Bent Heart: how a short story came about

Earlier this year, while deep in the throes of trying to write a young adult novel, I decided to write a short story. Sometimes you just need to do something that’s small and can be finished.

At the same time, I was reading Writer’s Mind, by Richard Cohen. In it he gives an exercise to write a plot in five minutes. Just start with a character and a problem and work toward an ending. So during lunch one day I sketched out a story about an old man who needs milk for his morning cereal.

At first I tried to make the story humorous and play off old people jokes, but by the time I finished writing the first draft I discovered the real story was something much different. There would hopefully still be moments of humor, but more importantly this was the story of a man who refused to acknowledge the pain of his past.

So I am proud to present Bent Heart. The story is just over 3,000 words long and should take about 15–20 minutes to read. Here is a short excerpt:

The house was old, like him. Some days as he walked this hallway the walls seemed to lean inward, tired after so many years. He had hoped that removing thepictures would lighten their load, but somehow the hallway only felt smaller. Rectangle stains marked the empty location of pictures like headstones.

He stopped to straighten one of the two photos still on the wall. Emily smiled back at him, those faint dimples in her cheeks peeking out.

These walls could be repainted. They should be repainted.

A soft tolling of bells in the living room noted the time as half to the hour. Roger put his back to the dimples and graves and made for the front door.

Click HERE to read the PDF in your internet browser. It has also been formatted for smartphones (iPhone in particular), so if you open the link on your phone and have Amazon Kindle or iBooks installed, you’ll see an option to open it there.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy it! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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13 thoughts on “Bent Heart: how a short story came about

  1. Jacob

    I like the story Jesse. The introduction was much more satisfying to me then the end. I didn’t quite buy into the idea that he was revisiting the place he once lived. I think it would have been more effective to have him rediscover the present then revisit the past. However, you do truly paint pictures with your words and I immediately felt comfortable in the world you created. Thanks for the story. I look forward to seeing more.

  2. Jesse Koepke

    Thanks for reading, Jacob. Can you explain a little more what you mean by “I didn’t quite buy into the idea that he was revisiting the place he once lived”? Do you mean it felt contrived, or that the emotion was forced in?

    And it seems like you’re saying that the story would have meant more to you if he had rediscovered meaning in his every day life rather than going back to old memories?

  3. Jacob

    Yes. I am sorry Jesse for not explaining myself well. This is around my twenty fourth hour of being awake. So that along with my natural instability to articulate should have been a big enough clue for me to not comment until morning (let along comment a second time).

    I think I would say the whole part about him realizing it was the house he once lived in felt forced and unneeded. As a reader I wanted it to go a different way. In the end it felt like because of events that happened in the present (unknowingly finding his way back to the place he once lived) the Old Man was able to find life through revisiting the past (remembering the good old times when he lived in the house with his wife and child). I wanted it to be the opposite. I was fine with the Old Man being reminded about wonderful moments in his past. But I wanted those memories to lead into him accepting the present. It felt like he was going to return to the house the next day because he once lived there then because he was interested in these new people he just met.

    Does that explain anything? Or am I just getting you more confused?

  4. Jesse Koepke

    Yeah, that makes sense. I actually didn’t intend for it to be his house. Instead, it was only the shed that was left over from past years, when he owned all of the land surrounding his house and farmed it.

    But your note about wanting “those memories to lead him into accepting the present” is a good one—although I would suggest that at the start of the story his present is defined by how he is treating the past. By learning how to handle the past, he’ll be able to make better decisions in the present. That was my intent, at least.

  5. daniellerizzo

    I really enjoyed this short. First of all, I could see the setting in my mind, great job with descriptions. I could also feel the emotion that he felt as he remembered the past. I was engaged and drawn into his pain and frustration. I also couldn’t help but picture the main character from Up :) Can’t wait to read more of your work!

  6. Alexandre

    Hey, Jesse. First of all, thanks for sharing your writing in this blog. I’m a cousin of your brazilian friend Rafael (yes, yes, you have a reader from the land down here. Cheers!).

    I understand you when you say “deep in the throes of trying to write”. It’s not always easy to keep writing when you do not feel motivated to do so, just because you’ve spent so much time writing and revising the same things (oh man, that’s really frustrating!). Anyway, your blog has been not only a source of inspiration, but it has helped me to maintain this “motivational vein” running. Cheers again!

    Overall, I really enjoyed reading this story. I don’t think I would add more to your text. I like the way you are always describing things and how its works. Hmm, perhaps there’s only one thing that bothers me a little: the end… Like Jacob said, the first paragraphs were much more “satisfying” than the last ones, not because of the end itself or where the story lead us, but only because it seems that you spent so many time dedicating yourself to the intro that you ended up running the last words. And maybe I understand this… when you realize that the story is coming to an end, you end up getting too excited to get there. (Sorry if I get it wrong, this is actually what always happens to me).

    Thanks again for letting us reading your story. And please, keep posting!

    p.s.: Sorry for my bad english. I’m trying to convince myself that I’m getting some improvements…

  7. Jesse Koepke

    Hey, Alexandre! Thanks so much reading the story. I’m honored you like the blog. And say hi to Raf for me!

    Thanks also for the notes about the story. Could you explain a little more about what you mean when you say the first paragraphs were “much more satisfying”? Do you mean you could picture what was happening better, or maybe that the emotion felt more present?

  8. Alexandre

    Yeah, exactly! What I was trying to say is that you describe things in the first sentences in a more detailed and emotional way than in the end. I wouldn’t say that “I could picture better”, but only that the beginning looks more poetic (and, as you said, the emotional was indeed more present).

    For instance: “its white ceramic taunting him with memories of milk” seems to be more abstract (and pleasant to imagine) than when you are only narrating what’s happening: “the baby was asleep in her arms / after retrieving the container, Roger turned to her as he drew on his coat…”. Does that make any sense?

  9. Jesse Koepke

    Hmm, very interesting. It wasn’t because I didn’t spend time on the ending—or at least not on purpose. Hmm. Thanks for pointing it out.

  10. tyn

    Jesse, I wanted to email you but I couldn’t find your contact information. You previously reviewed Carolyn Weber’s book “Surprised by Oxford.” InterVarsity Press would like to offer you the chance to read a free, advanced copy of her upcoming book and review it on your blog. Please email me back if you’re interested. Thank you.

  11. Justin

    I liked this story Jesse! You did a great job drawing me into the scenes and getting his viewpoint with your descriptions. Great job!

  12. Jesse Koepke

    Sorry I just saw your comment, Tyn! I would be thrilled to review Carolyn’s next book. I now have a Contact page on the blog, so just send me a message through that. I look forward to hearing from you!

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