Writing Exercise – The Time Has Come

Time for another writing exercise from Fiction Writer’s Workshop. Chapter 2 of this book focuses on setting, and the different ways setting is used in fiction. I absolutely love the example given from Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, where a very stingy hoarder is described through how he keeps his living area. An exercise follows from this example – Exercise 12 on page 43:

Make a character visible through her surroundings. If she loves plants and cats and hates people, her house might assume certain traits. Sketch the house, listing the sights, smells, sounds.

Well, I won’t win any points for originality for my reaction to this prompt, but I just had to try this with an established character rather than one I made up. Here’s what I came up with:


card_tower

The Time Has Come

The mirror dominates the room. The frame may have once been an elaborate bronze, but its flowery pattern is now a hideous green from years of neglect. By contrast, the glass is pristine, reflecting myself and the room in perfect clarity. A house of cards sits in front, three tiers high. Faded, tattered cards lay about its base and at the foot of the plain wooden dresser upon which it stood. I nearly bang my shin on a low table, set with a delicate china tea set. Each of the table’s four sides hosts a tea cup on a saucer, with tiny silver spoons sitting nearby. The cup nearest me has long ago lost any distinguishing pattern on its bone white surface, and two stumps jut from it where its tiny handle should be.

I step over the carpet, my feet deftly avoiding several chess pieces. Stooping down, I pick up a queen. It is white, with flecks of red paint clinging to its surface. In my other hand, I take another white queen, this one noticeably shorter and a bit wider than the other.

I set the pieces before the mirror as I step to the rocking chair with its back to me. It rocks slowly, as though swayed by the evening breeze from the open window. Light snoring announces the presence of the lady I seek. I hesitate.

My eyes find another tea table next to the chair. This table looks even older than the previous, its varnish chipped away to show wounds of rotting wood. It is also decorated with ancient china – a plate, with a cake the size of my fist atop. The cake, to my pleasant surprise, was fresh, immaculately painted with chocolate frosting, and bearing the words “Eat Me” delicately spelled out in white icing. Next to it was a fine glass flask half-filled with a sparkling liquid. A square of paper was tied about its delicate neck by a tiny length of red ribbon. Predictably, I suppose, the blue ink on its surface read “Drink Me”. Unlike the table and the other dishes, this glass is spotless – I might think it freshly blown if I had seen it anywhere else.

I resolve to waken the lady. My business has to be done, no matter how regrettable I find it. I reach to the arm of her chair. My hand finds a glint of gold draped over its arm, and I am again distracted from my goal. I take up the gold, finding it to be chain for a fine pocket watch. I pop it open, revealing the hands working their way across a circle of Roman numerals. I nearly laughed, calming my breath as I see the drawing on paper placed carefully where a family portrait might be on other watches. The sketch was a detailed rendering of a rabbit, standing on its hind legs, dressed in overalls, and panicking as it stared down at a pocket watch.

“I’m late.”

My eyes snapped to the speaker of the soft words.

“I’ve gone and overslept, haven’t I, dear? You’re here to take me away.”

Snapping the watch closed, I nodded solemnly at the elderly lady.

“It is for the best, Ms. Liddell. Your family is worried, and I assure you, our home is like no other. You will be treated with respect and dignity.”

“Is there croquet? Oh, but not the kind with flamingos and hedgehogs.”

“There is croquet, of course. As well as many other pastimes – draughts and bingo, for instance. I’m certain I’ve never seen flamingos, and we do keep out any sort of pests.”

She stood up slowly, her wrinkled dress now revealed as it fell loosely over her bony frame. It might have been a bright blue, some ages ago, but the color had long worn away. She reached down, taking up the plate with the cake and offering it.

“Won’t you have some? You’ll get a little surprise, I think.”

“Perhaps another time. Our driver should be quite anxious by now.”

“The time has come, the walrus said.”

I shake my head, deciding not to answer her odd comment. I hold her bony hand gently, guiding the frail lady over the safe patches of the cluttered carpet. As we reach the door frame, she takes one last look at her strange room. She then gestures to the watch, and I realize that I still hold it. I give it to her, and she pops it open again before me. She points to the panicking rabbit.

“Have you seen him? Always late, always in a rush.”

“Can’t say that I have, Ms. Liddell. Come now; follow me to a far better world than this lonely life here.”

Her wrinkled face radiates a wide smile as she finds something amusing in my words. As she allows me to take her hand and lead down the staircase, she chuckles softly.

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

Reflections on Busy Life and Excuses

Wow, it’s been over a week since I posted. Funny how things like this blog start with phrases like “No excuses” and grim determination. Yeah, last weekend was a busy one, with trips to take and family to care for. Final exams approach for my students, and I’ve been out to meetings and parties for American Thanksgiving. Lots of good excuses, huh?

Life will always be like that. I have to understand that – everyone has to. I won’t really be much less busy “later” than I am right now. Even if I am, sleep is something I have to be prepared to give up if my writing is to go anywhere.

Discipline is the drive to keep working, keep writing or whatever it is you like to do, no matter how messed up and busy life has become. Writing should be as much a part of life as driving to work, spending time with family, and exercising. It has to fit in with everything else – it can’t be something that immediately gets pushed to the side.

This is a huge problem for me – I still think of writing as something I can only do when “everything else is finished”. What I have to realize is that “everything else” will never ever be finished. One task done leads to another task that has to follow.

Readers, I’d like to know – how do you keep going with your side projects or hobbies that you hope to cultivate into greater works?

Today’s Author – Write Now Prompt for November 12

Today’s Author, todaysauthor.wordpress.com, has been featured on “Freshly Pressed”, and I really like the layout. They have a pretty big team of writiers, and they’ve gathered quite a following. Along with prompts, they’ve been giving out a lot of useful information, especially now, during NaNoWriMo season. I certainly be reading up on that, as I will indeed attempt NaNoWriMo a 3rd time (probably next year). Since I’m choosing to focus on flash & short fiction this year, it’s their prompts that I’m most interested in.

Here’s their prompt for November 12. I played loose with it, and this came out:

Joe, being who and what he is, sipped at ice cold milk while I heated up my heart with sweet caffeine.

“Storm’s a coming.” It wasn’t any question, but Joe nodded anyways.

“Should start Monday, right before dawn.”

“Won’t be all bad as the ice of ’97 or the snap in ’05, will it?”

He sighed. Edna popped over, topped up my cuppa, and I tossled her sweet grey curls, in that way only I can get away with.

“It’ll be a big one. I’ll need your help spreading the word.”

“I can get out all the old generators too, make sure all the big houses got one.”

Joe nodded. “Yeah. We’ll have to make sure Ol’ Saint Mary’s has at least three working. Going to need lots of beds too.”

“Sounds like ’97 all over again. Well, thanks to your warning, I reckon we got outta that a lot better than most.”

“Wish I could stop it. It’s all part of Mother’s cycle, you know that Miles?”

“You are what you are. I’ve known ya long enough to see that.”

“A very Old Man,” he said, getting up from his empty glass. Edna came over, and Joe put a fair wad of bills in her wrinkly old hand.

“Oh, Joe Snow!” She smiled, bless her heart, but she couldn’t hide the shiver that came with touching Joe. Joe looked at her sheepishly.

“It’s enough for all you’ll need to get through. Least I can do.”

Joe and I left Edna’s little place in town square behind, walking out in the middle of the street. This time of day, in our little old town, there ain’t no one who’s going to run you over or even complain.

We stood in the street, our grey hairs blowing about in the breeze building up. We looked out toward the low sun, away from the wind.

“I’d offer you a place to stay for the storm, but I reckon you don’t need it.”

“My home’s coming here. You’d best get to yours, Miles, and give your wonderful Delilah a good kiss. There’s time yet afterwards to get ready.”

“You do your best to tone down the winter, Old Man. Give my regards to your Mother – hell, give Her all of our regards.”

“I’ll shorten it, soften it as much as She’ll let me. Least I can do.”

More One-Minute Writing, and a Friday Flash Fiction contest entry

Over at One-Minute Writer, a Friday Flash Fiction Contest came up, along with prompts for Saturday and Sunday.

I e-mailed in my entry for the Contest – I won’t share that just yet. I liked the prompt, “Conversation Piece”, and I think I got a nice 800(ish) word piece out of it. With a bit of polishing, I think I could get it published on one of my other favorite Flash Fiction sites if it doesn’t win this contest.

Saturday’s prompt was simply “I don’t know” – and since I tackled it just after waking up, you get this response:

Where do dreams come from? Those ephemeral visions that play out through my mind in the hours of subconsciousness. Often pieces of stories jumbled into nonsense, but sometimes with narrative strands complete with climaxes and resolutions.

If I can remember long enough, I can understand what waking events led to some elements. Most parts are a complete mystery, pieced together by some deeply hidden facet of my sleeping mind.

Alas, as the dreams fade with the creeping in of sunlight, “I don’t know” is all that remains.

Sunday’s prompt was “Book”, and challenged the writer to describe a favorite childhood book. I wrote:

A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me. What a great name for a book, and what wonderful flights of nonsense it bore for my childhood. I read that book far more than any other, almost from the moment I could read. I can still remember two bits from it.

The title poem, about some poor bloke minding his own business and poof, he’s a post for some brute’s horse. The other was a bit about the Slithergadee, a sea monster terrorizing a beach full of cartoon animals. One confident rabbit says, “No you won’t catch me, old Slithergadee. You may catch all the others but you wo-” Great way to end a poem for kids!

Shortly after writing this, I discovered that the above poem was from none other than Shel Silverstein! The book A Great Big Ugly Man … is no longer in print, sadly. Old copies of it circulate, and they are not cheap – especially not if I order from here in Korea. Still, I may break down and splurge on it for my kids. It is a really funny and memorable book!

Sunday Scribblings – Prompt #394, “Poem”

Sunday Scribblings looks like another place I’ll get prompts. Sleep isn’t finding me tonight, so here I go with another writing prompt today.

The latest prompt as of this post is Poem, “The word that strikes fear into the heart of many a writer.”

Here’s the bit of nonsense that came out of my fingers:

A poem to me is a strange thing
I’ve heard many but never wrote mine
If I wrote one, would it break the rules?
Would it rhyme, would it have any reason?
Not only rhyme, but poems have meter
Numbers, patterns of syllables, right?

I only know what high school taught me
Poems were things we studied in depth
My mind never saw on that level
Metaphor, simile, subtext? Ha!
My writing is subtle like a brick!

Anywho, check out Sunday Scribblings. Their prompts are simple, but quite effective judging by the community involvement.

One-Minute Prompt – Awareness

Here’s what I wrote for the latest One-Minute Writing prompt – Awareness

The Prompt: You’re given the opportunity to write a long-form magazine article that will get wide public exposure on any topic that you like. What would you write about? What do you wish more people knew about and were aware of?

I wrote:

I wish more people were aware of common urban legends. I flinch whenever somebody repeats information that has been widely disproven. My article would take ten commonly repeated urban legends of the time of publishing and compare them to the true stories. I would dispel the prevalent myths surrounding them, and try to show people how a little skepticism goes a long way.

I should note, however, that I’m far from adverse from using urban legends in fiction – after all, people believe them because they are intriguing stories!

One-Minute Writing Prompt – Your Town

I stopped by the One-Minute Writer blog today, and I figured – why not?

The prompt for November 6 is: “Why do you live in the city you do? If you don’t have a choice (say, you’re underage and your parents picked it) what do you like about where you live?”

Edit: Here’s my slightly revised version:

I found my heart here, along winding trails and among the forests and mountains. The minute I held her hand, I know that these valleys would serve as the nesting place for our new love. Our hearts grow together in our many hikes and wanderings.

The original is still in the comments under the prompt on One-Minute Writer.

Pretty sure this site will be one of my frequent stops around the web – I love the concept and the contests they have.