Green was the name of the man from the bank that took my house. He angled his body toward the door the whole time he sat in my home, both legs turned and twisted to the side, feet pointed…
This story began as a simple prompt, “[b]egin with the word ‘green.’ Write for at least ten minutes.” This little “free writing” exercise, which was meant to be practice before my “real” writing for the day, created a narrator and a character, Green, who I couldn’t get out of my mind. The magic of a story most often appears when I am not looking for it. It shows up in those moments after I’ve already solved the plot problem, or I’ve already written what I sat down to say. In those moments when my agenda is complete, but I’m still putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, that’s when the story takes on its own life. It’s often only after I’ve pushed aside my preconceived notions that anything interesting starts to happen.
I did not sit down that day intending to write about my hometown, or the shifting economy in coal-producing regions, or the personal hardships that those shifts created. But that is what ended up on the page.
“Green was the name of the man from the bank that took my house.”
From that sentence, I began to think about why someone might lose a house and how a character might feel about the man who personified the process. However, what drove this story was the narrator and his voice. I could practically hear the voice in my head as I wrote, which meant that the words often fell into the rhythm and cadence of the narrator’s voice. I repeated words out loud through each revision of “The Provider,” hearing my narrator’s slow, deep voice telling his story. His quick pride through parts and his melancholy about the changes in his life rang in my ears. This piece fell into a natural language, but not necessarily proper English or correct verb tenses on the page. During each revision, I asked myself whether this was a word my narrator would say and whether each phrase was one he would use. Then I tried to reconcile his manner of speaking with what looked right on the page and would be clear for a reader.
I found the ending to “The Provider” only after I put aside what I believed a reader might find interesting and how I wanted the story to end, and finally focused on who this narrator was, what he wanted, and what he was capable of in these circumstances. I know much less than my characters and my stories fare better when I remember that. While the narrator may not have the words to analyze the economic forces around him, he has a deep personal understanding which transcends any journalist’s or scholar’s view of the data. He is no particular man but reminds me of many in my hometown. “The Provider” was a fun piece to write because the voice in this piece is not fully mine, it is his, and I hope that I have done right by him.
ANNE C. ENGLISH is a writer, mother, and attorney (not necessarily in that order) living in Lexington, Kentucky. She has written fiction since she was a teenager, although she only recently began submitting pieces for publication. “The Provider” is her first published story. She is also revising her first novel. Find her on Twitter @annecenglish or Instagram at anne_c_english_writer.