Description of the setting outside the door creates tension
am outside the door. I can see the reflection of fluorescent lighting in the metal of the round, shiny doorknob. I feel nervous and think back over the past twenty minutes or so – arriving through elevator doors into the 44th floor foyer of Media Services Incorporated. Awkwardly fumbling over my name when mentioning my appointment to the friendly yet intimidatingly efficient receptionist. Waiting and fidgeting in an uncomfortable chair while pretending to leaf through magazines stacked on a glass table. The Media Services Inc. foyer is very tidy, but smells like cheap air freshener and vacuum cleaners. It makes me uncomfortable. It feels like the time I had to wait outside the Principal’s office back in Year 4.
At some point the receptionist curtly yet politely informs me that I can go through, saying, “Mr Paxton will see you now. Through the corridor, third room on the right. 44E.”
New setting (inside) – the glare of the personified sun shows that even nature is against him
Conventional response from Mr Paxton – we still aren’t aware of why the character is here
4E. I can see the black lettering on a small, clean metal plate on the wooden door I am still idling in front of. I really should open it. As I put my right hand on the doorknob I feel a warm dampness on the cool metal. My sweaty palms remind me of how afraid I am. I quickly wipe them on the back of my newly-bought black pants and take a deep breath before turning the doorknob and stepping through into 44E.
I close the door behind me quickly and quietly. I am inside a spacious conference room with a big glass backdrop that opens out onto a forest of skyscrapers. The sun is uncomfortably positioned just over the window’s top, glaring through the clouds just enough to make my eyes squint. Sitting at the far end of a large, circular conference table is Mr Paxton. He looks up from a leather folio and an assortment of papers with a placid, reserved expression.
“Aaaah. Mr. Merchant. Mr … David Merchant, that is. Yes.” He gestures towards a black office chair at the end of the table closest to me. “Please, sit down.”
I take a few paces over the carpet, which is that ugly replaceable carpet that comes in sickly green squares. As I sit d
The word resume now confirms what readers may have guessed about the situation
Nervousness continues to be conveyed through the surroundings
Interior monologue reveals lack of confidence
In this place where he doesn’t belong he remembers his home and family where he does belong
A simple sentence paragraph stands out as if this is the important moment for the character to sell himself
More background that makes us sympathetic and outlines the challenge to belong he faced at home
Anxiety about whether he will be accepted and belong
own I hastily look around the room, trying to get my bearings. Most things in the room are made up of hard, square shapes. The carpet. The panelled wooden walls. The rows of fluorescent lights on the ceiling. There are fake plastic plants placed neatly in each of the room’s four corners. I turn back to Mr. Paxton, who looks slightly younger than I expected but still neat and serious in a dark blue suit, glasses with rectangular frames and a red tie with a geometric design on it. He absently flicks through the resume I emailed Media Services Incorporated some weeks ago.
I feel stillness in the air. I should say something. I clear my throat and say, “Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to see me today.” The words sound awkward and clumsy.
“It’s fine,” Mr. Paxton replies neutrally. “You are interested in an entry-level position with us. Full-time data entry and administration, correct?” I nod. “You have no previous experience in the corporate sector. Your recent HSC results in English, Legal Studies and Commerce, while not in the highest range, are nonetheless strong. This is an advantage as far as we are concerned here at Media Services International.” Why is he reciting my resume back to me? Has he already decided I won’t have the job and is just going through the motions? Makes sense, I don’t belong here anyway. Mr. Paxton folds his hands deliberately and neatly on the table and asks, “Why do you want a position with us at Media Services Incorporated?”
I look at the conference table nervously. Through the glossy surface I can see it’s made from Australian red cedar. They used to harvest that back out where I live, in rural NSW. Mum and Dad have a sideboard back on the farm that is made from the same wood. Dad would sometimes do carpentry work in the shed and he taught me about the different Australian woods. I’m reminded of my home on the farm and the comforting smells and sounds of the bush I love. It seems a world away from where I am now, up on the 44th floor with the city skyline visible behind Mr. Paxton’s head.
I speak up.
“I didn’t feel like there were the best job opportunities for me in my home town. My friends were getting jobs in trades or on farms, but I don’t feel I would be good at that kind of thing. My careers counsellor suggested your company to me. I thought I could contribute something to you and start a career here.”
Where I come from, I don’t feel like there is a place for a kid who is OK with words but bad with his hands. I want to go somewhere different. But looking into Mr. Paxton’s impassive face, I realise that is probably just wishful thinking. Mr Paxton nods gently and appears to look through me. T
A positive result
A place for me suggests a new sense of belonging
here’s an uncomfortable silence before he closes his folio gently yet definitely. I sit with my hands on my lap. In my head, I’m bracing myself for the rejection, planning my train ride back home, out of the city and into the country. I should just find work there, where I belong.
“Mr Merchant ... David. I would like to offer you an entry-level position with us here at Media Services Incorporated. You seem to have the right attitude to make your way here with us and a willingness to put yourself out to find a new opportunity. I will have to cut this short as I have another meeting, but please give your latest details to Tina at the front on your way out. One of our people will be in touch with you shortly to arrange your first starting day.”
He offers his hand to me. I manage to shake it and say thanks through the shock of being accepted. As I close the door of 44E behind me, I think there may be a place for me here after all.
Analysing the response Note how simple this story is and yet how successful it is. This is a well-crafted story focused on an important moment. The story offers a clear example of “show not tell” with the setting descriptions conveying much more about the feelings of the character. It is also a fine example of how to fill in detail as you need it. The challenge of belonging is subtly presented through the references to home and the persona’s skill with words not his hands.
Grammar hint: Using participles
Awkwardly fumbling over my name when mentioning my appointment to the friendly yet intimidatingly efficient receptionist. Waiting and fidgeting in an uncomfortable chair while pretending to leaf through magazines stacked on a glass table.
Imaginative writing is not always about being grammatically accurate. These two sentences from the first paragraph are not complete sentences and use present participles, which are parts of verbs. (The present participle ends with –ing.) In order to be complete, you need to add an auxiliary verb and a subject. For example, it should read: I was fumbling … (I is the subject , was fumbling is the complete verb). Using an incomplete sentence adds to the sense of turmoil that the character is feeling.
Starts with stimulus statement while extending it to suggest the theme of exclusion
A very negative tone suggests a bitter person – the link from Santa to the Grim Reaper is explained later
Direct address to the audience followed by rhetorical questions
The reason for the negative attitude
A hint of sadness is conveyed by the incomplete sentences describing the mother’s movements and the ellipsis suggests her death
The horror emphasised through rhetorical questions
The power of silence is presented very methodically
Contrast set up with the emotion of sadness
Topic sentence moves on to next phase of character’s life, which is described indirectly through the cliché off the rails
There is a gap of time suggested as we move back to the opening scene outside the door
She is not named but we know it is Mrs Cook
Sense of time with the mention of growing up
Strongly suggests that exclusion will change to inclusion and belonging
I am outside the door yet again, just as always, in this festive season with good will and love to all men (and women) – except me.
Every year the time I most dread comes upon me with more and more force. For months before – as early as September (yes, I have seen Christmas trees in September!) – the jolly season opens its doors wide open. “Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, boys and girls,” says a fat man who really needs to be in a nursing home or perhaps even a lunatic asylum if such things still existed. Santa’s just there to make you feel like you don’t fit in rather than to make you feel welcome, if you ask me. At least the Grim Reaper is egalitarian. He’s ready to cut down anyone, no questions asked, just a quick swipe with the scythe.
You may be shocked by me and my attitude. What kind of person is it who turns her back on Christmas? Was it always this way? And no – I’m not Jewish or Muslim, so it’s not as if I have any other kind of celebration to pass my time with. There was a time when my mother tried to make Christmas work. She bought the obligatory plastic tree. It was left over from the year before, poorly stored so it became dusty and bent before the shop sold it to mum. They could always see a sucker coming. We made the decorations – too poor to buy them. It was a pathetic effort but we all tried to make mum feel better about it. She was sick that year. So sick. Movements so slow. Walking so difficult. Breathing nearly impossible and then …
It was certainly a Christmas to remember. Mum in the bosom of the Grim Reaper. Did he show his face to her at the last moment? Was there a hint of compassion as he took her into his realm of darkness? Did he sharpen the scythe first? Did he gently lay her down to sleep after she was knocked down? And where was Santa then?
Foster homes are difficult places, especially when you don’t want to be there. I was the kid you hear about – the one you don’t want to take in. I didn’t speak for a long time. There’s a lot of power in not speaking. First people ask you a question. You don’t answer. They repeat the question. You don’t answer. Then they start to get worried and ask you again. No answer. Then we get to the next stage – the angry stage – no answer. But they can’t do anything because all you did was nothing. Nothing can be a powerful weapon.
Sometimes there was sadness in their faces. I still remember Mrs Cook. She was a “good woman” as the expression goes. I think she genuinely cared. And she tried. But to no avail. Trouble is that silence is too strong for anyone. I think I broke that woman. She never took any foster children after m
The topic sentence moves on to the next phase of her life, described indirectly through the cliché off the rails
There is a gap of time suggested as we move back to the opening scene outside the door
e. For a while I was arrogant enough to believe that it was because I had shown her up as being no good. I’m sure there was a tear when they took me away to yet another home. That taught me a lesson.
The next home was the worst. “Off the rails” is the expression that was applied to me. The first time I heard it I nearly laughed (inside, not out loud). Was I was a train carriage falling off the rails? Funny how I always see a steam train when I hear this expression. Slowly I started to see the carriage more clearly and I could see into the windows. Looking out of the window, glaring with anger at the world, I saw a little girl. She started to look more and more like me. I saw her tumbling around as the train fell off its rails. She didn’t say anything. Her mouth was glued shut but her eyes were wide open, so open I could see deep into her soul, and in that space I could see my mother. That was when I started screaming. I spoke out then. Swearing, shouting as much filth as I could. They called it a psychotic episode. Locked me up and I may have stayed locked up forever except for Dr Richards, another kind person.
And so here I am. Outside the door again. I have been outside the door so many times – emotionally, socially, physically. I can see her through the window. She is preparing her Christmas meal and I know she will not be alone. Every year I have stood outside her door watching as people arrive. They are all the foster children who she took in over the years. They come with their spouses and their families. They are smiling and happy and when they see her welcoming face at the door they smile more. I know that when I knock on the door, I, too, will see the same welcoming face and I know that I, too, will start to smile but every year I have stayed outside the door – moving closer, looking in, but never going in.
Another family arrives with their daughter. I recognise the girl from the year before. How she’s grown. This time our eyes meet. She leaves her mother’s side and comes to me and holds out her hand. She smiles as if she knows me.
Perhaps this is the year that I will be inside the door and no longer outside.
Analysing the response
Like the previous response this story offers a clear example of “show not tell”, the tone conveying much more about the feelings of the character. It is also a fine example of how to fill in detail as you need it.
Unlike the first response, this response covers a long period of time but it is framed by one moment: outside the door. The life history of the person is not a recount but a series of emotional events that build up to explain the personality of the persona. For example, when the person went “off the rails”, we enter her mind through a close analysis of the saying. In the images of the dream we sense a lot more about her sad emotional state than if it had been directly stated.
The word belonging may not be mentioned but the search to belong is implicit in the story, which clearly presents belonging as a challenge, tying into the question.
Grammar hint: Using apostrophes Apostrophes can be used for two reasons: to show a contraction (two words shortened into one with a letter/s missing) or to show possession. There is often a misunderstanding about plurals and the apostrophe. You only need to worry about plurals taking apostrophes if the plural owns something. For example: a school for many girls becomes a girls’ school because the girls own the school but a book belonging to a girl becomes a girl’s book. You can tell who owns something by where the apostrophe is.
Look at these examples:
Example 1: the boy’s swimming lessons
Example 2: the boys’ swimming lessons
To check who owns the swimming lessons, remove any letters that appear after the apostrophe. In the first example the lesson is owned by the boy, but in the second example the lesson is owned by the boys.
Here are some more examples:
Example 1: The child’s toys
Example 2: The children’s toys
The child owns the toys in example 1 and the children own the toys in example 2. (You look at what words came before the apostrophe to work this out.)
Examples from the responses Here is an example from response 1 of the apostrophe showing possession:
Mr. Paxton’s impassive face = the impassive face belonging to Mr Paxton.
Here are some examples of apostrophes for contractions from the two responses:
Santa’s just there = Santa is just there – the apostrophe means the i in is is missing.