Rewriting the Heck out of Stuff.

As you’ve probably guessed from the title, I’m doing a lot of rewriting these days…

There’s my NaNovel from last November, which is slowly and rather unsurely making its way toward becoming a decent second draft. And then there is my Future Learn class, “Start Writing Fiction,” which I wrote about last week. One of the first week’s exercises was to write a short character sketch based on the physical appearance of someone we encountered within the last few days. Well, easy peasy, I thought to myself. I can do that like falling off a log. So I dashed one off about a guy I had noticed while I was out swing dancing the weekend before.

Well.

Since then, after reading various excerpts from really good writers, I have been challenged to rewrite that one little character sketch three more times, deepening it and trying new techniques every time.

I only saw the guy once, and we never interacted with each other! What is this madness?Impossible!

But the Red Queen tells us to always believe six impossible things before breakfast.

I have done it. And it’s teaching me a lot about how to access my imagination, let alone how to write decent characterizations.

I’m not really sure how to boil this lesson down into a pithy  thesis statement, but I know it’s an important lesson, especially right now, when I’m slowly chewing my way through a much longer project. It’s good to see what I can accomplish with a bit of elbow grease.

 


In case anybody is interested, here is the first draft of my swing-dancer character sketch:

Early in the evening, the young man danced to almost every song, and never with the same partner twice. He was easy to spot out on the floor, with his red plaid shirt and bright blonde hair, shaved close on the sides but long and side-swept on top.

Halfway through the night, however, he stopped dancing and sat on the side, slouching back in his chair or leaning forward, elbows propped on his black skinny jeans-clad knees. Sometimes one hand would go up to finger the large white ear-gauges he wore, or to adjust his glasses. Occasionally he would pull his iPhone out of his pocket and send a message, but mostly he just watched the dancers, a vaguely melancholy expression on his face. He didn’t leave until the last song ended.

And here’s where it stands now:

He slumped back in his chair, watching the dancers with vacant eyes. Screw this, he thought. I shouldn’t have come. She’s not going to show up. Just another power play, and you fell for it. Again. He raised a hand to touch his ear gauges. They’d started hurting again. Stop it! She’s probably stuck in traffic. Anyway, you didn’t have to get here so early. You’re so obvious.

Benny Goodman’s trumpet blared, and bright skirts swirled past his eyes as the lights dimmed. A creepy feeling crawled up his back. What if she saw me dancing earlier? No that’s stupid. She’s not here. He pushed up his glasses and leaned forward to pull his iPhone out of the back pocket of his jeans.

“You coming? Otherwise I’ll probably head home.” He pressed send and leaned back again. Anyway why shouldn’t I dance without her? I’ve been coming here longer than she has. But those creepy silences…I wish she’d just scream, or throw stuff. Well, I’ll wait a few more songs. Maybe she’s in traffic.

Quite a difference, eh? I’ve put it through several different permutations, including switching to a first-person narrative observation where I come in as a character, because somehow that made it easier to include more details of physical appearance without sounding like a laundry list. When I switched into the character’s own POV, however, I found that physical description went almost entirely out the window, because people just don’t list off their own attributes like that. Unless they’re fashion/beauty bloggers, anyway.

Hip-Hop Sonnet #1.

Today has been one of those lazy, rainy days where all I do is sit around doodling and listening to Hamilton. Pretty fantastic.

And then I remembered… oh, hey, it’s Thursday. Your blog day. And you have nothing. Oh dear.

Twitter tells me, however, that today, the 6th of October, is National Poetry Day in the UK. And I have ancestors from the UK. And posting horrible poems is my usual stop-gap. And I’ve been meaning to try my hand at some “Pop Sonnets” for some of the Hamilton songs for a long time. (If you’ve never heard of Pop Sonnets, by all means click the link. What are you waiting for? Do it now.)

So I mean, it’s like it was meant to be.

Here’s my sonnet interpretation of “Hurricane,” the song in which Alexander Hamilton marr’d his fortune by deciding to publish all the sordid details of his extra-marital affair, thinking that somehow this would be a good idea. (Seriously, Alexander? What happened to that top-notch brain?)

At seventeen, a storm engulfed my town,
Yet I found peace in the hurricane’s eye.
Horrified, I watched my people drown;
And though I tried, I could not seem to die.
The pain was great, but could not dull my mind;
I found a quill, my moving story wound.
When I looked up, I found the strangers kind;
They put me on a ship, for New York bound.
I wrote my land out of the English realm,
And with my pen ploughed through all fierce resistance.
I mind me now, though danger overwhelm,
Throughout my life I’ve written my deliv’rance.
I’ll write it down, as far as I can see;
And thus will I protect my legacy.

So that was fun. Don’t judge it too hard, please; I wrote it in about fifteen minutes flat.

New Owners, New Hours.

That title was given to me by my poet brother when I asked him to help me with my daily free-write. If it is useful for a writer to keep a cat around the house, it is equally useful to keep a poet. Here’s what came of it: (Keep in mind that this is a free-write. As such, the quality is not wonderful. There are run-on sentences, repetitions, and even a completely new word or two. Just chill.)


New owners, new hours. The shop in the middle of town, in the middle of the street was being re-done, completely overhauled. The residents of the town didn’t know quite what to think of all the newness.

For many years, more than anybody could remember, the shop had been run by the same person, with the same hours, in the same way without any changes, let alone radical ones. Mrs. Tandy had only opened the shop in the mornings, and not on Sundays. Sure, it may not have been convenient, but it was what the people were used to. Sure, it may have been growing dingier by the year, but then so was everything else, and the people didn’t question it. Sure, it was stocked with an odd assortment of dusty packaged food, but the people knew what to buy and what to avoid.

But now Mrs. Tandy was gone. Now it was being thrown open and cleaned. Now there were people driving in from out of town every morning and standing outside looking at the building with fists propped on hips, or under chins. When they weren’t bustling about changing things, that is. The whole place had a foreign feel to it now. A feeling of energy, of ambition. The town didn’t know what to make of it.

The only person who seemed unmixedly happy about it was the local real estate agent, and nobody quite trusted her anyhow. She had too many ideas; too many schemes for improving the area. What was wrong with the area anyhow? It was just the way it had always been. Now she was always running around, showing the new owners the town, trying to find a house for them to live in now that they had taken over the shop and intended on bringing in their own new ideas.

Nobody had spoken to the new owners, except for young Will, and all he had discovered was that the shop would be open all day, and on Sundays. But the people could sense the new feeling. All this bustle was well and good for the big city, they thought, but their town didn’t need all this change. It had been running along for more years than anybody could remember.


So yeah, there’s that. I think it’s going to turn into something. And very quickly too. I’ve decided to completely pants my way through Camp NaNoWriMo in July. As of this morning, I had absolutely no intention of doing so, but what the heck, right? Carpe… Carpe Monthem. Or something like that… MENSIS!!! Carpe Mensis, everybody.

Don’t Fear the Adverb.

63588144031461650122480800_coffee date

“You know,” she said thoughtfully, “I’ve never understood this great vendetta against adverbs. I mean, they’re a part of speech, aren’t they?”

“Well, yes,” he responded doubtfully.  “But all the people who know what they’re talking about say they should be avoided at all costs.”

“Balderdash,” she said bluntly. “If they exist, they’re meant to be used. Who are these people who ‘know what they’re talking about,’ anyway? I’ll bet you every single one of them has used an adverb this very day.”

He squirmed uneasily. “You shouldn’t say that…”

“Of course, I don’t think they should be used all the time,” she interjected hastily. “Not the way the weird blogger girl who’s making all this up is doing.” She glanced nastily up at the ceiling. “Although to be fair,” she conceded kindly, “I think she’s probably just doing it to make a point.”

“Bu…but,” he stammered miserably, “I’ve always heard that those things should never be used at all. Let the dialogue speak for itself, and all that.”

“Oh yes, yes,” she waved her hands impatiently. “I’m not arguing against that. I simply thing that there’s a time and a place for…” She broke off and stared incredulously at him. “Those things? You’re so scared of them you can’t even say their name, aren’t you? They’re called adverbs. Come on, say it with me. Adverbs.

He gazed around apprehensively. “Not so loud! We’re in a coffee shop, for heaven’s sake. It’s probably crawling with writers.”

“So what? I’m not afraid.” She opened her arms expansively. “Embrace the whole of your language. Love it.”

“No,” he muttered stubbornly.

“Just this once,” she said encouragingly. “It won’t hurt you, I promise. I’m not even asking you to use any of them. Just say their name. Come on. Say it. Adverb. Adverb. Ad–”

“NO!” He stood up explosively, breathing heavily. “I… I can’t. I’m just not ready to take this step. I’m sorry.”

He walked quickly out, leaving her to stare after him sadly.

“But…” she murmured forlornly, “You were supposed to buy the next round of lattes.”

Un-primed Poetry Primer.

Oh, dear. This has been quite a distracting week for me, and I don’t really have anything brilliant to share with you about my writing journey.

So guess what that means?

In this post on The Ode Less Travelled, I said that if I ever felt brave, I would share some of my execrable poetry attempts with you all. Well, I don’t feel brave, but I literally HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO SHARE.

All my humblest apologies for what follows.


About halfway through the book, Stephen Fry required his readers to write verse in each of six different forms we had been studying. The “poems” had to describe their own form. It was a pretty challenging exercise, and I was happy just to get through it, honestly. Here’s what came of it:

Terza Rima

In Terza Rima rhyming is the scheme
Which binds together every other line.
This linking form makes every stanza seem

Continued from the last, and this is fine.
But when your thought is full, about to pop,
And in your verse there’s nothing to refine,
An extra “C” rhyme brings it to a stop.

The Quatrain

The Quatrain is a standard English verse
Whose use is varied, and the options wide.
As poets, we could really all do worse
Than keep the Quatrain firmly by our side.

The Rubai

The Rubai’s an exotic kind of way
To write the things you think of day by day.
You may say “How’s it different from the last?”
Look close; you’ll see the scheme’s “aaba.”

Rhyme Royal

This verse, you know, was good enough for Geoff,
And some say it was used by Henry Four.
If with iambic feet we can be deft,
(And if our rhyming skills are not too poor)
On Royal form, why would we shut the door?
Add one last couplet to cement the thought;
Our rhyme is ended, and our poem caught.

Ottava Rima

This form is not unlike the Royal Rhyme
Which from old Chaucer has been handed down.
Though both these forms have stood the test of time,
And may be found in shops in every town,
Preferring this one’s surely not a crime:
The Royal’s double couplet makes me frown.
Plus, Byron used this Rima for Don Juan!
So surely that fact lends the form some brawn.

Spencerian Stanza

Oh Spencer, why did you invent this form
Just to write your stupid Faerie Queen?*
You must have known it couldn’t be the norm;
Its lines are snaky. Only the greats could lean
On verse like this. The rest must find you mean;
And they, like me, refusing to be led
Along your garden path, or up your bean-
Stalk, must (if not already) wish you dead.
Don’t take offense, but I must say I hate you, Ed.


So there you have it. My gosh-awful self-referential verses. While they are inexcusably terrible, they DO meet all the requirements of the forms. For someone like me, who doesn’t profess to have the foggiest clue about the musicality of words, that’s not half bad.

*The Faerie Queen is probably not stupid. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read it. That descriptor was merely inspired by my exasperation with Spencer for creating this obnoxiously twisty form. The rhyme scheme is “ababbcbcc.” Well, I ask you!

 

 

Silent Dialogue.

A while ago, I decided to try writing an entire conversation without one quotation mark. Then I left the country and promptly forgot about it. Well, I remembered it early this week, and here’s what I came up with. It’s not technically a conversation, I guess, but I think it has some interesting undercurrents.


coffee mug

The woman picks up her mug from the windowsill and stares at the ring of pale coffee left behind until her eyes unfocus and slide past it to the tree outside. She doesn’t show any sign of awareness when the man comes into the room. 

He stands behind her for a moment, then cups her elbows with his hands and leans over her shoulder. She turns her face away, so he presses his lips into her collarbone. The stand like this for a long time, until she shuts her eyes and sways backward. Her motion is barely perceptible, but he pulls her into him and kisses her cheek before leaving the room. The woman sets her mug down again, aligning the bottom in the exact center of the coffee ring. 

The front door opens and closes softly. A minute later the car hums away down the street. The woman wraps her arms around her body and folds forward until her forehead is pressed against the glass, her lips stretched tight over her teeth. The surface of the coffee shimmers as tears fall into it.


There you have it. As usual, I’ve presented this little piece of writing to you in all it’s unedited glory, because after it gets edited, it might turn into something better. But I for one think it’s kind of fun to read rough work. It’s a bit like getting to watch Picasso making sketches, or Baryshnikov in the rehearsal studio. Know what I’m saying?

Secret Identities.

Here’s a little thing I dashed out today using a writing prompt from Tumblr. The prompt was to use this dialogue snip:

“Names aren’t prophetic.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

So yeah, that sounded like fun. Here’s what came of it. (Keep in mind that I know no more about these people than you do. Literally, this is all I have, so your interpretation is as good as mine.)


I stared at him. “You mean William isn’t your real name?”

He shrugged. “Is Thea yours?”

I blinked. He had a point. I guess I didn’t really have any right to be indignant when we were both playing the same game. Still, I felt used, somehow. Betrayed. “When did you figure it out?”

He grinned at me. “Let’s just say you’re not the subtlest of liars. So, cards on the table?”

I groaned, letting my head sag back on my shoulders. “Harmony. My fantastic parents named me Harmony.”

He folded his lips quickly between his teeth, but one of his eyebrows quirked. “Huh. And how has that operated in your life?”

“Operated?”

“Yeah, like how has it affected you; how might your life have been different with another name?”

I shook my head. “Names aren’t prophetic.”

“Don’t be too sure. I play football as a direct result of the name my parents chose.”

“And that is?”

His usually direct gaze skittered around, and he laughed. “Oh gosh. Okay. It’s Dior.”

“Like the fashion label?”

“It’s French, okay? It means golden. Mom called me her golden boy. Now shut up.”


So there’s that.

Glass.

I recently heard of a psychiatric disorder called the “Glass Delusion” in which people believe themselves to be made of glass. Turning it over in my mind, I decided to try flipping it around. What might it be like if somebody believed the world to be made of glass, and they are the only solid thing in it?

Here’s what came of it.


Broken Glass

Photo by Anita Hart, who, according to this license, allows it to be used for this sort of thing. Thanks, Anita!

“I can’t move,” he said quietly.

“What do you mean?” I asked him. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s all glass, don’t you see? If I move, everything will shatter.”

I stared at him for a moment, then laughed. “Of all the excuses I’ve heard for not getting up and going to work, this one really takes the cake,” I informed him. “But seriously, you’ll be late if you push it much longer, and you know your boss is already ticked off because of what happened last week.”

“Believe me, if I could get up, I would.” There was a desperate note in his voice that made me stop smiling. “But I don’t want to break anything.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked him. “You’re scaring me.”

He smiled gently at me. “Don’t be scared. I promise I won’t touch you.”

“You won’t… No. No, stop it right now. Look around. Everything is solid. Nothing’s made of glass in here except the window. What is this? What’s going on?”

Tears welled up in his eyes as he gazed at me. “You can’t see it,” he murmured hopelessly. “You can’t see it any more than the rest of them can.”

He took a deep, shaky breath. “Because you’re made of glass too.”

A Beginning.

Today I am working from two prompts in my little Pocket Muse. I opened it at random, and on facing pages were the words “Your character is being followed.” and “There is a coat. The coat has a pocket. What is inside the pocket?”

I just dashed this out five minutes ago, so don’t judge.


My pulse quickened, and I had to force my feet to keep a steady pace. I mentally reviewed everything I knew about street safety. Head up, look alert, walk confidently… don’t look like a victim. I’d never seen Cowley Street look so deserted. My fingers curled around the mace in the pocket of my coat. Illegal or not, I was glad to have it. The can felt tiny. Would there be enough if I had to use it? There was still one more precaution I could take. I sucked in a deep breath and turned around, still moving in the same direction. “Excuse me, but do you have the time?”

His pace didn’t check. He didn’t seem startled or angry, but neither did he respond to my question. He simply stared, as we both kept moving. My hand tightened around the mace. If he tried to close the distance between us by so much as an inch…

“Give it back.” His voice was so soft I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s mine. I want it back.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen you before in my life. How could I have anything of yours?”

His forehead puckered strangely, and he took two long strides towards me. Whipping the mace out of my pocket, I leaped forward and sprayed it directly in his face. He screamed and doubled over, clutching his eyes, and I whirled around and sprinted down the street.


Oh, yeah, this is going to turn into something. I have no idea what it will turn into, at this point, but it will definitely become something.

Biggar is Shrinking.

Today I used a prompt for Setting which required me to write about Biggar, Saskatchewan, which is apparently a real town. The catch? I wasn’t allowed do any research. Biggar, Saskatchewan would become whatever my mind created. Fun, right?

So, Biggar, Saskatchewan, I apologize for this rather drearily insulting portrayal. I’m sure you are a lovely town.


derelict-1496718

Biggar, Saskatchewan, was shrinking, even eight years ago when I first came here. In fact, if it weren’t for the signs at the edge of the highway, you could drive right past and never know it existed. Most people don’t even notice the signs.

The five hundred or so permanent residents (including women, children, and bobcats) at the time all had an air of having gone far beyond caring about much of anything, and the town’s appearance reflected that attitude. Paint was left to chip and curl away from the walls of the houses, which were streaked with lichen and moss. In the Spring, melted snow puddled in the muddy yards and on the sagging porches, where people had to learn which boards were safe to step on. Venetian blinds hung crookedly, or were forgone completely, leaving the mineral-stained windows to be covered with squares of faded tie-dye left over from the hippie days. 

In the middle of town, the few dingy little businesses clustered together, showing a wary, almost hostile front to the world. Flies buzzed aimlessly around the check-out counter of the general store, and dashed themselves against the streaked windows. The girly posters slapped up on the walls of the convenience store attached to the gas station showcased burnt-orange bodies in high-waisted, French-cut bikinis, and the single hairdresser’s shop still offered business in front and a party in the back. After all, why keep up appearances — it’s not like there’s any competition to worry about. Off to the edge of town, the long-abandoned motel sat empty and gaping to the wind. Most of the doors were forced years ago, by looters looking for things to sell, or bored young people looking for excitement and a place to get away.

These days, most of the young people have gotten away for good, moving on as soon as they could find work to take them away. In consequence, hardly any new children have been born to take their place. The people who are left are all of one kind: Taciturn and suspicious; with dug-in heels and set ways. The only thing binding them together (besides a hatred of civilization and Big Government that runs deeper than their hatred of each other) seems to be a shared philosophy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”