“My son is separated from his wife, who rents a room from me.” That was the first line of a letter in a recent newspaper advice column.
After reading that letter in the newspaper at home, a community-college creative-writing instructor decided to assign his students to base their next short stories on that line. In class, he gave the assignment.
As the instructor explained the assignment, Gabe, a young man in the class, interrupted, “Oh my god! That’s like my father. He’s harboring my deadbeat wife.”
“Go on,” said the instructor.
“There’s nothing more to say. My father always liked my good-for-nothing wife better than me. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s been screwing her, even before I made the mistake of marrying her.”
“And you said there’s nothing more to say? Sounds like there’s plenty more to say, plenty more for your story.”
“No, nothing more to say, well, except that I’m also pretty sure my wife’s new baby daughter is my half sister.”
“I’d say you’ve got a short story right there,” added the instructor.
“Hey, that’s only half a short story,” another student chimed in. “I’m friends with Gabe’s wife. He doesn’t know it, but his older child, a boy, is his half brother. Both his kids’ father is their grandfather.”
“He knows it now,” concluded the instructor, “and so do the rest of you. If anybody can’t get a novel, much less a short story, out of this, I’ve failed as a teacher.”