I’ve been using this space to show the process I go though when developing a new short story. If you came here first, you might want to backtrack a bit to catch up.
So far, I’ve sketched out the opening situation of a follow-up to my recent story “Unspoken”, and written a portion of the story. My usual practice when I’m working on a story is that each time I return to it, I read it from the top to see if I trip over anything, and to make minor changes. Since I made a few adjustments, here’s what I have now, starting from the midst of the section I posted last, and including the conclusion of the interruption that starts things off. Rahila is being interviewed for a job at a sidewalk cafe, after being introduced by Samir. She’s just been asked about her last job. In their country, a single woman must have a male vouch for her and sign contracts to be accepted in most places.
———— < Beginning of story excerpt > ————-
As Rahila was finishing her tale, Goenka suddenly blinked a few times and peered at something between and behind them. A hoarse-voiced man was shouting something, and from the sound of it, approaching quickly.
“Don’t let this man fool you,” hoarse-voice said, machine-gun fast. “He’s a fraud. Samir Singh hasn’t even—“
Samir froze. Not this. Not now. Rahila’s chances hung by a thread.
“—known that woman for a week!”
Goenka straightened, his face hardening.
“He’s pimping for her in exchange for—”
Samir glanced at Rahila, pressed his eyes shut momentarily, and started to turn towards their accuser.
The clatter of Goenka’s brusque departure reclaimed Samir’s attention. He glanced over just as Rahila was reaching towards the receding executive in frustration. By the time he finally saw the intruder’s psychopathic grin, the guy was tapping at the photo on his cellphone.
“I’ve got you,” the man rasped, shaking the phone. “I’ve got proof that you’ve done this before. Mark my words, Singh, I’ll ruin you and take that network of yours down, too!”
Samir sprang to his feet and eyed the picture. It was a shot of him and his sister at a party after she’d left home, but it had been tampered with — the restaurant had been made to look like a brothel, and his sister’s saree a see-through veil. “This is a lie,” he croaked, “and you are a monster!”
The guy snatched his phone back and called to someone further back. “Did you get all that?” Samir followed the man’s sightline. His confederate nodded happily. “Every delicious bit.”
The whole thing had been live-streamed, or at the very least captured on video. Once that spread, Rahila’s job prospects would be shattered, their reputations blackened. “I never thought I’d hear myself say this,” she said, rising to her feet, “but there’s no caste on Earth low enough for that slime!”
Samir stood, slackjawed, staring blankly as their assailants melted into the crowd and disappeared. He shook his head weakly, and looked at Rahila. “I’m ruined,” he whispered, “and so is Maharla.”
————— < End of story excerpt > ————-
Then I went back to my notes, and sketched out where it feels like the story goes next. Here’s my further notes:
Roughing out the next section…
I think that Rahila’s decision to attempt to rouse the single women being helped by the support network into stepping forward as a united front ought to take a little while to develop. The immediate situation — her interview being emotionally firebombed by the intruder’s accusation about both of them — is the only thing they are probably capable of dealing with for the moment. Rahila has already been through a gamut if indignities, so although she’s angry, she’s not so surprised that she’s been kicked down again. Samir is a different matter entirely. He knew that he was taking a risk stepping forward like this, but I doubt he’d be emotionally prepared for a personal attack on him, Rahila and his sister Maharla. That puts him pretty much into shock for a bit. He’d be frozen into inaction, incapable of recovering quickly, so Rahila would have to take control of the situation and get them both to a safer place.
So the action would go something like this…
The intruders have run off one direction, and the interviewer in the other, leaving Samir and Rahila standing in the cafe area with people gawking from what just happened. Some of the bystanders would have accepted the accusation, and came closer to yell or to spit at them. Say that one was doing this directly to Samir’s face, even though he was too numb to realize it. Rahila responds by getting between them and hustling the person away. Once that’s taken care of, she grabs his hand and walks him towards her rental, while doing her best to ease his anguish. The landlord is incensed when they arrive, and yells at her about bringing men into her room. What she’s been through has stiffened her resolved, so she tell him that the man is a friend of hers, and that he’d just seen someone he knows hurt badly. All she plans to do is to make him tea and let him sit and rest for a while. Landlord says if he’s not gone by (some arbitrary time) he’ll kick her out.
Samir had no idea how she lived, so as he calms down, he looks around, and asks her why she had not mentioned it to him. She didn’t think it was important; what she needed his help with was getting re-employed. Compared to that, this is a minor inconvenience. She asks what the man had shown him on his phone screen, and he tells her about his sister, and why he had joined the support network. That brings them back to the problem at hand: what do they do? Samir says they should find out who the man was, and whether they were the only target. Which means that she will be attending the next meeting of the support network.
I wonder how the membership really feels about the women they are helping. Some may be doing it with the attitude that men are inherently superior to women, and that it’s an act of magnanimity to reach down and help the downtrodden single women. If this is the case, those men would still view the women they are helping are beneath them, and that they have no place at their meetings. Her being there would expose this attitude.
Some stories go faster than others through the process. I don’t rush it.