“Daughter of Kali,” by Priya Chawla (United Arab Emirates)
Issue 4.1 April 2022
Read the piece here.
Pre-Reading Quick Write
Adolescence can be a time of competing priorities, increasingly complex schedules, and exciting opportunities—a time of dancing between belief systems, expectations, internal and external pressures, communities, values, and traditions. As we explore the many sides of our identities and consider who and what we strive to become, we may face moments of tension. Often, fictional stories help us better understand that tension, lifting up other characters’ paths—their conflicts, hopes, and dreams—so that we may further consider our own. For five minutes, write about a tension, real or imagined, that feels especially resonant for you. The tension might occur between two characters, might explore the relationship between a character and their external environment, or relate to an internal tension, such as a character’s grappling with a tradition or belief system, a dream or goal, a hope or fear.
In her story, Chawla writes with an attention to sound: the ways in which experimentations with diction (word choice), assonance (repetition of vowel sounds), sentence length and structure (such as one-word sentences), and spacing contribute to the flow of the piece, the music that each line conjures in readers’ ears, and the ways in which language informs and emphasizes the content of a story. Which narrative techniques most stand out to you in Chawla’s piece, and why? How do those techniques influence your reading and understanding of the story?
Notice how Chawla uses a “bookend” technique to frame this story, beginning and ending with the same allusion, the mention of the Hindi word, “kal.” What effect does this technique have on you as a reader, on your appreciation and understanding of the story? How might the piece read differently without this technique? Why might Chawla have chosen to begin and end this story in this way?
Dialogue is an important but sometimes challenging component of fiction writing. In this piece, Chawla incorporates plentiful dialogue through interactive moments in the scenes of the piece. What do you notice about Chawla’s use of dialogue? What about the dialogue flows well for you as a reader, and why? What role does dialogue play in this piece (ex: deepening characterization, introducing conflict, etc.)?
How would you describe the central conflict, or “stakes,” of this story? How does Chawla inspire empathy and investment in readers? What about the conflict, and the way it is written, inspires readers to care about the protagonist’s plight? What writing techniques does Chawla use to make the central conflict apparent to readers? Is there resolution?
Write a fictional story or scene (depending on assignment length) that centralizes the tension you wrote about during freewriting. Whether your conflict explores person vs. environment, person vs. person, person vs. self, person vs. society, person vs. tradition, or another iteration of tension, consider how literary elements such as dialogue, backstory/context, characterization and character development, and setting set the stakes of your story. Once you have a first draft compiled, return to your work and consider how language—the sound and meaning of words, the order and structure of sentences, the framing of first and last lines—can heighten the stakes of the piece. In the way that Chawla braids together structure and story to create emotional investment in readers, how might you similarly explore the impacts of various techniques?