Monday, April 18, 2011

Things that Inspire : Umbrella

An umbrella is most commonly a canopy that protects against certain elements, usually rain or sun. In general, umbrella refers to the canopy that protects against the rain, while parasol refers to the canopy that protects against sun. The difference is in the material – an umbrella is waterproof while a parasol is not. An umbrella or parasol can be used as a hand held object, or it can be a permanent fixture. Other uses of umbrellas (besides protecting from rain or sun) include using it as a reflector or diffuser in photography.

Besides the factual information that you can get about things, your view will be altered by your own personal experiences and connotations (this is perhaps most important, as each person will have a unique view and thus a unique story). For example, I recently (repeatedly) saw an ad on the television where a guy opens his shop canopy thing when it starts to rain so that the people in the street could shelter under it. While this is not an umbrella, it serves the same purpose. Thus, an umbrella can be a great help to someone who gets caught in a storm without one.

From all this information (including my own), I could quickly glean two things that stand out.
1) An umbrella is waterproof and a parasol is not, though they look pretty much the same.
2) An umbrella can be a help to someone caught in the rain.

Why these two things? Because I can see potential conflict in them. Conflict drives a story, thus selecting conflict-potential situations, I can get a story from it.
Say with 1, there is the possibility that, say, someone gets an umbrella for his boss or girlfriend, but when it rains, the water seeps through because it was a parasol.
Number 2 incites the implication that people without umbrellas would be drawn to people with umbrellas. Also, someone with an umbrella might feel it a moral duty to give shelter to someone without an umbrella. Thus, it could lead to someone luring people with an umbrella for some nefarious purpose, or someone leaves his umbrella at home and uses that as an excuse to get close to someone so that he can, say, kill him.

Both of these work because I see a conflict that can result from the particular situation.

Herewith my attempt at flash fiction (feel free to leave an opinion or a piece of flash fiction based on umbrellas – 200 words or less in this case – of your own in the comments):

It was the day. Sean walked five paces behind Peter and the boss so that they wouldn’t see him calling the rain. He muttered the words under his breath – the words he had spent weeks learning. He would surely get the promotion now.
Peter was still sweet talking the boss and Sean knew he couldn’t compete. But Sean’s stunt would gain him the upper hand.
Dark clouds were beginning to build. Thunder rumbled and the boss looked up then his face turned to alarm.
“They said that it would be sunny today!” he said.
Just as the rain started to fall – with perfect timing – Sean hurried closer and whipped out the umbrella he had bought the previous day.
“I thought it looked like rain this morning, sir,” he said in his sweetest voice, ignoring Peter’s glare.
The boss looked delighted as Sean held the umbrella over his head. The promotion was his.
Just as he noticed a little sticker on the underside that said ‘Happy Parasols’, the rain started dripping through the material. The boss got a drop in his eye and scowled at Sean.
It looked like he wouldn’t get the promotion after all.

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