The Girdling Root – Flash Fiction



I’m feeling a bit experimental in my writing. The following has no dialogue and the sentences are long. I see it more as an exercise for exploring a future character and perhaps using some of it for that purpose. What do you think? And, while we’re on the subject – do you jot out character sketches in an attempt to get to know your characters better?

The Girdling Root

Once root girdling takes hold of a tree, suffocation and death are imminent unless the extreme decision to remove the offending root takes place. The specimen may succumb to death even with the procedure, most assuredly if nothing is done.

At first, I thought I’d had a stroke or a heart attack. In a way, I suppose it was the latter. My limbs still functioned as normal. My brain still registered date and time with the ability to recall any detail it so wished within reason of a ‘normal’ 48-year-old female. The problem wasn’t the body or the mind. The problem was the heart. Pain, alternating with numbness, pushed through weakened spots between heartbeats, grabbing hold, suffocating the source of oxygen and nutrients required for proper health. A doctor was of no use; however, the damage begged for repair.

Heartbreak is a fickle disease; one that requires constant monitoring, else irreversible damage may lay waste to any individual who harbors the ailment. As with a heart attack, once a piece of the heart actually dies, there is no repair of the dead area. If no treatment is secured for what remains, hope for survival wanes with every passing day. What of a transplant? No such convenience for the heartbroken I’m afraid.

I chose the path of so many. I ignored the symptoms for as long as possible until my breath caught at my own stabbing foolishness. No other option but to open my chest for examination. Ugly, regrettable and useless pandering to the emotion of grief that served no purpose settled into a lifeless area of impending necrosis. It was do or die time.

Accepting the void left where another once held court daily proved a vicious exercise of my recovery, but a necessary one. Recognizing that the risk was worth the potential reward, I cut away the offending root of my grief that served no purpose but to strangle my happiness.

I am now like the grasping, growing, forward-seeking roots of a maple tree forcing their way through unyielding sod, seeking new ground to explore. If I should, once again, encounter the pain of a broken heart, I will seek out the girdling root and I will cut it off before it threatens my existence. I will cut it off, and I will thrive, for I will not be suffocated by grief ever again.


—-The most I learned about this character came at the end of this writing exercise –  I thought she was guided by her need to heal and be whole, but that wasn’t the case after all. It seems she was guided by survival at any cost.—-

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29 responses »

  1. Great piece, Sheila. I love the metaphor of the tree suffocation from root girdling to the human heart. And yes, I do sketch out my characters beforehand, and I add to these sketches new ideas that come along.

    • I’ve been watching a tree in our front yard suffer from a girdling root for 10 years. At first, I didn’t know what it was, didn’t realize what it was doing. Now that I know, it’s really grafted itself into the base of the tree. Cutting it out would surely mean its death. Either way, it seems doomed. I’ve wanted to use that tidbit in a story of some kind – glad you enjoyed the metaphor. I don’t always do character sketches – I’ve had some characters come to me in near-complete form before, as if I understood them fully from the first moment they entered my mind. I could hear the nuances in their voices, knew them inside and out. That’s a rare, occurrence, however. Thanks always for popping in!

      • It really is…and strange sometimes. I had a female character whom I could see in full form, hear her voice, see the wrinkles under her eyes and she ‘stayed’ with me, sat with me and full-out harassed me it seemed until I finished writing her story. I know how that sounds…you don’t even have to say it. I wonder sometimes how close writers really are to being schizophrenics. The line between the sane and the insane is much thinner than any of us would like to believe, no? 🙂

  2. Once again the communication of your imagery is off the scale good. Whenever I read your work the term “wordsmith” comes to mind.

    Also once again wordpress would not let me comment at the end of the post. So here I am…

    I lost your email address last month when my computer crashed. Mine is

  3. As the piece says, cut the root and the tree *may* die. Leave it and the tree surely will. I like the example you provided, and I liked the author’s final spin. Like Ms. Rubin, I prefer to outline characters before writing, but sadly my stuff is more pulp fiction-y and so I tend to focus on mannerisms and appearances… now I wonder which causes which.

    Ouch. You made me think and stuff.

    • Thanks for stopping in Tom. I love that writing provides us the opportunity to explore character and story in many different ways, and I always enjoy learning from other writers how they approach their writing. When you get your thinking sorted out, come back and share your conclusion 🙂

      • Oh I’ve already realized I’m a hack in need of practice, but at least I know a good example to follow when I see one, eh?

      • For clarification’s sake, my ‘thinking’ comment was in reference to yours – when I re-read my comment it sounded as if I was saying that your thoughts were confusing or something that I didn’t intend to imply at all. Geez, for a writer, you’d think I could be more clear!

  4. That seems a great exploration of an intractable position, where there is no right answer perhaps.
    As for characters, I usually sketch them out before the first draft, after I’ve gotten to know them a bit first. Do you do them all right away?

    • There are times I don’t even do a character sketch. I’ve had the occasional moments when a character came to me so clearly when I started writing them that it was as if they were someone I’d known for years and simply let the story unfold accordingly. However, other times I might write out a section of story that allows me to get to know them a little better. I appreciate you stopping by and joining the conversation 🙂

      • For one of my novels, I wrote out whole character back stories for each main character, all in their own voices. That helped to get to know them a lot. I don’t usually do that, but for that story, character interaction was really important.

    • Thank you for popping in and commenting. Glad you enjoyed the piece. With a long work, I’m thinking I would definitely need to do a character sketch, to discover some of the finer points of the persona.

  5. Excellent post. I agree with Carrie – an excellent use of metaphor. You make heartbreak sound as painful as it is! It’s nice to know this character was looking for a way to break from it, because it seems to me she’s expecting to experience it again. “If I should, once again, encounter the pain of a broken heart…” Good stuff. As for your question, I never, ever sketch out my characters. Ever. I detest outlining in any way, shape, or form. It reminds me of school work, and I don’t want writing to ever feel like work. To me, the first draft is my outline, whether it be short story or novel. I work from there, editing and rewriting. That actually sounds more like work than outlining!! But it isn’t. I truly can’t express how much I dislike sketching out characters and scenes.

    • First, thank you always for being so supportive of my writing – when the days get tough it’s you and others who keep me upbeat and going forward. Second, I don’t like outlining either. I guess when I say ‘character sketch’ I mean something like what I wrote that allows me to get into the psyche of the character a little bit – in a way, I guess it’s free writing to see where it leads. I can’t wait to read more of your stories!

    • Thank you 🙂 I was genuinely surprised by the character’s motivation at the end – I was ‘rooting’ (lol) for her to be searching for healing, but instead it was simply surviving. Always glad to have you drop in for a blog visit 😀

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