The creation of tension and suspense and mood shifts to me are just as important as creating characters and the plot themselves. Tension and suspense is what makes the story come alive. For the short story I saw the pandemic, its many protocols and the isolation, unease and distrust the most logical source of tension. I thought about the two characters being so stuck in their pandemic induced cocoons and their repetitive daily lives that it would be extremely difficult to break free of it.
The moment that the characters lock eyes at the beginning of the story is when that unraveling first takes flight. As I write, I figure out through the process of tapping the keys on my laptop where and what that unravelling will lead to and where it brings the characters. Does it bring them together or does it isolate them further. I don’t know the answer to that question until I write it out.
The process of creating is always the process of discovering. This is why I love to create. This is what brings me such great satisfaction.
As I write I am always reflecting on my own reality (as all writers do) and what is happening in the periphery. When describing the grocery store for example, I envision the same FreshCo where I’ve been shopping for more than 10 years. Identifying people by their gaits is also something that I take from my own personal experience. I spent some time walking around in a blur before I got my first pair of glasses at the age of 13. Those personal elements provide the starting point but then the structure and other elements are changed to suit the story. This would be the same if I were to start with an exterior setting. In this case the landscape would change to suit the needs of the characters and or plot.
Using art as a commentary on the ills of society is what I have been doing my whole life and is very much part of my DNA. Since there is so much wrong in the world, I never run out of things to comment on. In this age where people’s phone, a mode of communication, seem to hermetically sealed to the palm of their hands, communication appears to become more and more defused. Instead of conversations, pictographs are used to express sentiments. This takes away the speaker’s true intention and strips the conversation of any relevance or depth. Social Media has become the bane of society. But to some, especially those more isolated than others, it has become a lifeline.
From Adam’s Facebook feed, which was public by default, Eva learnt that he had been single for some time. The only people he had been photographed with for several years were two male friends and his mother.
Adam had taken a more scenic route back to his place. He strolled along a street lined with huge homes and large trees that had been there for centuries, thinking about Eva. When he got home, he did the same as her. Lasered his groceries and went to his computer.
“Boom, there you are,” he squealed when he saw Eva’s picture. She was more beautiful that he had imagined. He smiled when he saw that they had ordered from the same roti shop on the same day. “Good taste, too,” he crooned. The rest of his evening was spent finding out as much about as Eva as the internet would allow. He found out that she shared a birthday with one of his exs and enjoyed historical fiction and romance novels.
At 2 AM, he was still browsing and finding more and more information about her. In that time, he could have easily reached out to her by text or email since he had found both within minutes, but he was having too much fun playing the online voyeur.
The next day he told himself that he would reach out soon. Several weeks went by and no attempts of communication were made.
In her apartment, Eva was going through almost the same thought processes and had learnt a similar number of facts about Adam. She, like him, was also not quite ready to engage in actual conversation. It was easier to get to know the strange man the same way she did any character in the tv or web series that she binged watched, at a distance. Even though she has seen him in person, he wasn’t quite real to her even though she now knew what he looked like beyond his mask and even what he had eaten for breakfast that morning.
The pair explored the lives and spied on one another for weeks before Adam made the first move. He had hoped that he would run into Eva at the grocery store again, but it never happened.
He had found out through, her online profile that Eva sometimes used various grocery deliver services, so he assumed that what she was currently doing. He had used those same services as well but had stopped since he had encountered her. That short exchange of a very few words between them about something so inconsequential had made a tremendous impact on him. It was the most meaningful and stimulating thing that had happened to him in long time. The last time that he had felt such a jolt of excitement was when he had discovered a new porn site that catered to his long toe foot fetish.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Christene Browne, originally from St. Kitts, is a well-respected and internationally acclaimed Toronto independent filmmaker and was the first Black woman to direct a feature film in Canada. In 2011 she was awarded the Visionary award by the Women's International Film & Television Showcase for her ground-breaking documentary series Speaking in Tongues: The History of Language, which features Noam Chomsky. She recently completed a feature documentary on Toronto’s Regent Park, the oldest and largest Canadian housing complex, and is working on an animated documentary on the early life of famed Canadian author Austin Clarke. Her first novel Two Women (2013, Second Story Press) is about two women who share the same soul and deals with the cyclical nature of domestic violence. Her second novel Philomena (Unloved) (2018, Second Story Press) tells the story of a woman who lives a life devoid of love and deals with issues of sexual violence, mental health, and homelessness. She currently teaches at Ryerson University in the RTA School of Media and is developing her first libretto.