Close Reading & Writing Exercises
by Jordan Hartt
“Teresa’s Wedding” is well-known as one of the finest examples of how to shift points of view.
Because the story makes use of an omniscient narrator (rare for a short story), we go into multiple consciousnesses, and see and overhear many different characters, experiencing a wedding reception through many different points of view.
Reading As a Writer: “Teresa’s Wedding,” by William Trevor
Note: there are many, many writing exercises suggested in this close reading of “Teresa’s Wedding,” designed to put into practice the story’s craft techniques. There are too many to do all: pick and choose the ones that appeal to you as practice exercises, for the purpose of generating new work of our own!
“You can’t apply academic rules to art of any kind. As soon as you begin to have rules, you begin to say, “Well, it works like this: A plus B equals C,” and then you’re absolutely, perfectly lost. You have to take the chance! You’re gambling all the time, sometimes with no idea if a story works. But the alarming thing is in the teaching of literature, laying down what the writer was doing. If you can see through it like that, the writing is no good. You can’t see through Dickens and Conrad. It’s a mystery how it’s done, even to the person doing it. If you think you know, you’re in deep, deep trouble. [..,] And I think once you lose touch with that, and believe you’re in charge, you could lose touch with the whole business of writing fiction. It’s an endless struggle to fool yourself. Just get going, that’s the important thing.” ~William Trevor
The remains of the wedding-cake were on top of the piano in Swanton’s lounge-bar, beneath a framed advertisement for Power’s whiskey. Chas Flynn, the best man, had opened two packets of confetti: it lay thickly on the remains of the wedding-cake, on the surface of the bar and the piano, on the table and the two small chairs that the lounge-bar contained, and on the tattered green-and-red linoleum.
The opening of this story is set cinematically, through what is seen. The “camera” shows us the wedding cake, the piano, the lounge-bar, the confetti, the chairs, the color of the linoleum and creates the setting in which we’ll spend the rest of the story.
Writing exercise: write an opening paragraph to a story as if you were a movie camera, showing us the setting in which the story will take place.
The wedding guests, themselves covered in confetti, stood in groups. Father Hogan, who had conducted the service in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, stood with Mrs Atty, the mother of the bride, and Mrs Cornish, the mother of the bridegroom, and Mrs Tracy, a sister of Mrs Atty’s.
Unlike film or television, these opening visual scenes from an omniscient point of view can also establish character’s names, histories, and relationships with one another, moving from setting to character within only two paragraphs.
Writing exercise: follow-up an opening paragraph that establishes the setting with a paragraph that begins to introduce character.
Mrs Tracy was the stoutest of the three women, a farmer’s widow who lived eight miles from the town. In spite of the jubilant nature of the occasion, she was dressed in black, a colour she had affected since the death of her husband three years ago. Mrs Atty, bespectacled, with her grey hair in a bun, wore a flowered dress—small yellow-and-blue blooms that blended easily with the confetti. Mrs Cornish was in pink, with a pink hat. Father Hogan, a big red-complexioned man, held a tumbler containing whiskey and water in equal measures; his companions sipped Winter’s Tale sherry.
In this third paragraph, we go deeper into each of the characters who were established in the second paragraph. We get a couple of sentences of their backstories, clothing, and the beginnings of character: note Father Hogan’s predilection toward drink, which will recur several times throughout the story. Although it has little to nothing to do with the plot of the story (the effects of a quick marriage-because-of-pregnancy on the various characters involved), it helps establish his character.
Writing exercise: describe three characters in a single paragraph. For one, describe them through where they live as well as their clothing choice. For one, describe them through their clothing only. For the final one, describe them through their job/occupation and an action.
Artie Cornish, the bridegroom, drank stout with his friends Eddie Boland and Chas Flynn, who worked in the town’s bacon factory, and Screw Doyle, so called because he served behind the counter in McQuaid’s hardware shop. Artie, who worked in a shop himself—Driscoll’s Provisions and Bar—was a freckled man of twenty-eight, six years older than his bride. He was heavily built, his bulk encased now in a suit of nay-blue serge, similar to the suits that all the other men were wearing that morning in Sawnton’s lounge-bar. In the opinion of Mr Driscoll, his employer, he was a conscientious shopman, with a good memory for where commodities were kept on the shelves. Customers occasionally found him slow.
Notice in this paragraph how Artie is described: a physical feature, his age, his age in comparison with someone else, another physical feature, his clothing, the opinion of someone else about him, and the opinions of multiple other people about him, as well.
Writing exercise: in a single paragraph, describe a character through all these various angles.
The fathers of the bride and bridegroom, Mr Atty and Mr Cornish, were talking about greyhounds, keeping close to the bar. They shared a feeling of unease, caused by being in the lounge-bar of Swanton’s with women present, on a Saturday morning. “Bring us two more big ones,” Mr Cornish requested of Kevin, a youth behind the bar, hoping that this addition to his consumption of whiskey would relax matters. They wore white carnations in the buttonholes of their suits, and stiff white collars which were reddening their necks. Unknown to one another, they shared the same thought: a wish that the bride and groom would soon decide to bring the occasion to an end by going to prepare themselves for their journey to Cork on the half-one bus. Mr Atty and Mr Cornish, bald-headed men of fifty-three and fifty-five, had it in mind to spend the remainder of the day in Swanton’s lounge-bar, celebrating in their particular way the union of their children.
Because William Trevor is using an omniscent point of view for this story, we’re able to move into the consciousnesses of both men. We hear their inner thoughts, as well as seeing them from the outside.
Writing exercise: try a short story using an omniscient point of view. Let us go into the minds of multiple characters, in addition to seeing them from the outside.
The bride, who had been Teresa Atty and was now Teresa Cornish, had a round, pretty face and black, pretty hair, and was a month and a half pregnant. She stood in the corner of the lounge with her friends, Philomena Morrissey and Kitty Roche, both of whom had been bridesmaids. All three of them were attired in their wedding finery, dresses they had feverishly worked on to get finished in time for the wedding. They planned to alter the dresses and have them dyed so that later on they could go to parties in them, even though parties were rare in the town.
Here, we see an expanded view of the setting. The women plan to re-use their dresses for parties (giving us a glimpse into their socio-economic status), while at the same time we learn that “parties were rare in the town.” Here, also, we’re brought into the inner thoughts of these characters.
Writing exercise: let us see someone’s socio-economic status through a couple of sentences about clothing.
“I hope you’ll be happy, Teresa,” Kitty Roche whispered. “I hope you’ll be all right.” She couldn’t help giggling, even though she didn’t want to. She giggled because she’d drunk a glass of gin and Kia-Ora orange, which Screw Doyle had said would steady her. She’d been nervous in the church. She’d tripped twice on the walk down the aisle.
“You’ll be marrying yourself on of these days,” Teresa whispered, her cheeks still glowing after the excitement of the ceremony. “I hope you’ll be happy too, Kit.”
Character is revealed and developed through action, description, and dialogue, as well as interior thought. In these two paragraphs, we get all three, helping us see the characters from all three angles. We see Kitty’s action of drinking and (earlier) tripping from nervousness. We see the description of Teresa as having “cheeks still glowing.” And we hear the dialogue between the two.
Writing exercise: present two characters, and mix action, description, and dialogue as ways of showing them on the page.
But Kitty Roche, who was asthmatic, did not believe she’d ever marry. She’d be like Miss Levis, the Protestant woman on the Cork road, who’d never got married because of tuberculosis. Or old Hannah Flood, who had a bad hip. And it wasn’t just that no one would want to be saddled with a diseased wife: there was also that fact that the asthma caused a recurrent skin complaint on her face and neck and hands.
Character is also revealed through interior thought: in this paragraph we move inside her consciousness: into the fears she has.
Writing exercise: move from the action, description, and dialogue of a character into the interior consciousness of a character.
Teresa and Philomena drank glasses of Babycham, and Kitty drank Kia-Ora with water instead of gin in it. They’d known each other all their lives. They’d been to the Presentation Nuns together, they’d taken First Communion together. Even when they’d left the Nuns, when Teresa had gone to work in the Medical Hall and Kitty Roche and Philomena in Keane’s drapery, they’d continued to see each other almost every day.
Notice how the individual descriptions of these characters then merge into their shared histories, which, because we’re in the point of view of an omniscient consciousness, we’re able to seamlessly do.
Writing exercise: move from individual descriptions to group descriptions, and then back again, as you wish.
“We’ll think of you, Teresa,” Philomena said. “We’ll pray for you.” Philomena, plump and pale-haired, had every hope of marrying and had even planned her dress, in light lemony lace, with a Limerick veil. Twice in the last month she’d gone out with Des Foley the vet, and even if he was a few years older he might be and had a car that smelt of cattle disinfectant, there was more to be said for Des Foley than for many another.
Yet another advantage of the omniscient point of view is the ability to show the overall options available to people in a specific setting through the specific options available to a specific person: in this instance, Philomena’s focus on the negative attributes of Des Foley, with her simultaneous belief that he’s still better than many of her other romantic options. Through descriptions like this, we get a sense of the wider setting in which this story takes place.
Teresa’s two sisters, much older than Teresa, stood by the piano and the framed Power’s advertisement, between the two windows of the lounge-bar. Agnes, in smart powder-blue, was tall and thin, the older of the two; Loretta, in brown, was small. Their own two marriages, eleven and nine years ago, had been consecrated by Father Hogan in the Church of the Immaculate Conception and celebrated afterwards in this same lounge-bar. Loretta had married a man who was no longer mentioned because he’d gone to England and had never come back. Agnes had married George Tobin, who was at present sitting outside the lounge-bar in a Ford Prefect, in charge of his and Anges’s three small children. The Tobins lived in Cork now, George being the manager of a shoe-shop there. Loretta had lived with her parents, like an unmarried daughter again.
This paragraph establishes the perspectives of these characters, and contextualizes the dialogue we’re about to hear:
“Sickens you,” Agnes said “She’s only a kid, marrying a goop like that. She’ll be stuck in this dump of a town forever.”
Instead of moving into dialogue in response, Trevor moves us into Loretta’s consciousness, instead:
Loretta didn’t say anything. It was well known that Agnes’s own marriage had turned out well: George Tobin was a teetotaler and had no interest in either horses or greyhounds. From where she stood Loretta could see him through the window, sitting patiently in the Ford Prefect, reading a comic to his children. Loretta’s marriage had not been consummated.
Writing exercise: have a character say something to another character, but instead of having the second character respond, move into their interior consciousness.
“Well, thought I’ve said it before I’ll say it again,” said Father Hogan. “It’s a great day for a mother.”
Mrs Atty and Mrs Cornish politely agreed, without speaking. Mrs Tracy smiled.
“And for an aunt too, Mrs Tracy. Naturally enough.”
Mrs Tracy smiled again. “A great day,” she said.
“Ah, I’m happy for Teresa,” Father Hogan said. “And for Artie, too, Mrs Cornish; naturally enough. Aren’t they as fine a couple as ever stepped out of this town?”
“Are they leaving the town?” Mrs Tracy asked, confusion breaking in her face. “I thought Artie was fixed in Driscoll’s.”
“It’s a manner of speaking, Mrs Tracy,” Father Hogan explained. “It’s a way of putting the thing. When I was marrying them this morning I looked down at their two faces and I said to myself, “Isn’t it great God gave them life?”
Father Hogan’s role, perhaps even more than his character is on display here: as the wedding officiant, he has to say these kinds of things. We suspect he believes them, or wants to believe them, but as a writing exercise, consider how often people say or do things because of the role they’re in.
Writing exercise: in a scene, have one character representing some official role: a religious role, for instance, or a corporate role or social role. How does this help dictate how they speak?
The three women looked across the lounge, at Teresa standing with her friends Philomena Morrissey and Kitty Roche, and then at Artie, with Screw Doyle, Eddie Boland, and Chas Flynn.
“He has a great career in front of him in Driscoll’s,” Father Hogan pronounced. “Will Teresa remain on in the Medical Hall, Mrs Atty?”
Mrs Atty replied that her daughter would remain for a while in the Medical Hall. It was Father Hogan who had persuaded Artie of his duty when Artie had hesitated. Mrs Atty and Teresa had gone to him for advice, he’d spoken to Artie and to Mr and Mrs Cornish, and the matter had naturally not been mentioned on their side since.
We move deeper, in these paragraphs, into the backstory of the wedding, and how it came about. Notice that all this information isn’t presented right up front: character is developed first, before the inciting moments of the plot.
“Will I get you another glassful, Father?” inquired Mrs Tracy, holding out her hand for the priest’s tumbler.
“Well, it isn’t every day I’m honoured,” said Father Hogan with his smile, putting the tumbler into Mrs Tracy’s hand.
As noted earlier, one of the humorous aspects of this story is the delight with which Father Hogan accepts (and asks for) alcohol.
Writing exercise: write a character with a similar predilection toward something. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. What substance or activity could they continously seek out, either for humorous or plot-specific or thematic purposes?
At the bar Mr Atty and Mr Cornish drank steadily on. In their corner Teresa and her bridesmaids talked about weddings that had taken place in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the past, how they had stood by the railings of the church when they were children, excited by the finery and the men in serge suits. Teresa’s sisters whispered, Agnes continuing about the inadequacy of the man Teresa had just married. Loretta whispered without actually forming words. She wished her sister wouldn’t go on so because she didn’t want to think about any of it, about what had happened to Teresa, and what would happen to her again tonight, in a hotel in Cork. She’d fainted when it had happened to herself, when he’d come at her like a farm animal. She’d fought like a mad thing.
The various characters’ attitudes toward sex are able to be explored through the use of the omniscient consciousness. The omniscient point of view–very rare in a story this short, and with this many characters–has a lot of advantages. A disadvantage that is often mentioned is that we run the risk of not getting deeply enough into the mind of any particular character to show their interior or exterior change, but if you handle multiple points of view while still focusing on character, this risk is lessened.
It was noisier in the lounge-bar than it had been. The voices of the bridegroom’s friends were raised; behind the bar young Kevin had switched on the wireless. “Don’t get around much anymore,” cooed a soft male voice.
“Bedad, there’ll be no holding you tonight, Artie,” Eddie Boland whispered thickly into the bridegroom’s ear. He nudged Artie in the stomach with his elbow, spilling some Guinness. He laughed uproariously.
“We’re following you in two cars,” Screw Doyle said. “We’ll be waiting in the double bed for you.” Screw Doyle laughed also, striking the floor repeatedly with his left foot, which was a habit of his when excited. At a late house the night before he’d told Artie that once, after a dance, he’d spent an hour in a field with the girl whom Artie had agreed to marry. “I had a great bloody ride of her,” he’d confided.
“I’ll have a word with Teresa,” said Father Hogan, moving away from Teresa’s mother, her aunt and Mrs Cornish. He did not, however, cross the lounge immediately, but paused by the bar, where Mr Cornish and Mr Atty were. He put his empty tumbler on the bar itself, and Mr Atty pushed it towards young Kevin, who at once refilled it.
“Well, it’s a great day for a father,” said Father Hogan. “Aren’t they a tip-top credit to each other?”
“Who’s that, Father?” inquired Mr Cornish, his eyes a little bleary, sweat hanging from his cheeks.
We move in these paragraphs from the talk of the young men to the talk of the older men, character being revealed through dialogue and action externally: we don’t move into their interior consciousnesses at this point.
Father Hogan laughed. He put his tumbler on the bar again, and Mr Cornish pushed it towards young Kevin for another refill.
Just to note Father Hogan!
In their corner Philomena confided to Teresa and Kitty Roche that she wouldn’t mind marrying Des Foley the vet. She’d had four glasses of Babycham. If he asked her this minute, she said, she’d probably say yes. “Is Chas Flynn nice?” Kitty Roche asked, squinting across at him.”
Another thing to notice in this story is how characters and their particular obsessions (in this case, Philomena thinking about Des Foley) continue to return. Similar to how we might be at a wedding reception ourselves, going from person to person to person, the point of view of this story does the same thing: we alight from character to character.
Writing exercise: write a story with more than five people in it, and move from character to character, pausing at least three times each on each character.
On the wireless Petula Clark was singing ‘Downtown’. Eddie Boland was whistling ‘Mother Macree’. “Listen, Screw,” Artie said, keeping his voice low though it wasn’t necessary. “Is it true? Did you go into a field with Teresa?”
Loretta watched while George Tobin in his Ford Prefect turned a page of the comic he was reading to his children. Her sister’s voice continued in its abuse of the town and its people, in particular the shopman who had got Teresa pregnant. Agnes hated the town and always had. She’d met George Tobin at a dance in Cork and had said to Loretta that in six months’ time she’d be gone from the town for ever. Which was precisely what had happened, except that marriage had made her less nice than she’d been. She’d hated the town in a jolly way once, laughing over it. Now she hardly laughed at all.
“Look at him,” she was saying. “I doubt he knows how to hold a knife and fork.”
Loretta ceased her observation of her sister’s husband through the window and regarded Artie Cornish instead. She looked away from him immediately because his face, so quickly replacing the image of George Tobin, had caused in her mind a double image which now brutally persisted. She felt a sickness in her stomach, and closed her eyes and prayed. But the double image remained: George Tobin and Artie Cornish coming at her sisters like two farmyard animals and her sisters fighting to get away. “Dear Jesus,” she whispered to herself. “Dear Jesus, help me.”
In these paragraphs, we continue to do the same: move from character to character. We see Artie’s sudden obsession with Screw Doyle, and whether or not the pregnancy actually is his responsibility. We move back to Loretta’s comparing of her own marriage to those of her sisters…
“Sure it was only a bit of gas,” Screw Doyle said to Artie. “Sure there was no harm done.
…before returning to the characters of Screw and Artie. Notice how, even though multiple paragraphs appear between Artie’s question and Screw’s response, we aren’t confused as to where and when we are.
In no way did Teresa love him. She had been aware of that when Father Hogan had arranged the marriage, and even before that, when she’d told her mother that she thought she was pregnant and had then mentioned Artie Cornish’s name. Artie Cornish was much the same as his friends: you could be walking along a road with Screw Doyle or Artie Cornish and you could hardly tell the difference. There was nothing special about Artie Cornish, except that he always added up the figures twice when he was serving you in Driscoll’s. There was nothing bad about him either, any more than there was anything bad about Eddie Boland or Chas Flynn or even Screw Doyle. She’d said privately to Father Hogan that she didn’t love him or feel anything for him one way or the other: Father Hogan had replied that in the circumstances all that line of talk was irrelevant.
We then move back into Teresa’s mind, and her particular point of view not only on Artie, but all of them, before going into her thoughts on marriage: what she’d expected vs. the reality of this wedding:
When she was at the Presentation Convent Teresa had imagined her wedding, and even the celebration in this very lounge-bar. She had imagined everything that had happened that morning, and the things that were happening still. She had imagined herself standing with her bridesmaids as she was standing now, her mother and her aunt drinking sherry, Agnes and Loretta being there too, and other people, and music. Only the bridegroom had been mysterious, some faceless, bodiless presence, beyond imagination. From conversations she had had with Philomena and Kitty Roche, and with her sisters, she knew that they had imagined in a similar way. Yet Agnes had settled for George Tobin because George Tobin was employed in Cork and could take her away from the town. Loretta, who had been married for a matter of weeks, was going to become a nun.
Not only do we move, in this story, into the consciousnesses of many of the different characters, we also get to see how some of them feel about the others.
Writing exercise: while moving from consciousness to consciousness in an omniscient-point-of-view story, let us see how the different characters think about the other characters.
Artie ordered more bottles of stout from young Kevin. He didn’t want to catch the half-one bus and have to sit beside her all the way to Cork. He didn’t want to go to the Lee Hotel when they could just as easily have remained in the town, when he could just as easily have gone in to Driscoll’s tomorrow and continued as before. It would have been different if Screw Doyle hadn’t said he’d been in a field with her: you could pretend a bit on the bus, and in the hotel, just to make the whole thing go. You could pretend, like you’d been pretending ever since Father Hogan had laid down the law, you could make the best of it like Father Hogan had said.
He handed a bottle of stout to Chas Flynn and one to Screw Doyle and another to Eddie Boland. He’d ask her about it on the bus. He’d repeat what Screw Doyle had said and ask her if it was true. For all he knew the child she was carrying was Screw Doyle’s child and would be born with Screw Doyle’s thin nose, and everyone in the town would know when they looked at it. His mother had told him when he was sixteen never to trust a girl, never to get involved, because he’d be caught in the end. He’d get caught because he was easy-going, because he didn’t possess the smartness of Screw Doyle and some of the others. “Sure, you might as well marry Teresa as anyone else,” his father had said right after Father Hogan had called to see them about the matter. His mother had said things would never be the same between them again .
As we move from Teresa to Artie, the stakes of the story become more and more clear for these two principal characters, the ones with the most at stake, as revealed in the story. What does the rest of their life look like, and are they happy with it? But instead of continuing to linger on these two characters, Trevor moves the camera again, back to other characters…
Eddie Boland sat down at the piano and played ‘Mother Macree’, causing Agnes and Loretta to move to the other side of the lounge-bar. In the motor car outside the Tobin children asked their father what the music was for.
…before returning to Teresa.
“God go with you, girl,” Father Hogan said to Teresa, motioning Kitty Roche and Philomena away. “Isn’t it a grand thing that’s happened, Teresa?” His red-skinned face, with the shiny false teeth so evenly arrayed in it, was close to hers. For a moment she thought he might kiss her, which of course was ridiculous, Father Hogan kissing anyone, even at a wedding reception.
“It’s a great day for all of us, girl.”
When she’d told her mother, her mother said it made her feel sick in her stomach. Her father hit her on the side of her face. Agnes came down specially from Cork to try and sort the matter out. It was then that Loretta had first mentioned becoming a nun.
Notice how the lives of Agnes and Loretta, Teresa’s sisters, continue to be slowly revealed, as she contextualizes her own life and potential future with theirs.
“I want to say two words,” said Father Hogan, still standing beside her, but now addressing everyone in the lounge-bar. “Come over here alongside us, Artie. Is there a drop in everyone’s glass?”
Artie moved across the lounge-bar, with his glass of stout. Mr Cornish told young Kevin to pour out a few more measures. Eddie Boland stopped playing the piano.
“It’s only this,” said Father Hogan. “I want us all to lift our glasses to Artie and Teresa. May God go with you, the pair of you,” he said, lifting his own glass.
“Health, wealth, and happiness,” proclaimed Mr Cornish from the bar.
“And an early night,” shouted Screw Doyle. “Don’t forget to draw the curtains, Artie.”
They stood awkwardly, not holding hands, not even touching. Teresa watched while her mother drank the remains of her sherry, and while her aunts drank and Mrs Cornish drank. Agnes’s face was disdainful, a calculated reply to the coarseness of Screw Doyle’s remarks. Loretta was staring ahead of her, concentrating her mind on her novitiate. A quick flush passed over the roughened countenance of Kitty Roche. Philomena laughed, and all the men in the lounge-bar, except Father Hogan, laughed. “That’s sufficient of that talk,” Father Hogan said with contrived severity. “May you meet happiness halfway,” he added, suitably altering his intonation. “The pair of you, Artie and Teresa.”
In this paragraph, above, which serves as the culmination of the five paragraphs before it, all the various characters are brought together in one space.
Writing exercise: after moving from consciousness to consciousness, so that we see the many different characters on an individual level, bring them all together again for some purpose.
Noise broke out again after that. Father Hogan shook hands with Teresa and then with Artie. He had a funeral at half past two, he said: he’d better go and get his dinner inside him.
“Goodbye, Father,” Artie said. “Thanks for doing the job.”
“God bless the pair of you,” said Father Hogan, and he went away.
“We should be going for the bus,” Artie said to her. “It wouldn’t do to miss the old bus.”
“No, it wouldn’t.”
“I’ll see you down there. You’ll have to change your clothes.”
“I’ll come the way I am.”
“You’re fine the way you are, Artie.”
He looked at the stout in his glass and didn’t raise his eyes from it when he spoke again. “Did Screw Doyle take you into a field, Teresa?”
He hadn’t meant to say it then. It was wrong to come out with it like that, with the wedding-cake still there on the piano, and Teresa still in her wedding-dress, and confetti everywhere. He knew it was wrong even before the words came out; he knew that the stout had angered and befuddled him.
“Sorry,” he said. “Sorry, Teresa.”
This final section of the story returns to focus solely on the two principals.
She shook her head. It didn’t matter: it was only to be expected that a man you didn’t love and who didn’t love you would ask a question like that at your wedding reception.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, he did.”
“He told me. I thought he was codding. I wanted to know.”
“It’s your baby, Artie. The other thing was years ago.”
He looked at her. Her face was flushed, her eyes had tears in them.
“I had too much stout,” he said.
They stood where Father Hogan had left them, drawn away from their wedding guests. No knowing where else to look, they looked together at Father Hogan’s black back as he left the lounge-car, and then at the perspiring, naked heads of Mr Cornish and Mr Atty by the bar.
At least they had no illusions, she thought. Nothing worse could happen than what had happened already, after Father Hogan had laid down the law. She wasn’t going to get a shock like Loretta had got. She wasn’t going to go sour like Agnes had done when she’d discovered that it wasn’t enough just to marry a man for a purpose, in order to escape from a town. Philomena was convincing herself that she’d fallen in love with an elderly vet, and if she got any encouragement Kitty Roche would convince herself that she was mad about anyone at all.
In a story that is full of pessimism and doubt, in a story that is full of the many ways in which various people feel unfulfilled, or unresolved, Teresa emerges at the end with a final moment of an emotion that might even be thought of as hope:
For a moment as Teresa stood there, the last moment before she left the lounge-bar, she felt that she and Artie might make some kind of marriage together because there was nothing that could be destroyed, no magic or anything else. He could ask her the question he had asked, while she stood there in her wedding-dress: he could ask her and she could truthfully reply, because there was nothing special about the occasion, or the lounge-bar all covered in confetti.
Additional Writing Exercises
- Rewrite “Teresa’s Wedding” in 55 words. What is kept? What is omitted? (This exercise is all about getting to the true heart of the story and is useful to apply to your own work, as well. What is essential?)
- Write a short story of 55 words set at a wedding. With only 55 words to be used, it forces us to get immediately to the true heart of our own work.
- Play with the words. Write a short work of 101 words with the title “Teresa,” “Theresa,” or “Wedding.” How can this title be used to frame and supplement the story you end up writing?
- Write a short work of 300 words that takes place entirely at a wedding reception.
- Write a short work of 500 words in which you re-tell “Teresa’s Wedding” from the point of view of only one of the characters in the story.
- Write a short work of 750 words that takes place at a wedding reception, but use a first-person point of view.
- Write a short work of 1,000 words in which you go into the consciousnesses of three separate characters.
- Write a short work of 2,500 words in which you go into the consciousnesses of four separate characters.
- Write a short work of 5,000 words in which you go into the consciousnesses of eight separate characters.
- Write a short work of 7,500 words, set at a wedding reception, in which you go into the consciousnesses of eight separate human characters, one animal character, and one inanimate object character.
In addition to his many short stories, William Trevor wrote nineteen novels or collections of novellas. Pick one up and enjoy how deeply Trevor was able to explore character. What techniques could you also use in your own writing?