Ring Truth

A few weeks ago my parents replaced their stair carpet. When they lifted up the old threadbare one they found a child’s silver ring underneath which they identified as belonging to my sister. “How did you know it was Barbara’s?” I asked. “Were her initials on it?”

“Trust me,” my dad said. “We both remembered it being Barbara’s.”

I had been hoping it was my ring, not so that I could claim it back from my sister but because if it did belong to her then there was only one explanation for how it had slipped underneath the stair carpet: I must have poked it under there myself. Indeed my dad confirmed this: “You know, it wasn’t just under the carpet but wedged right underneath the rubber underlay as well.”

I do remember now crouching on the stairs, curling my fingers under the frayed edge of the carpet, tucking the ring out of sight. I was only six or seven at the time and I had lost my own gold ring and been punished for it. It’s hard to say if I wanted my sister to suffer the same loss as I had or if I wanted her to be punished too. I suspect it was the latter. My gold ring did eventually turn up: a girl in my class had it. We had been playing weddings and we needed a ring for the ceremony. She had kept it after the game and it was under her bed for weeks before her mum found it and made her give it back to me. By that time I had probably forgotten about Barbara’s ring. I don’t think I intended it to stay hidden under the stair carpet for twenty years.

I feel so desperately sad at the idea that my sister was missing her ring all that time. I remember how devastating it is to be a child and to lose something precious. I feel guilty too, and it’s no consolation knowing that she has been reunited with her ring at last because what good is it to her now? She could wear it as a toe ring I suppose.

I guess it’s the writer in me but my first reaction to any strong emotion like that is to want to put it into a story. I recently read Sally Zigmond’s post on turning real life situations into short stories. It made me realise that I’m going to have to consider very carefully how much truth goes into my short story and how much fiction. I have a tendency when I write short stories to leave the ending open. That seems more honest to me than tying everything up neatly, because in real life there are no neat conclusions. However, as Zigmond points out, real life is not fiction. When people read short stories they have certain expectations that need to be satisfied, among them a beginning, a middle and an end. The real life ending of my ring story is not very satisfying so I need to create a new, fictional one. Writer Nicola Morgan says on her blog that you don’t need a neat ending, but you do need the reader to feel that at least some good degree of resolution and partial closure has been reached.  So how do I do this?

I was watching an episode of Frasier the other night, the one where Frasier and Niles take up the floor boards of their childhood home searching for a memory box they hid there as children. They do find the memory box, but also a human skull. Before calling the police, they decide to try to solve what they believe to be a murder case themselves. The starting point of that story is the same as mine: something hidden in childhood being found decades later. It might well have been based on an experience of the screenwriter. However, from that starting point the story moves in surprising directions, encompassing a police investigation, some hilarious theories and inevitably, a catastrophic misunderstanding. There is a definite sense of resolution at the end of the episode and I am reasonably sure that this latter part of the story is entirely fictional. Something for me to think about when it comes to writing my short story based on the reappearance of my sister’s ring.

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9 thoughts on “Ring Truth

  1. I do remember that episode! 🙂

    One of my critique members always likes to point out how much larger than life fiction has to be. It is true. WE do expect certain things out of fiction.

    Fun post.

  2. My personal feeling is that a story is just a question that a writer wants to ask. I don’t think it’s necessarily important for the writer to then provide the answer; just to frame the question clearly enough that the audience can guess. An open ending can be great, but only once the number of possible outcomes has been narrowed down a bit.

    Nice post by the way. There’s definitely a story in there; you just have to find your question!

  3. Thanks Jennifer, both for the award and for the feedback on this post. I wish I had a clearer idea of what it is that readers expect from fiction. It seems that I’m always breaking rules without realising it. I think I’ll do a bit of research on this. I’m sure there must be information somewhere on the web about what makes a good short story.

    I’m glad you’re not averse to an open ending, Stuart. I think where I fall down is by not narrowing down the possible outcomes enough. It’s something I have to work on. I think your idea about figuring out what question you want to ask is a good one. If I focused on a question that I wanted to go some way towards answering then it might be easier to write a satisfying ending to a short story.

  4. It’s amazing how something like that ring can bring back the details of something you’d almost forgotten. Also the emotions–the possibilities of your motivation, the past joy at finding your ring, the present guilt you feel. It’s that kind of stuff that makes me love writing: the delving into all that. Thanks for the post!

  5. Thanks for the link , Jennifer. It is a very interesting and pertinent post. Anyone else wondering about truth in fiction should check it out too.

    Thanks for stopping by, Jonathan. I would never have remembered hiding the ring if it hadn’t shown up again. You’re right, it is amazing how such a small thing can trigger so many memories and emotions. I think me wanting to write those emotions into a story is a way of making sure I don’t forget about them for another 20 years.

  6. Dear Helen,

    I’m really enjoying your blog so far. I will be back.

    Meanwhile though, poor you! I have five siblings and totally relate to remembering things I did in the past that still make me feel ashamed! For me, this post answers its own question. What readers look for in any narrative, fiction or non–is an ending.

    How did your sister respond to the discovery of her ring? Did she, like you, immediately realize what had happened to it all those years ago? And if yes, what was the result of that? Did you discuss it and come to some sort of peace about your childhood together? Or is it something that will just get swept under the carpet (no pun intended), perhaps affecting your relationship or symbolizing your relationship, though it’s never spoken of . . .

    Obviously those might not be reflections that you want to share in your writing blog, but from a story point-of-view, answering one of those questions might give the anecdote a feeling of resolution, a “point.” (Not that your blog post didn’t have a point, but you know what I mean!)

    Happy writing,
    Ev

  7. Hi Ev,
    Sorry it took so long for your comment to appear. I’ve had a cold these past few days and haven’t been checking up on my blog in favour of going to bed early with a hot drink and wads of tissue.
    My sister did realise what had happened to the ring but she seemed amused by it. What was more interesting was my dad’s reaction: he rushed the ring to my sister and was disappointed that she was not as excited as he was that it had turned up again after so many years. I’m wondering now if that story might be more interesting from a parent’s point of view.
    Your questions have given me a lot to think about, thanks Ev!

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