The Judgment by Franz Kafka, 1913
The magic trick:
Outlining the conflict facing the protagonist very clearly in the story’s opening paragraphs
I’ve been really struggling lately in my attempts to write fiction. This is not exactly breaking news, I’ll admit. I really have no idea what I’m doing, and every story I start quickly descends to the level of total, unreadable, embarrassing garbage. Nevertheless, my most recent frustrations feel like an all-time low. It was so inspiring then to pick up this little Kafka book and read “The Judgment.” So economical with language. So precise. So sharp. It’s like a how-to for telling a story. He lays out the situation facing the main character in the opening. Then he moves the plot along. He puts us in the mind of the protagonist. There is a moment of blurred reality. Is he daydreaming? Are these events in his father’s room actually happening? The questions linger, unanswered, and the story ramps up to a dramatic conclusion. Easy, right? I suppose it is for some writers out there. And that’s quite a trick on Kafka’s part.
He was thinking about how this friend, dissatisfied with his progress at home, had actually run off to Russia some years before. Now he ran a business in St. Petersburg, which had gotten off to a very good start but which for a long time now had appeared to be faltering, as his friend complained on his increasingly rare visits. So he was wearing himself out working to no purpose in a foreign land. The exotic full beard only poorly concealed the face George had known so well since his childhood years, and the yellowish colour of his skin seemed to indicate a developing sickness. As he explained it, he had no real connection to the colony of his countrymen in the place and also hardly any social interaction with local families and so was resigning himself to being a permanent bachelor.