Story: A Room To Call One's Own


A creative writing experiment. This story has been written in third person and then in first person. Which works better and why? Tell me, dear reader, what you think? I am really looking for feedback here so be brutal.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A Room To Call Her Own (Third person)

Sheila Rai lived in the same house for the first twenty years of her life. The first time her family moved, is an experience etched in her mind in sharp relief. She remembers every moment of it. How she applied for leave to unpack, sitting amidst crates and boxes in her new room, the slow, loving process of transforming an empty, dusty and soulless space into a personal corner of the world – home.

The year before, Sheila had had a dry run, so to speak, when she lived in Bangalore for 3 months. There wasn’t much she could do to change that place so she settled for moving the bed around and arranging her stuff neatly. It was much more space that she had ever had of her own.

Sheila’s room in the new place wasn’t as big as the one in Bangalore but she set about lovingly turning it into her personal space. Curtains, framed pictures, dupattas draped over one frame, hanging Rajasthani decorations near the door, a paper lantern strung over the light and plenty of clear floor space (scrubbed over many evenings till it shone). Unexpectedly Sheila didn’t miss home. She had re-created home.

An all too-short four years later, the landlord needed his flat back and Sheila’s family finally set about and invested in a house of their own. They bought it from a working couple with an 8-year-old son. The couple had been offered better jobs abroad and needed to move as quickly as they could. Sheila’s family needed a place quickly too so the deal was done.

The Rais walked into a readymade house. The furniture, flooring, interiors, room expansions had all been done already (the previous owners had thought they would stay there for a few years and had remodeled just the year before). The house is tasteful, optimizing space like any good Mumbai home would. It is a dream house at a good address.

Sheila inherited the 8-year-old’s room. The bed is broader than she is used to (presumably the child rolled) but not as long. And Sheila is a tall person.

The tube light is fitted over the window, not over the bed. Sheila used to read in bed, sitting propped up against the wall. She can’t anymore and now has to sit in a chair when she reads. Or at the study desk which makes her feel like a student. There was a study desk just like this when Sheila was in school and it reminds her of board exams, frowning teachers and unbearable pressure with no escape. She never sits there.

There isn’t much Sheila can do to change the furniture (it’s all fitted into the ground) or wiring. She supposes she could but when they moved, she didn’t plan to stick around for very long. Sheila thought she’d be getting married and/or moving out soon. So subconsciously she hasn’t even let herself put down roots here.

It is a lovely room but it isn’t home. For four years Sheila has camped in an 8-year-old’s ex-room. The room has a sterilized, magazine centerfold coldness about it. She wonders what she would change if she had to design it differently. Perhaps the tube light. And maybe she would have had a beanbag instead of a study-desk. Possibly a shoe-rack as well (closed). Maybe the bed would have been different. Sheila initially thought it would be great fun to have a bed that she could literally roll around in. But she had come to realize that she is a pretty stationery sleeper. All this bed does is remind her that she’s alone in it. A space too big for one person to fill. She does not love this place.

So she sleeps with the feeling that she has spent four years living in a room that isn’t hers, has nothing of her in it – except her.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A Room To Call My Own (First person)

I lived in the same house for the first twenty years of my life. The first time we moved, is an experience etched in my mind in sharp relief. I remember every moment of it. How I applied for leave to unpack, sitting amidst crates and boxes in my new room, the slow, loving process of transforming an empty, dusty and soulless space into a persoal corner of the world – home.

The year before, I had had a dry run, so to speak, when I lived in Bangalore for 3 months. There wasn’t much I could do to change that place so I settled for moving the bed around and arranging my stuff neatly. It was much more space that I had ever had of my own.

My room in our new place wasn’t as big as the one in Bangalore but I set about lovingly turning it into my own personal space. Curtains, framed pictures, dupattas draped over one frame, hanging Rajasthani decorations near the door, a paper lantern strung over the light and plenty of clear floor space (scrubbed over many evenings till it shone). Unexpectedly I didn’t miss home. I had re-created home.

An all too-short four years later, my landlord needed his flat back and we finally set about and invested in a house of our own. We bought it from a working couple with an 8-year-old son. They had been offered better jobs abroad and needed to move as quickly as they could. We needed a place quickly too so the deal was done.

I walked into a readymade house. The furniture, flooring, interiors, room expansions had all been done already (the previous owners had thought they would stay there for a few years and had remodelled just the year before). The house is tasteful, optimising space like any good Mumbai home would. It is a dream house at a good address.

I inherited the 8-year-old’s room. The bed is broader than I am used to (presumably he rolled) but not as long. And I am a tall person.

The tubelight is fitted over the window, not over my bed. I used to read in bed, sitting propped up against the wall. I can’t anymore. I now have to sit in a chair when I read. Or at the study desk which makes me feel like a student. I had a study desk just like this when I was in school and it brings back memories of board exams, frowning teachers and unbearable pressure with no escape. I never sit there.

There isn’t much I can do to change the furniture (it’s all fitted into the ground) or wiring. I suppose I could but when we moved, I didn’t plan to stick around for very long. I thought I’d be getting married and/or moving out soon. So subconsciously I didn’t even let myself put down roots here.

It is a lovely room but it isn’t home. For four years I’ve camped in an 8-year-old’s ex-room. The room has a sterilized, magazine centerfold coldness about it. It is odd because I think if I had to design it, I wonder what I would have done differently. Perhaps the tubelight. And maybe I would have had a beanbag instead of a study-desk. Possibly a shoe-rack as well (closed). Maybe the bed would have been different. I initially thought it would be great fun to have a bed that I could literally roll around in. It turns out I’m a pretty stationery sleeper. All this bed does is remind me that I’m alone in it. A space too big for one person to fill. I do not love this place.

So I end with the feeling that I’ve spent four years living in a room that isn’t mine, has nothing of me in it – except me.

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9 thoughts on “Story: A Room To Call One's Own

  1. PS July 24, 2009 at 22:37 Reply

    The first one, has too much Sheila in it. The tenses clash- “Sheila Rai lived in the same house for the first twenty years of her life. The first time her family moved, is an experience etched in her mind in sharp relief.”

    It just feels alien. Like it was adapted from another version.

    On the other hand, the first person version is heartfelt. It feels natural, like I am a part of your/sheila’s life. Without my or her knowing it. It flows, very very subtly, but emotes much more powerfully than the third person version.

    I think we are, by nature, just those type of people who emote very eloquently in fiction, when its first person, and very eloquently in non-fiction, when its third person. 🙂

    It’s has an amazing sense of spontaneity, though. The story. Like it just flowed out while you were writing it.
    .-= PS´s last blog ..How awesome are we? =-.

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  2. Unmana July 25, 2009 at 00:41 Reply

    The second one. The story is all about memories, so the first person account seems much more impactful. I also agree with PS about the tenses clashing.

    Like

  3. as July 25, 2009 at 07:59 Reply

    Its all so first person.
    the first one seems .. umm .. artificial. I cant put a finger to it .. maybe its the tense thats not right ?

    The second one is so much more .. umm .. natural. like i am walking behind you in ghost mode, seeing what you see , feeling what you feel. does that make any sense ? :-s

    Like

  4. Hyde July 25, 2009 at 12:21 Reply

    In addition to what has already been said, I think the choice of the name is wrong.

    Sheila and She together appear way too often for comfort. If you chose a name that didn’t start with a See or She sound I think the third person narrative would have been better.

    First person will always come across as a better narrative especially if it is about emotions. It gives the reader a greater sense of involvement.
    .-= Hyde´s last blog ..The teacher =-.

    Like

  5. IdeaSmith July 25, 2009 at 13:05 Reply

    @PS: Thou art awesomeness, personified. I’ve taken this conversation to email.

    @Unmana: Thank you, that’s useful.

    @as: I like the sound of that and I understand why you like it. Thanks, that’s exactly what I was looking for. It makes perfect sense, btw.

    @Hyde: The name is a valuable point. I’ll definitely be keeping that one in mind, thanks!

    Like

  6. […] – IdeaSmithy […]

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  7. Sudeep July 28, 2009 at 17:59 Reply

    When I read the first paragraph I thought which account do I generally like. the answer was 3rd person coz it gives me a sense of imagination and I create characters and see them moving while reading. The first account mostly fails to give me that kind of liberty.
    But this time it was the opposite. Mostly due to the already pointed out things in above comments, tenses and the name. Maine naam padhke yehi socha ki arre Sheila.. she.. she.. sheila hmm.
    I still wish that the first part wins with a bit of re-work.
    .-= Sudeep´s last blog ..Life is a circle =-.

    Like

  8. Sudeep July 28, 2009 at 18:01 Reply

    Oh btw, I used to read your posts through reader. Lekin yaha aakar achha laga.. I loved the ‘Whats your Idea’ cloud on the left side. Very nice.
    .-= Sudeep´s last blog ..Life is a circle =-.

    Like

  9. IdeaSmith August 2, 2009 at 13:23 Reply

    @Sudeep: Thank you! This has been immensely useful- a real lesson in why some standard constructs like third person accounts being better than first person….can have exceptions like this case. Also, thank you for the compliment on the blog. I included a lot of gizmos and titbits exactly for people like you who would visit and enjoy them. Unfortunately, they slowed down the blog considerably so I’ve had to get rid of them. I hope to be able to sort that out and still keep the blog interesting as well as accessible. I do hope you’ll be back!

    Like

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