Sakura and Water Bottles

Sakura Picture
This festival is awesome, by the way. You should definitely go next year.

Hello, everyone! As you all can probably tell, I’ve just gotten back from the cherry blossom festival in D.C.—which was pretty much just plain awesome, but also left me exhausted. So, once again in lieu of a long, drawn out post, I’m going to leave you all with a scene I wrote for an assignment from my fiction workshop class.

Enjoy! 🙂


It only takes a moment for the camera to focus, the details of the interrogation room sharpening to reveal a man and a woman seated at opposite ends of a grey metal table.

The woman twists a bottle of water in her hands, the plastic crackling slightly as she applies pressure on it.  Her eyes are trained on her work; the man seated across from her is frowning slightly at her lowered head.

“Whitney Marie Garrett?” he says. He shifts his left hand to start tapping a rhythm on the underside of the table in front of him.

The woman’s eyes flicker toward the source of the sound before they return to her hands. “That’s what they tell me,” she replies. The bottle protests as she continues to distort it.

“….All right, then.” The man’s voice has risen slightly in pitch. His fingers drum harder against the underside of the table. “Miss Garrett—”

“Whitney should be fine.”

Her eyes narrow slightly. The man watches as she presses against the edges of the water bottle to squeeze out an indentation in the plastic. He clenches his right hand into a fist as she starts bending it in again. A few seconds pass before his hand relaxes, his fingers splaying out across the surface of the table in front of him.

“Miss Garrett,” the man continues.

Crunch.

“Where were you the night of September the fifteenth?”

“Randi reckons I was at home. She’s a southerner. Probably. They tend to reckon things.”

The man lifts his right hand again, this time to rub at his forehead before briefly passing it through his hair. “Not, ‘Where does Randi say you were?’ Where were you?”

“That’s the question.” The woman blinks rapidly, but she doesn’t look up at the man watching her. She gives the bottle a sharp twist, this time wrenching it completely out of proportion.

The man reaches across the table, trapping her hand against the bottle. She pauses.

“What do you remember?”

She blinks at his hand on hers for a few seconds. “Coffee.”

“Coffee?” he replies, raising his eyebrows. He draws his hand back. “What does that mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” the woman says. She is running her fingers along the edges of the bottle cap. The hard plastic doesn’t crackle under the pressure. “It meant something. It might mean something.”

She sets the deformed bottle down.

“What…the hell…” the man mutters. He reaches forward, taking the bottle and drawing it to his side of the table. The woman follows the motion with her eyes. “You’re not giving me much to go on, you know.”

“There isn’t much for them to go on, you mean.” She doesn’t inflect the word them, but she does lift her head to look somewhere over the man’s left shoulder.

He follows her gaze, his eyes catching the sight of his own reflection in the two-way mirror behind him. “Tell me again why we’re going with this plan,” the man says, raising his voice slightly. He reaches behind his head to rub at the back of his neck before turning to the woman.

“Because nobody’s ever faked memory loss before.” She tilts her head to the side, meeting his eyes.

He slides the water bottle back over to her.


Also, if any of you guys were wondering about the prompt that we were given for this writing assignment, I’ll go ahead and provide that here. We were supposed to write a story that followed these guidelines:

  • 500-750 words
  • Two characters
    • Think point/counterpoint rather than protagonist/antagonist
    • Do not describe the characters physical appearance, but their actions.
  • One event must occur, whether small or large, significant or not.
    • Begin the story in medias res.
    • Both characters must be in the room when the story begins.
  • The action must take place in one
    • Characters may interact with up to three objects total, one of which must be a container of water.
  • The Narrator
    • The narrator must observe the story from the third-person objective perspective (i.e. no thoughts of the characters, no omniscient knowledge, no interference, no editorializing). In other words, be a camera. Observe.
    • You must use at least one line, description, etc. from your index cards (not the line I gave you).

The Words We (Don’t) Say

Hello again, everyone!

I’m sorry to say that graduate school is just as hectic as it was when I wrote my last post, so this one is also going to be a little on the short side. One thing that I’ve been slowly relearning in my fiction workshop class is the importance of dialogue—not just any dialogue, but realistic dialogue that isn’t grammatically perfect and that clearly shows each character as a unique individual with his or her own quirks and mannerisms.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you all with another writing exercise. This one is from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, one of the books on the required reading list for my fiction class.

Write a dialogue in which each of the two characters has a secret. Do not reveal the secret but make the reader intuit it. For example, the dialogue might be between a husband, who has just lost his job and hasn’t worked up the courage to tell his wife, and his wife, who has a lover in the bedroom. Purpose: to give two characters individual ways of speaking, and to make dialogue crackle with feelings not directly expressed. Remember that in dialogue, as a general rule, every pause must somehow be shown, either by narration (for example, “she paused”) or by some gesture or other break that shows the pause. And remember that gesture is a part of all real dialogue. Sometimes, for instance, we look away instead of answering. (204)

Senseless

So, graduate school kind of snuck up on me a bit, so I’m afraid I don’t have a long, drawn-out post planned for today. I do, however, have a nice writing exercise from Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft for those of you who are interested:

In the movie Wait Until Dark, Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman being pursued by a killer through a darkened house. Audiences usually jump out of their seats during the film’s climactic final scene because they identify so thoroughly with her character. Write a scene where your character is deprived of one of his five senses. Then, set the character in a situation where missing that particular sense would have an especially significant impact. The situation might put him at an advantage or disadvantage, but in any case, he will have to compensate, wringing every bit of useful information he can out of his other senses. Make the situation dramatic, one in which he is driven by a pressing need or desire. (Burroway & Stuckey-French 71)

I can’t speak to the quality of the movie (I haven’t seen it, but if Audrey Hepburn is involved, my roommate would probably insist that it has to be amazing), but I did find this prompt particularly interesting given that a lot of the description in my own writing seems to focus on just one of the senses (usually sight), rather than using all five senses to help describe the setting and action.

As always, feel free to share your work in the comments section! 🙂

Here We Go Again

Hello, everyone!

So, if you guys have read my posts on Tuesday and Thursday, you’ve probably already guessed what this post is going to be about.

As I stated in my first two posts, the first writing assignment for my fiction class included the following general guidelines: You will be provided with one line of text each day for a week (excluding Sunday), and you are to use that line as a starting point to fill the lined side of a 4 x 6 index card with text. You can’t look at your note cards right after you’ve written them. Instead, wait to the end of the week, and then type what you’ve written into a single document. You can then make all the revisions that your heart desires.

So, for those of you who still want to follow in my class’ footsteps, I’ll provide you with the last prompt (and my own response, just for fun). I’ll leave it up to you if you want to write it today or on Monday. 🙂


 

Prompt 6: “They fall asleep in rapid time during daylight.”

They fall asleep in rapid time during daylight. That’s when we’ll make our move. The only problem is that they’re damn light sleepers.

“Tell me again why we’re going with this plan,” Briggs says in a mock whisper—no danger yet, too far away from our intended targets—as he crouches down behind minimal cover. He checks his scope for any signs of movement from the enemy.

“Because we’re stupid, that’s why,” I reply, rechecking my ammo before clicking the clip in place. I slip the pistol back into its holster at my side.

There’s no way we’re going to let these bastards get the drop on us. Lovecraft really didn’t know shit about the Old Ones.

Every Day I’m Prompt Writin’

 

Everyday Gambit
I had to. Because Gambit.

So, since last night was basically me scrambling to put the finishing touches on a short story I had to turn in for my fiction class, I think I’ll just make this post be a continuation of my last one. (Okay, I’ll be honest, it was always going to be a continuation of my last post).

For those of you who read my post on March 1st—or who clicked on the handy-dandy link in the previous paragraph and just read it—the first writing assignment for my fiction class included the following general guidelines:  You will be provided with one line of text each day for a week (excluding Sunday), and you are to use that line as a starting point to fill the lined side of a 4 x 6 index card with text. You can’t look at your note cards right after you’ve written them. Instead, wait to the end of the week, and then type what you’ve written into a single document. You can then make all the revisions that your heart desires.

So, here are the next three prompts, with my responses included just for fun. 🙂


 

Prompt 3: “All over town, the lamps were going out.”

All over town, the lamps were going out.

Rachel knew this would happen. You didn’t play with electromagnetic energy in a town this size and not expect someone to notice. Her rain boots crunched against the hardened snow as she shifted her feet. Call her sentimental, but it was nice to be able to look at the stars without all those lights dimming the view.

“You know, you’d look pretty stupid if you end up freezing to death out here.”

Rachel would have turned around to get a good look at whoever was giving her a hard time, but the instinctual huff she made in response told her it only could’ve been Adam.

“What do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Somehow she found his answering laugh simultaneously irritating and reassuring.

“Yeah, I can see you’re busy freezing. Get inside. Dad managed to make something good before the power kicked out.”


 

Prompt 4: “A shawl is a hat and hurt and a red balloon.”

A shawl was a hat and hurt, and a red balloon wasn’t helping.

Of course, that’s probably because a woman was giving the balloon to her crying kid in an attempt to placate him. (It wasn’t working.)

Strangely enough, she had yet to notice me, although I was sitting on a bench not far from them, a granny shawl wrapped around my head (bobby pins jabbing into my scalp as they pleased) and a pair of pink sunglasses perched on my nose. Definitely not the attire you’d want wear to the park, especially one frequented by swarms of mindless, screaming children.

But I was on a mission.

If Kate’s ear for gossip could be trusted—and let’s be honest, it’s never been wrong before— then he stopped by here every day after school. So, here I was, sitting on this bench, looking like a creeper.

Waiting.


 

Prompt 5: “The weather, I think, must be changing.”

The weather, I think, must have been changing. That was the only explanation for the fact that the little punk was out sitting on our porch again. His mother had him wrapped up in at least three layers—he looked more like a marshmallow than a ten-year-old boy—but she must have deemed the weather mild enough if he was already waiting for me.

Normally winter was a no-go for Mrs. Jackson, but if it was warm enough she’d let her son roam where he wished—so long as he brought along his long-suffering neighbor and pseudo-babysitter. I sighed, pulling on my jacket and kicking on a pair of sneakers before opening the door.

“Let’s go,” I said, shutting the door behind me. I immediately shoved my hands into my pockets. It may have been warm according to Mrs. Jackson’s standards, but I was cold-blooded.

The boy jumped, glancing back at me with wide eyes for a second before he smiled, scrambling to his feet.

“Where are we going?” he asked, tugging at my sleeve, and I couldn’t help the smile that pulled at my lips.

Writers Gotta Write

Writer's Gotta Write Zazzle
…This actually exists.

If you guys have read any of my posts from back in January, you’ll know that I’m finally taking a fiction workshop class at the graduate level. While I’m fairly certain that I’ve managed to get all of my obsessive excitement about John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction out of my system for the moment, I’m still really psyched about this class as a whole.

One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about the class is that it’s actually forcing me to write. I think every book on writing technique I’ve ever read has stressed the importance of writing consistently, every day—even if it’s as small a thing as meeting a 100-word minimum. Despite this widespread agreement that writers gotta write, for some reason I’d never actually taken the advice seriously before this class.

For our first writing assignment of the semester, our professor provided us with a line of text to use as a starting point to fill the lined side of a 4 x 6 index card. This was done over the course of an entire week, with the professor emailing us a one-line prompt each day (with the exception of Sunday, which we were told to take off). Our professor  gave us these additional guidelines for the prompt:

Write your text quickly or slowly, but put it away by the end of the day—do not go back and look until the end of the week. At the end of the week, type your texts into a single document—make edits or expansions if you like [. . .].

These texts may lead nowhere, or they may spark ideas that lead everywhere. You may creatively alter the given line, but the line must still be recognizable. Rather than exercises, think of these as possible beginnings.

Let me tell you, the exercise worked wonderfully for me. Because it was an exercise, I didn’t feel the pressure I usually do whenever I actually sit down to work on a story. I wasn’t worried about artfully crafting the perfect description or coming up with a flawless line of dialogue. Instead, I was able to just write—and there was nothing saying I couldn’t incorporate what I’d written into my actual work.

So, for those of you who want to follow in my class’ footsteps, I’ll provide you with the first two prompts so that you can begin to fill in your index cards with fervor. (You’ll want to wait and look at the second prompt tomorrow, if you’re planning on following our assignment to the letter.)

Just for fun, I’ll also include my responses for each prompt.


 

Prompt 1: “Dead leaves of every essence lie steeping in the rain.”

Dead leaves of every essence lie steeping in the rain. Musky odors mix with the smell of ground coffee beans and freshly baked pizzelles. Whitney doesn’t want these smells. It’s only been a week since she last visited the shop, and the scents drifting in the air are beginning to make her feel nostalgic. She sighs, breath escaping her lungs in fitful white puffs. It shouldn’t be this cold.

Not when all she wants to do is wrap her hands around a warm cup of coffee and spend time with friends she can’t have.

Not when all the smells are still so fresh, wrapping around her and carrying her to the one place she calls home, the one place she can’t be.


 

Prompt 2: “Tonight, I fish from the mile-high pier.”

Tonight, I fish from the mile-high pier. It’s not like I’m actually going to catch anything, of course. There probably isn’t even any water down there anymore—unless you count the large patches of mud where the dirt hasn’t dried and cracked in the heat. I must make an interesting sight, lounging in an old beach chair—who even goes to the beach anymore?—legs kicked back and my great-grandfather’s fishing rod wedged securely between the bottom of the seat and the right armrest. The line is properly prepped with the juiciest worm I could find—a tricky thing, when the worm population’s gone down the drain along with the water.


 

Feel free to type up your own responses and leave them in the comments section! 🙂

Re-Plotting Myths

So, I think anyone who’s read my posts on Tuesday and Thursday probably know that I’m totally obsessed with this new book I’m reading for my fiction writing class. It’s called The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, and it was first published in 1983, which definitely makes for an interesting read. (I also think that the author may be in love with cows, but that is another matter.)

Cow
He talks about cows. A lot. And it’s usually about as random as this GIF.

I’ve already talked about the first two chapters of John Gardner’s book in my previous posts, but for this one I think I’ll talk a little about the third chapter. The title of the chapter is “Interest and Truth,” and Gardner focuses much of it on how plot piques the writer’s (and hopefully the reader’s) interest and reveals the “truth” of a given story.

According to Gardner, there are three primary ways a writer (of a “conventional” story) determines plot: “by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life (the method of the Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and many other writers, ancient and modern); by working his way back from his story’s climax, or by groping his way forward from an initial situation” (57).

Gardner spends the rest of the chapter detailing how a writer can take a well-known story—say, the myth of Helen of Troy—and shed new light on it.

A given writer may find his interest stirred by almost any of the story’s main events. Troy was a rich, cosmopolitan city; in its ruins, archeologists found jade, among other things, proving that Trojan traders had contacts as far away as China. The Achaians, on the other hand, whom Helen left when she fled from her husband with her Trojan lover, Paris, were cowherds, goatherds, raiders—from the Trojan point of view crude barbarians. How surprised Helen must have been, to say nothing of how Paris and his father the king felt, when her people dropped everything, called together relatives from far and wide, left their lean-tos and harsh, stone towns, and came after her with a thousand ships. That moment, her alarm at the news, might make a story. (58)

So, your “homework” for today: write a short story (of any length) using Gardner’s example, or a similarly well-known story packed with complex avenues that could never be fully explored.

A Good Title is Hard to Find

Shark Tank
Trust me, you’ll get this later.

For those of you who read my post on Tuesday and guessed that today’s post would consist of me (once again) geeking out about my new fiction grad class—well, you were right. I finally started reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, and let me tell you, so far it’s pretty awesome.

The first chapter of the book serves as an introduction to fiction craft and technique, and it jumps around quite a bit. One of the main points Gardner gets across, however, is that there aren’t any definitive rules when it comes to writing fiction (because the great writers pretty much always end up breaking anything the “experts” decide to set in stone), but there are techniques that can be developed. There are patterns to good stories that can be observed and replicated.

Gardner’s second chapter gets into the specifics of these techniques, and also reveals that the author isn’t afraid to be funny. According to him, education is key to being a good writer, but he does realize the pitfalls inherent in the university classroom.

We move through a course on Dostoevsky or Poe as we move through a mildly good cocktail party, picking up the good bits of food or conversation, bearing with the rest, going home when it comes to seem the reasonable thing to do. Art, at those moments when it feels most like art—when we feel most alive, most alert, most triumphant—is less like a cocktail party than a tank full of sharks. Everything’s for keeps, nothing’s just for exercise. (35)

An exercise—at least for the fiction writer—is never just an exercise. According to Gardner, it’s “a possible beginning of some magnificent work” (35). Although obviously not every exercise can be turned into some brilliant masterpiece, it’s important to approach a writing prompt with a clear purpose. We are playing for keeps. We’re experimenting, we’re honing our craft, we’re getting our creative juices flowing. We shouldn’t be afraid to use an exercise as a springboard to a new creative work.

Murder with a Side of Cow

The Art of Fiction
I haven’t started reading this yet, but it looks promising!

Hello, everyone! 🙂 So, the spring semester’s just started up for me (although I’m seriously wondering how there’s anything “spring” about the 16-degree weather forecast for tomorrow…), and so far it’s been a mix of “Do I actually need to take these two classes to graduate?” and “Wow, I finally get to take a fiction workshop class in grad school.” My school lost their graduate creative writing teacher the year before I started grad school, and I’ve pretty much been waiting for a fiction writing class ever since.

As you can see from the handy picture to the right of this text, the textbook list for this semester’s writing class includes John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. I haven’t had the chance to start reading it, but I couldn’t resist flipping to the back to take a look at some of the exercises.

Something I found interesting about Gardner’s exercises is that he sometimes leaves a little description at the end of his prompt, explaining the purpose of the exercise.

And, since I’m writing this at midnight and I am very much questioning why I decided to post this late, I think I’ll conclude with the first individual exercise in the book:

Write a paragraph that would appear in a piece of fiction just before the discovery of a body. You might perhaps describe the character’s approach to the body he will find, or the location, or both. The purpose of the exercise is to develop the technique of at once attracting the reader to the paragraph to follow, making him want to skip ahead, and holding him on this paragraph by virtue of its interest. Without the ability to write such foreplay paragraphs, one can never achieve real suspense. (Gardner 201)

Of course, I’m also particularly fond of of the 27th individual exercise listed in the book: “Using all you know, write a short story about an animal—for instance, a cow” (Gardner 206). For some reason, I find it hilarious that the first example that popped into the author’s head was a cow…

Anyway, feel free to use either prompt and leave your work in the comments section! 🙂

It’s a Matter of Taste

In my last post, we took a look at one way to “show, don’t tell” in your writing. Although we tend to describe the things we see, there are a whole host of senses to chose from when you provide those “[s]pecific, definite, concrete, particular details” (Burroway and Stuckey-French 22) that add the necessary sense of depth to your story.

For today, I’ll provide you with a writing exercise focusing on another one of the five senses:

Taste. There are four main types of taste and each has its own words—sweet (saccharine, sugary), sour (acidic, tart), bitter (acrid, biting), and salty (briny, brakish). There are also a lot of objects that have familiar, but distinctive tastes and so are useful in description (fish, lemons, onions, candy, chocolate, pickles, beer, coffee, and so on).

Take some characters out for dinner—Chinese or Greek, burgers or gourmet, it doesn’t matter. Describe a particular course or even a whole meal. What impression does your description give? What do the characters have to say about their meal? How do they communicate with each other through their appreciation of the food? (71)

As always, feel free to share your work in the comments section! 🙂


A Brief Works Cited

  • Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 8th ed. Boston: Longman-Pearson, 2011. Print.