In a fiction writing class at Gotham Writers’ Workshop, I completed an assignment to transform the style of a few paragraphs of an in-progress short story into a completely new style. The story I chose is a short story involving a young college-aged, streetwise man who is reluctantly an accomplice to an assault of a low-level mobster in the aid of his friend.
Here is an excerpt of the original:
“Sam, what’s goin’ on.”
I had not seen Tom walking beside me but was glad he was there. My day had been kind of shitty, and he always made me forget my problems. Tom isn’t like many other people I know. He’s over twice my age and three times sharper. Most of my friends spend time worrying about grades and picking the right major. Tom worries about collecting debts and finding the next score.
“Take a walk with me,” he said, and we started a trip on a frigid April night down a side street not far from my home. The sky was as clear and dark as I had ever seen it.
We were an odd couple; our appearances alone were in direct contrast. Tom had tussled gray hair that he hid under a navy blue, knit hat. He wore a beaten leather coat confiscated after a wager in the fall of 1977, making the coat older than me. He was thin and wiry with scaly skin that was scarred or calloused in most places from the wear and tear of a hard life. Rows of beige teeth were his smile, beneath a sharp nose. Most of the time, Tom was mistaken for a liquor store thief. In actuality, Tom was not too far from accomplished criminal and justified his profession with the phrase, “I do favors for people.” These favors ranged from sit-downs to knockdowns.
“What’s been goin’ on,” I asked, pulling a cigarette from my pocket and flicking the slightly bent head. I didn’t even enjoy smoking; it was just something to do.
“I gotta go see somebody,” he replied.
It’s always difficult to strike up a conversation with Tom. One thing you say could trigger a million different responses. For example, I’d say, “how was the card game last night?” And, he may say, “what the fuck’s that got to do wit’ anything.” Or, he may say, “I cleaned out the joint… wish you was there.” For this reason, I usually let Tom initiate conversations.
And here is the same excerpt in a style as if Edgar Allan Poe wrote it:
I had been walking alone, but not alone, for my thoughts were with me, and they walked with a heavy foot. My friend, my companion, a ruffian named Thomas, a fellow unlike all others joined me and my troubles on the dusk of that evening. Many years my senior, his mind was clever for the affairs of men in our nature of business, which will be explained to you, reader, in time. For now, know that Thomas dressed the part of a hooligan. An old leather breast coat wore on him with medals and ribbons stolen from some soldier many years before, plucked from the dead warrior’s back. His teeth were beige and sharp like a carnivorous mutt. His nose was sharp and upturned. Many men would seek out my dear friend for his skills in acquiring rare items and for tasks no other would perform. And this is how we came to walk that fateful night.
I said to him – “My dear Thomas, the streets are calm, and my day is ending. What do you have us do this evening?”
“I have an engagement and require your presence, Samuel.”
“Then let us go.”
Striking a conversation with this man was not unlike declaring war in a time of peace for every reluctance begged you keep from accomplishing this feat. The act of speaking with Thomas was a chore for me, as any track or route of conversation could have may led into an unpleasant destination. For this reason, I allowed him the distinction of initiating dialogue.