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Short Fiction: SHELF OF DOLLS [Jan. 20th, 2008|02:15 pm]


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X-posted to cf_writers and my journal.

This story is my first foray into the world of Flash Fiction - stories that are between 500 and 1,000 words long. Definitely a learning challenge for me, as I've always been most comfortable writing in longer format so that I can delve into the detail and backstory of my characters. Flash Fiction is an excellent exercise for me to learn to make the most economical use of my words.

AUTHOR: alannahjoy
LENGTH: 770 words
COMMENTS: Inspired by my recent re-interest in my childhood dolls. Critique and comments are welcomed.

Zandra picked up pace expectantly as she approached the toy section of Richmond's Department Store.


The picked-over Christmas stock had finally been cleared away, banished to the clearance aisle in favor of the incoming spring brands.

Zandra bypassed the aisle of baby dolls and cloth dolls and headed directly to the fashion dolls. Her eyes brightened and smiled as she saw with delight that Janny580 from the online doll forum had been right.

Not that Zandra normally paid attention to Janny580. A grown woman of thirty-six who would enter a chat room and chirp brightly at other adults, "What are your dolls doing right now?" drew a line between simple doll collectors and the truly bizarre.

This time, though, Janny580 had come through. True to her word, a half dozen styles of prized new fashion dolls were now in stock, including the new collectible Barbie.

Zandra loved the dolls, loved them enough to chat amongst the groupies at the doll forum, but she hadn't purchased any since moving out on her own at age eighteen. It was enough to go to Richmond's every so often, to pick up the royal blue and neon pink boxes with thirty-five-year-old hands and admire the dolls within. Always replacing the doll exactly the way she had found it, the way she'd been instructed to do when she was a little girl.

There had been a shelf of dolls at her grandparents' house, where Zandra had lived after Mama had gone away and Daddy had never returned from his service with the Army. The shelf was a delight of colorfully dressed dolls, each standing or sitting pristinely in her own place. There was the bride doll with the yellowed net veil from Grandma's youth, Mama's old Barbie doll – one of the first Barbies, with the ponytail and three interchangeable heads – and several of Zandra's own Barbie and friends dolls. The ruler of the dolls was a special princess edition of Barbie, which was dressed in a sweeping pink gown and was never touched except during Grandma's Monday cleaning and dusting sessions.

Zandra was allowed to play with one doll at a time before putting it neatly back in its proper place. It always shocked her to see other little girls hack off their dolls' hair or handle the small bodies with rough, dirt-stained hands, soiling the miniature clothing. If Zandra didn't play nicely with her dolls and return them to the shelf exactly the way she had found them, large adult hands would be right there to shake a finger in her face or deliver a slap.

There was one plainer doll who had managed to escape adult radar: a poor girl's version of Barbie that Zandra had fished out of a dollar bin at a local discount store when she was seven and had her very own money left over from her birthday. The new doll had been dubbed Ricer – short for Rice-A-Roni (or, as Zandra thought the product in the singsong TV commercial was called, Ricer-Roni). With her bristle-stiff hair and cheap, hollow body, Ricer was never ordered into the protected nest of the shelf of dolls. She was, however, the one doll to spend nights in the nest of Zandra's bed.

Zandra didn't realize until years later how ironic it was that her grandparents overlooked Ricer the way the way kids at school had overlooked her.

Now, facing the dolls standing in militant order in the toy section at Richmond's, Zandra thought of Ricer and smiled. It was time to get on with the rest of her shopping. She was at the store to buy a new suit for Friday's finance meeting with the company mucky-mucks. And it wouldn't hurt to pick up a new phone card for her pay-as-you-go cell.

"No," a harsh, intolerant female voice rasped above the sound of a child's hesitant plea from the baby doll aisle. "Put that back. You have enough dolls at home."

Zandra stiffened, as she always did when she was jarred by words descending directly from her youth. You have enough dolls at home. Put that back. Play quietly! Don't you dare get that dirty. Do you think all I have to do around here is clean up?

Expelling a breath, she turned away from the rows of dolls. But before she moved on to shop for her new suit, she reached for a package containing the most trendy of the newest Barbie clothing. They'd be a little big, but Zandra was quite experienced in altering fashion doll clothes to fit her unfashionable, beloved old friend Ricer – the only doll she owned.


From: ann8952
2008-01-20 11:02 pm (UTC)
I really liked this, Alannah! It's got a clear arc, and even though most of the action was in Zandra's head, it was all relevant and didn't have that dreaded backstory feel. At the end, a very pleasant conclusion and a sense that Zandra has learned (or remembered) something important about herself and about life. You trust your reader to figure just what that something is, escaping the trap of writing a story with a moralistic feel. That would've been annoying. Instead, the ending made me smile and feel glad I spent a few minutes joining Zandra in her headspace.

There are a few places where you could tighten the language still further. You could kill a few more adverbs, for example, and even a few adjectives where you use two or more in succession. But those are nits, and if it's been 24 hours since your last edit, you may be seeing them yourself by now.

Nice job!
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[User Picture]From: alannahjoy
2008-01-27 07:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Ann! This exercise has been exactly what I wanted and needed to help me learn to pare down my writing. Quite unintentionally, this also became a personal challenge. I feel most comfortable when dialogue is involved, yet - as you noted - almost everything took place within Zandra's headspace.

I'm glad you like it, and I'm really looking forward to more Flash Fiction challenges.
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[User Picture]From: heartofdavid
2008-01-21 11:18 pm (UTC)
This version of your story is quite different from the original, all for the better. Clear in its intent, colorful and full in the descriptions and memories while still economizing the wording, and emotional without being maudlin. I see quite a few of my suggestions were taken - the ending is spot on now, and very keeping in theme.

I would disagree with the above comment about tightening the language. Yes, that could be done, but I think it wouldn't be effective for this story. I think the use of fashion dolls (specifically those kind), and the memory parts, need to be a little 'rich' in wording - giving the reader the ability to visualize along with Zandra. I think sparser wording in these parts would have left a "so what's the big deal, Zandra?" feeling, imo. In keeping those parts as detailed, I further think making the other parts leaner would have made for a less 'smooth' read. Again, just my opinion.

If an exercise like this can prompt you to produce a story as good as this, I think you should make writing flash fiction part of your writing schedule. Writing aerobics? ;)

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[User Picture]From: alannahjoy
2008-01-27 08:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you! *blush* It feels good to be trying something new with my writing again and finding out that I can accomplish something that I thought was out of my realm. I will definitely be doing more "writing aerobics" of the flash fiction kind. :D
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[User Picture]From: airmiles
2008-01-30 01:06 am (UTC)
Zandra didn't realize until years later how ironic it was that her grandparents overlooked Ricer the way the way kids at school had overlooked her.

This sentence really got me totally. I think that's the key on the whole story, at least for me: those dolls are the example of how Zandra was treated when she was a kid and now she's taking her revenge on everyone buying Ricer the most beautiful dolls. Probably revenge isn't the best word here, but you know what I mean :)

Great stuff dear, made me think a lot. Thanks for sharing! *smooch*
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