I had to go. This scenario kept happening everytime i ran into her, which by the way, seemed to happen more and more often and made me believe that she was waiting for me. Since her apartment was in the first floor, she was able to see the hall from her door. Besides, I found it rather awkward that I only met this person after living in that building for almost a year, but then suddenly at least once a week. One day, she even made me come see her apartment and meet her husband, just to prove me how annoying he was. The both of them then got in a fight and I quickly left. Another day, she ran into my then-boyfriend. I have no idea how she knew who he was, but judging from what he told me, it was a very weird encounter. And her telling him in her coarse cigarette-whiskey-voice that he was “very handsome” definitely added to the awkwardness.

The weirdest moment however happened one night after I came back from a night out. It wasn’t that late, but late enough to expect that the entire building was already sound asleep. But just as I reached the door to the servant’s entry, I heard the lock of Crazy Weird Lady’s apartment turn. I froze, hoping that she was just about to go outside to have a smoke. But then she started calling and so I ran. It’s not that I was afraid of her or anything, I just didn’t want to deal with her, especially not at 2am. But I heard her following me and so I continued running, all the way up to my place in the 6th floor. When I closed my door behind me I was hoping she’d given up. But then, a minute later, I heard a knock on my door. I first ignored it, but then there it was again, followed by a loud “Hello?”. I opened the door, unnerved, seriously wondering what kind of excuse she’d have to track me six floors in the middle of the night. Pause. – “Do you have a lighter?” – “No.” – “Ok, good night.”

That was the entire interaction. It also was the last time I saw the weird lady from the first floor. Maybe she was embarrassed, but I highly doubt that. Seen from a theatrical angle, it was the perfect exit. It would have been really hard to top this kind of crazy without making it totally creepy. Therefore, well done Crazy Weird Lady, well done!