The story begins at a writers' convention. A critic suggests to a panel of writers that their seeming fascination with murder and violence has gone too far. He suggests that one of them try to write a more "realistic crime novel dealing with ... some commonplace low-level offense." One of the writers at the convention, George, takes the critic's suggestion seriously and decides to write a story about "something as minor as illegal parking." George also describes a story idea that he had about somebody staging a murder to look like a shark attack. This becomes important later in the story.
The next part of the story describes George's time spent with a parking officer. George imagines that this will be good research for his story. While on patrol, the parking officer notices a car that is illegally parked. There are two men in the car, a driver and a passenger, and when they are confronted by the parking officer, they speed away, leaving a dead body behind them. The passenger's brother later approaches George, and tells George to "watch [his] back" if he decides to testify against his brother. At the end of the story, George takes his surfboard out to sea and is murdered. He is murdered by somebody who seems to be trying to make the murder look like a shark attack.
The main theme in this story is the theme of violence. The story suggests that people have become desensitized to violence. Indeed, the readers at the writers' convention demand gorier, more violent stories. The ending of the story, in which George becomes a victim to an act of violence which he himself imagined, also seems to suggest that people are ultimately victims of their own violence, or at least of their own predilection for gorier and more explicit violence in the stories they consume.
The main character in the story is George. George seems thoughtful and kind. He is the only writer not to laugh at the critic, and he pities the farmers that the parking officer makes fun of. His death at the end of the story is tragic and pitiable.
Another main character in the story is the aforementioned critic. The critic is important because he is the catalyst for the plot. Without the critic's interjections at the writers' conference, George would not have embarked upon his new idea for a story—and would thus not have met his tragic end.
A third important character in the story is the parking officer that George follows in order to research his story. This parking officer is important because he acts as a foil to George. The parking officer is unkind and stupid. He laughs at the farmers who don't know about parking laws when they come into the city, and he seems to take his job far more seriously than perhaps he should. These faults in the character of the parking officer emphasize, by contrast, the opposite virtues in the character of George.