Chapter 12 – Beginnings, Endings and Characterisation David Gatelin 1955-1972 by Justin D’Ath In Micro-Stories, edited by Rosemary

Sorensen Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1993 ISBN 0 207 17769 4 ‘David Gatelin 1955-1972’ by Justin D’Ath is a deceptively simple story that puts into practise all the techniques that have been under discussion in this first section. D’Ath chooses to set his story in the present tense. Unlike the previous stories, it is not broken into paragraphs as it captures an ‘incident’ at a station between two friends. It is a piece that is effective in capturing character through dialogue and description. It is also effective in that structurally the story plays on the opening question – “Do you get the feeling someone’s watching you?” Both the ‘fictional’ author and we as readers are actually ‘watching’! The poignancy of the title suggesting that David died at the age of 17 is foreshadowed throughout the story. His actions imply a reckless sense of indestructibility that is typical of youth. Did he eventually go too far? Because the story is not broken up into convenient paragraphs it is important that my commentary appears at the end as not to disrupt the momentum. ‘Do you ever get the feeling someone’s watching you?’ ‘What do you mean?’ I said David balanced his schoolbag on his head and walked an imaginary tightrope to the edge of the platform. ‘I can’t explain it,’ he said. His back was to me. He held himself in that pose, neck straining, arms slightly away from his sides. His straw boater dangled from his left hand. ‘I just get this feeling sometimes that there’s someone watching me.’ ‘Everyone on the station is watching you,’ I said. ‘We’re wondering if that bag is going to tip off your head and fall down on to the tracks.’ Finally his bag did overbalance. David caught it neatly, one-handed, and spun around. ‘I’m serious,’ he said. ‘I really feel like I’m being watched.’ I saw he was blushing. ‘You’ve been reading too many of those spy books,’ I told him. ‘No,’ he said, ‘it isn’t like that. And there’s another part to it I haven’t told you.’ I waited. ‘What is it? I said. ‘I feel’ – he had to search for the words – ‘I feel like I’m in a weird kind of stage play and everything I do is like … well, it’s like I’m only acting my life. And sometimes when something happens to me I sort of half remember that it’s happened before.’ ‘That’s called déjà vu,’ I said. David didn’t seem to hear me. “I’m going to die, ‘he said. I took of my boater and picked at the band where a thread had begun working loose. ‘We’re all going to die. Davey.’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘sure. But I’m going to die soon.’ ‘Don’t talk silly,’ I said. ‘You’ll live to be a hundred.’

Our train came sweeping around the curve of the station. holding it out behind him where I couldn’t get it. ‘I’m glad it’s you. David is outgoing.’ I didn’t say anything. When they had gone David said.’ Which is a reasonable summary of what the station master did say. intelligent keen to do the right thing and is concerned that they will get in trouble. D’Ath creates two characters who serve as a contrast to each other.’ David bent down at the edge of the platform and was about to drop down on to the tracks when someone shouted a warning. he is bookish. Then he snatched the boater out of my hands and sent it spinning across the tracks. I looked at my watch.He looked at me strangely. He was looking over my shoulder. David turned to me. ‘I guess I will. Mr William Shakespeare.’ he said. Note that when David expresses his fear that “I am going to die” and after the narrator reassures him that he will “live to be a hundred”.’ he said. It landed on the opposite platform.’ he whispered. ‘You’re an idiot!’ I said. ‘What the hell did you do that for?’ David laughed. Five minutes later. Then he put his forehead against the glass. ‘Here comes the station master.when you grow up?’ I felt my face redden. ‘I knew it was coming.’ For a while he sat staring out of the window. aren’t you . Such a contrast helps with the characterisation particularly in the way both respond to the situations they face and how they interact with each other. We would have to o back and cross the bridge. ‘Even before that man shouted I knew it was coming. on the train. We watched a group of PLC girls come parading through the carriage. ‘Will you write about me?’ I shrugged.’ There was no one on the other platform. ‘I don’t know’. ‘You’re going to be a writer. One day you are going to be a famous writer. In the awkward pause that follows – “He looked at me strangely. ‘Come on!’ He punched me playfully on the arm. The unnamed narrator is straight.’ ‘I’ll get them. David feels uncomfortable.’ I said. Not wanting to be a ‘wimp’ . ‘Holy hell!’ I said. I was pleased. He plucked it off his head and danced away along the platform. “You could have got killed. By articulating his fear he seems both embarrassed and exposed for feeling that way. ‘if we turn up at school without our hats. ‘I knew you’d say that. Then he turned and sent it gliding across the two train widths that separated the platforms. ‘I know what’s inside your head. He grinned. For a moment I thought he was going to say something. I made a lunge for his hat but he was too quick for me. He expresses exactly how he feels and enjoys playing to the gallery.” D’Ath captures the slow awakening that every young person eventually has to confront – the slow acknowledgement of their mortality. ‘He’s going to bawl us out and tell us if we want out hats back we’ll have to come to his office after school with our parents. His voice was trembling.’ David’s face was chalk white. It skidded to a stop less than a yard from mine. Our train was due at any moment. ‘We’ll be put on detention. For a moment I thought he was going to say something.’ ‘Then why didn’t you nearly jump?’ He didn’t answer me. reckless and takes risks.

or a ‘sissy’. the slow awareness of one’s mortality and friendship. . remembrance. Consider the ending of your story before you begin. Their relationship seems very true to life. Action is secondary to character. we sense would like to be as intelligent and artistic as the narrator. David returns to his old lively and hyperactive self. and the narrator would like to be as outgoing and lively as David. Show rather than tell. Developing contrasting responses. D’Ath uses dialogue very efficiently. story-telling. It helps in sustaining and controlling the focus and perspective you wish to establish. He captures the tone and rhythm of two young men with assured authenticity. One incident can sustain and explore character very effectively. Utilise all the senses when describing a scene or character. energetic young man and the narrator his observant ‘sidekick’. Here is a friendship that is about inter-dependence and respect. characteristics and attitudes is helpful in establishing character portraits. All of these elements are captured in one setting and in one specific incident. dialogue and detailed description slowly accumulate and paint a vivid picture. It is a beautiful story about memory. David. Detail. Through their responses we find out more about them. A good balance between dialogue and description helps with the momentum of your story and assists in characterisation. Gestures. He throws the narrator’s hat “across the tracks”. Summary • • • • • • • • • Dialogue should be realistic and carefully used. It is a distraction from the serious conversation as David returns to being the active. All the action in the plot serves to tell us more about the characters. As in the previous two stories note the pattern: action – reaction. simplicity of expression and a clear focus is crucial.

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