Short stories with life-saving characters

Student writer Dana Mitchell gravitates back to writing in good times and bad

Student writer Dana Mitchell.
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Student writer Dana Mitchell, ArtSci '19, thinks of her characters as companions who’ve helped her through adversity.

As a writer of short stories, Mitchell’s work rarely extends past a page or two. It’s this brevity that makes her stories — featuring unique, larger-than-life characters — pack such a punch.  

Mitchell’s story In Facing the Sun placed second in the Alice Munro short story competition. The story follows a young tattoo artist, who arrives at his parlor one morning to an old lady waiting by the entrance. 

The woman, who we learn is a Holocaust survivor, still has internment camp identification number tattooed on her arm. She asks the tattoo artist to “make the numbers beautiful”. 

The story, which is little more than a page long, features heartbreaking resilience and an unlikely crossing of paths. 

“I like to keep things concise,” Mitchell said. “My writing is really minimalistic. Sometimes an idea is just more powerful when you use less words.”

When she turned 13, Mitchell says she was in an incredibly dark place, and her feelings of isolation led her to writing. 

“At that time in my life, I was just really fed up with living, with being alive,” she said. “I was going through a really depressing time in my life and writing pushed me out of that shell.”

She still doesn’t know why she was drawn to writing and not another art form. 

“Suddenly, I wanted to write and express myself. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why I started. All I know is that it was the best decision of my life,” Mitchell said.

“I always come back to writing, both in happy and sad moments in my life.” 

Mitchell is now working on a larger work, which she says will be very different from her short stories.

“I don’t know if you could really call it a book. I hope it one day becomes something complete like that, but it’s definitely something much bigger than just a short story,” she said.

This novel-in-progress is a story about a teenage boy named Mitch — a character Mitchell has been developing for years. Mitch embarks on a road trip with a man named Hendrick and a girl named Allegra, who make an unlikely trio of friends. 

“They ‘find themselves’, I guess, but in ways they themselves never imagined,” she said.

Ned Vizzini, author of the coming-of-age novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story, is one of Mitchell’s major influences. It’s Kind of a Funny Story focuses on a teenage boy sent to a psychiatric hospital for his clinical depression and suicidal tendencies.

Mitchell said Vizzini inspired her to ground her characters in reality.

“It seemed so real to me — his teenage character who explored so many different emotions that I really hung onto,” she said. 

“He wasn’t a typical teenager with the angst and the anger. He was real and believable and I hope my characters can be like that too.”

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