Wednesday Night Writing Exercise: Devin’s Retelling

Earlier this week, I introduced an exercise involving having a character retell an event and other characters react. This one is my first attempt; I went through several possible sets of characters to do a first exercise with, but the contrast between Devin’s reactions and Taraneh’s, and the number of moods this one was likely to go through in one go, won me over.

They meet at Taraneh’s place; this just doesn’t seem like a conversation for public spaces. Though the room is more than big enough for the three of them, with sufficient seating (at least, if a bit of ingenuity is applied), all three settle in on cushions on the floor, bunched closely together—Devin with his knees tucked in front of him, Taraneh cross-legged, Faxon perched on his feet with his fingers intermeshed and his wrists on his knees.

Devin begins with a slightly strained calm, slipping occasionally into more animated digressions. These digressions become longer and more frequent, laced with assured nostalgia, while the main thread becomes softer, more tentative. Taraneh watches him more closely during the main thread; Faxon occasionally reaches over to nudge him if a digression seems too long.

One sentence causes both listeners to startle and look straight at him, Faxon almost shouting, Taraneh recovering her calm quickly and jotting a combination of words and music notation into a small, leatherbound booklet. Devin shrinks into himself further, quite a feat given his height to begin with. Faxon continues with a diatribe in the general direction of the ceiling; Taraneh reaches for Devin’s shoulder, thinks better of it, and offers him a hand instead. Their eyes meet; she gives him a sympathetic smile, followed by an eyeroll and a gesture in Faxon’s general direction with her other hand. Devin nods and clears his throat loudly; Faxon stops abruptly in midsentence, mutters something under his breath, and gives Devin a conspiratorial look.

Devin’s recitation is far softer when it continues, and if it is at all possible for him to shrink further, he manages. Faxon and Taraneh bunch closer to listen—mostly closer to each other, as by unspoken agreement they leave a space clear around Devin. Then Devin abruptly speeds up again, and brightens, swinging a hand out (nearly clocking Faxon, who manages somehow to avoid it without losing his footing), letting his voice rise, unfolding, gesturing more frequently. Faxon leans farther and farther forward, until his posture resembles that of a vulture; Taraneh shifts from her initial seated position to kneeling, palms on knees, and inching forward from there. Then he settles back to a less enthusiastic mode of speaking, leaning back and acting as if he’s trying to keep the topic at arm’s reach; Taraneh grimaces and puts a hand to her mouth, while Faxon nods in apparent understanding. But the calm doesn’t last long, and Devin begins building up again, now rendering with gestures a two-way conversation—a dramatic pause—a punchline….

Both of his listeners look somewhat confused.

Devin sighs and elaborates. It takes a moment to sink in, and then the two of them burst out laughing. Hands tighten and fists pump; only a few minutes later do they return to a level of energy suitably calm for finishing the narrative. The rest is fast, and calm, and clear—all are cheerful when the conversation finishes.

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