Thursday, July 28, 2011

I am a camera

So, I decided to pick up my "Making of a story" book again, by Alice LaPlante. I'm working my way through very slowly. This exercise peaked my interest because of the simplicity of it, but the necessity.
When I was younger I used to write long descriptive paragraphs about people I saw here and there in coffee shops, restaurants, on the bus. Somewhere along the way I fell out of habit of doing this, but now I realize I should actually be doing it more often.
Many other writers I'm sure have the same natural instinct. It's a response to my environment. Sometimes I prefer to observe rather than interact.
It's also a very natural thing as a reporter to do.
As my old J-school prof. Rick MacLean is fond of saying, "Show me, don't tell me".
And as it turns out, this kind of writing can help you creatively...getting into the practice of really looking at details. In this exercise, you act as a camera, simply recording everything you see on a walk, or a daily routine. It can be as long or short as you want.
The trick is to not interpret anything, just to lay it all out there. Well, here it goes.

The old man leans against the church wall, smokes and stares as my car pulls out of the driveway. The girl in the tights doesn’t look to see if there is anyone coming, just walks across the street in front of me.
Someone decides to pull out of a parking spot on my left. I break.
An old man walks slowly across the four-way stop.
Then a young woman with stringy hair and a quick step.
The light is red by the time I arrive at it. I check both ways to make sure no one runs the green.
Getting a paper at the Petro Canada the girl at the cash looks tired. She doesn’t know the code for the West Prince paper. No one ever buys it.
This is the third time I’m here this week. She doesn’t seem as though she’s noticed. Back in the car, construction on Prince. Again. This time a stop sign, so I have to go down a side street.
Four cars are in the parking lot when I arrive.
The building is cold for July. I’m glad I have a sweater. Nod hello in the hallway. The fluorescent light flickers and goes out.
Hello and keep walking. Drop my lunch in the fridge. Walk up the hallway. The carpet still looks new and unstained.
I can see Julie’s head at as I reach the bottom of the stairs, and take them quickly. My brown chair is there waiting. Everything looks the same. My neon sticky reminder notes. No pen in sight. Notebook half open. Notes cover the desk from the day before. Exactly as I left it. I put down my sweater and turn on the computer.

As a first crack at it, it's not bad. However, here I'm just going off of memory of my morning drive. Ideally, next time I do this, I will take my pen and paper with me, and write as I walk. That way I can be more detailed oriented. As you can see, I don't have a lot of details in this piece.
It's amazing how much can be said without interpretation, except from the reader's perspective. You form judgements without even realizing it.
Happy writing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I don't know why I remember....

So I finally buckled down and bought "The making of a story" a Norton guide to Creative writing. I highly recommend it. Now I'm going to try out some of the many exercises inside.
They start with the individual, and personal stories, which I like. No better way to start than with yourself.
So, the first one is to evoke some emotion that steers away from sentimentality. All you have to do is conjure up a memory that doesn't have to deal with life or death, or some really significant thing in your life...then start with the sentence " I don't know why I remember, but...."
Write the little story. It can just end, it doesn't have to be anything amazing, just a strange something you recall from your youth....

Here's mine:

I don’t know why I remember the exact pattern of the dress I wore that day, the day I was taken to see a movie on a big screen with my older cousin, whom I wished was my brother, and that way we could live together.

We are also taking Margaret, who sometimes came over and is usually bossy. She wants to be my cousin’s favourite.

I stand at the door of the house. Mom looks me over and smiles.

I am four years old. I have never seen a movie on a big screen before with lots of other people all at the same time.

I look down at my dress, it’s black with little red and yellow flowers on it. I twirl. My aunt comes to the door. It’s time to go. I said goodbye to mom.

I will be a big girl.

We stop off at Margaret’s house. She’s coming too. Only the big kids. No little babies allowed, like my little sister, and hers.

Margaret is eating perogies with paprika. We have to wait. I stare at the wallpaper. It has yellow teacups on it.

My aunt is restless. We are going to be late. She should have already eaten. But she hasn’t.

I sit down and watch her eat.

Had I eaten? I’m asked.

Of course.

We aren’t late after all.

Once we arrive at the theatre, I sink into the seat and don’t move. I can barely see over the heads in front of me.

I sit completely still, afraid I will miss something in the movie. I’ve never seen it before. Sleeping Beauty.

The colours are so bright, brighter than the T.V at home which mostly looks like snow scattered across the screen.

She’s singing, the princess. Her skin is so perfect.

When it comes to the part with the evil queen I’m not scared. Mom told me it’s just pretend. It’s not real. It won’t hurt me. I’ll be okay.

This screen is enormous. It’s like ten stories high. The room with all the seats is the biggest one I’ve ever seen. I will get lost if I get up. I don’t dare.

I hold my breath until the end. And my nervous pee.

When we return back to the house, it’s dark and I’m smiling.

I’ve had an adventure.

I think I'm going to start doing some of the regular exercises from this book, they seem to be very helpful, and

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My mother told me not to

Hello! I'm back after a little hiatus, and I have a fun little exercise to do that doesn't take long to do.
I think I'll do this one in two parts. I can't read my scribbling where I'd copied this idea down a while ago, so I think this is how it goes. Write down 10 things you were told never to do....then write down ten things you want to can inspire an interesting short story, or perhaps some character development. In any case, you can do it from the point of view of a character you're working on, or perhaps just do it for yourself as a little bit of spring cleaning, getting those pipes working again.
That is what I will do today.
Okay, here it goes.

Ten things I was told/ should never do:

1. watch T.V sitting on the floor two feet away, you'll ruin your eyesight. ( I've done it, and still don't have glasses )

2. perm my hair ( looked like a poodle )

3. eat at Salsbury house

4. wear a wet bathing suit around the house

5. pick strawberries and hold them in my turned up white T-shirt, then try to deny the evidence

6. start a diary again...there are so many half started diaries left around. Plus bad experiences with teen aged girls reading and mocking diaries...better to keep things thinly veiled in poems

7. wear an ill fitted dress to the theatre where you'll be sitting in misery for two hours, in order to look good at the intermission.

8. Walk around Toronto in sandals all day. Sore feet, sore shins.

9. buy anything full price---ever.

10. look at the calorie count on the back of the package. You're eating it anyway, might as well enjoy it.

Ten things I want to know "why"

1. Why is it when I want to go to a movie, it's either packed or sold out...even if I get there in plenty of time.

2. Why can't I look in the mirror and be completely pleased with what I see, rather than focus on minute flaws.

3. Why do tourists always have to carry their cameras around their necks

4. Why can't the weather just cooperate

5. why is cold pizza way better than hot pizza, and even better first thing in the morning.

6. why can't I just find closure when something is over...rather than hang on to it forever, carrying it around no matter how hard I try to expel it from my body

7. why is it that when the house is completely silent I decide it's time to clean or go shopping.

8. why is it I can never stay on top of the laundry

9. Why do the people here inhale when they agree with something

10.Why do the women in my family never age

I have to say that this exercise will bring out strange things you've never even thought about before, it's kind of like a word-association game, where you just kind of say whatever first pops into your mind. If you think about it too much, it will loose its surprising insight. Wow, that opened up my mind, kinda scary to see what's lurking there.
But these are all things that you could end up building as part of a narrative...things you wouldn't spontaneously think of. When you ask an active question, it draws them out, makes you think.
Happy writing!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's all so different from this angle

It's time to change your frame of mind, and start thinking outside the box.
Most of us automatically write in the first person, which makes sense, it's how we view the world on a daily microcosmic level.
But every once and a while we see our selves as omnipotent observers, standing back and taking in things that others don't pick up on--dynamics going on around us.
Often I find I'm too swept up in my routine to really take a look from outside my narrow point of view.
It's a good idea to mix things up on the page as well.
I know I rarely use the third person, or omnipotent point of view, because often I feel it disconnects the reader. However, when done skillfully it can tell us things that our first person narrative wouldn't know, because they're trapped in their brain with all of their biases.
So, here's an idea, write about the same situation from two or three different points of view, first, second, or third person. Second person is the most challenging, speaking directly to "you" like in greeting cards, I've never tried it before, and I don't know if I'm ready yet, but I'll at least try first and third.

The play should have stayed on the page, I say to George as we rise from our seats and make our way to the lobby. I grab my coat to cover my wrinkled dress with the blue ink stain on the hem he said no one would notice but I know they will.
It's January so it's not so odd. George leaves me at the bathrooms and waits in the way too long line for a coffee the way he always does, without a goodbye, just parting ways like old chums.
I stare at my unfortunate reflection.
English professors aren't known for their waif-like movie star bodies. I had to borrow the green dress, as ratty as it is, from my old room-mate.
Tonight after the dreadful play I'm sure George will lean over his mocha-latte-frappa-something and tell me he's taking the internship after all and will be going to Europe. That's that. His tight lips tell me so.
He didn't reach for my hand during the first act, even to commiserate as the old aunt finally died and I know he heard me sigh at the contrived mess.
The women in the bathroom are impossible. I can't look at them, they make me ill with their attention to detail and high hem lines while they line their lips with war-paint.
George 's grey head sticks out from the crowd. He corals me towards the bar with his finger tips.
"You know Frederich from my work, he's the mastermind behind the new hotel downtown."
"Nice to see you Kathryn." Frederich says. He's a pathetic man with a mustache that should be cut off. But he doesn't have a wife to tell him so. He has no one to tell him so. In fact why have I never seen him with anyone?
"Enjoying the play?" I ask. The stains under his arms reach half way down his chest. He rubs his hands together nervously.
"Fifth row centre, perfect spot."
"Now, if only I could hear anything from the fifteenth row, that would be nice. you would think actors could project their voices. Although with the contrived dialogue, who would really want to hear it anyway, I mean really, I have nothing against little people, lesbians, sisters with mental disorders, and a dying aunt with a fortune, but on principle, do they all have to be packed into one play? I think George could barely keep his eyes open." I elbow him in the ribs. He inches away.
His bloodshot eyes getting wider, face flushing, as he stumbles to say something. Frederich shifts nervously from foot to foot.
"Kathryn is an English teacher, you know." says George.
"Yes, well, it's not every one's cup of tea I suppose." Says Frederich, looking nervously around him. Maybe he does have a date.
"I don't know how it got into this year's line-up, especially since the play-write is a virtual unknown, who was it- Harry Norton, Norman, or something? " I say.
"Yes it's Norman. Harry. Well really I think it speaks to the inner struggle of us all seeking out perfection in this capitalistic world." Frederich's devotion to the play is surprising. He wipes his brow with the back of his hand.
"Completely agree Frederich, come on Kathryn, I see Frank over there, he's almost through to the front of the line, maybe he can order us a couple of glasses of Chardonnay, come on." George grabs my arm.
"What is your problem?"
"You never know when to stop do you? And why are you wearing that coat, it's like thirty degrees in here?"
"You know what, go enjoy this wretched play without me. And I'll save you the trouble and pack up your things tonight so you won't have to skulk back in when I'm gone."
The burst of cold air relieves the anger from my pours. But it also makes me recall I have forgotten my scarf and mittens, both sitting in my purse, hidden carefully out of sight under the seat.

"Rebecca was a little quick with her last line, I think she should have let it breath a little, let the audience really wait for it, what do you think Frederich?"
"Sounded great to me, why don't you go get us some coffees?"
"And the sound cue was about two seconds too late at that last exit, I should make a note of that. I don't care if Dominique yells at me again, I want it to be perfect, he can't expect me not to take an interest. I was just so nervous tonight, I mean, they've been rehearsing for a month, but really, It never really sunk in until the curtain came down, and I was like, that was my play, it really was. It's just so amazing." Harry leans in to kiss Frederich on the cheek, but he turns and begins to walk the opposite way down the isle.
He thought Frederich was finally okay with everything.
While Harry helped pick out Frederich's tie earlier that evening, the brown one with the yellow stripe, it occurred to him that this was a new beginning for the both of them.
He has even made room in the bathroom cabinet. But now Frederich is just as distant as he was before. Harry scans the faces of people leaving the theatre. The Shaws, the Wellingtons, and Harringtons. Too many people Frederich knows. Harry recalls what Frederich told him before, about men of a certain age having a harder time with relationships than young ones of twenty five. He will help Frederich move past these jitters.
Harry loves theatre lobbies, especially from the second level. He stares down at the swarms of people, like little bees, congretating in groups, travelling in swarms, mapping their journeys to and from the bathroom, to the bars. Clinking glasses in dramatic tight theatre dresses and fur covered shoulders. Girls in fifties style pink dresses and orange or green hair. Men in corduroy jackets and ties, with that 'I just got out of bed' hair. The same hair Harry is sporting, that cost him 38 dollars out of a jar.
Ah, the theatre, Harry mutters to himself. Everyone wanting to look like they just threw something on, and didn't have to work for it. Just naturally exuberant and sexy.
And they are all here to see his play. His masterpiece.
Frederich has stopped to talk to a silver haired man. Harry doesn't recognize him. An unfortunate looking woman stands beside the man, wearing her camel hair coat. Her back is to him, but he can tell she's homely by the way she slouches. No attractive woman slouches.
Harry plans to take Frederich out for an expensive dinner as a thank you. It was all Frederich and his family connections that made this happen. Harry makes no apologies for it. He encourages it. And though Frederich had never been comfortable with the idea, he never said no.
When Harry had casually mentioned the play to him last year over Chinese food, Frederich said he'd see what he could do.
The theatre's artistic director called Harry Norman a fresh and biting play write. Someone who pushes the boundaries. It was what they had been looking for, an injection of young blood.
Harry knew Frederich must have greased a few palms in the process.
His skeptical friend Joanna told him Frederich was one of the biggest silent benefactors of the theatre. But Joanna was just jealous because her one-woman show was recently turned down at a much smaller theatre. The world wasn't ready for a crazy woman who pissed on stage, and stapled words to her chest.
Frederich looks up to the second floor, and finds Harry leaning on the banister, as though he knows exactly where a play write might stand and observe his admirers.
Harry sees him and waves.
Frederich pretends not to notice.
He feels himself sweating too much.
He realizes he's made a mistake. He never should have given Robert the play to look at. He knew it was as good as a sealed deal, Robert wouldn't turn it down. That's the way things were. When Frederich suggested the wait to the bar was too long, the next month, a second one was built.
Robert adores Frederich's pocket book, and Frederich adores Robert's lobster buffet breakfasts and summer home in Gimli. But now Harry is in the mix. Poor defenseless beautiful Harry, with dreams of being famous.
Frederich doesn't want to see the newspaper tomorrow. Genevieve is reviewing. She is ruthless. Frederich saw her earlier with a sour look on her face, scribbling madly with her little yellow pencil, while she leaned against the wall. Frederich had to curb the urge to introduce himself, try to intercede, step in as the gallant man Harry thought he was. But it was too late. The mutterings of a dissatisfied and confused audience are rumbling around him. He is a maestro gone mad, standing amidst his own dysfunctional orchestra.
A middle aged balding man with sweat stains, and the love of a man he doesn't deserve. He is in over his head.
The play can't be saved. It didn't deserve to be saved. A still birth.
The insipid woman with the fleck of green in her teeth is right. It's a mess, and all he can parrot back is the press release he wrote himself.
Now he will have to deal with the aftermath of his own greed, Harry's heartbreak, and it's all his fault.
Harry waves. Frederich looks away. He can't face those hopeful eyes. Not when he knows twenty years of resentment is waiting for him over the threshold, when Harry's delusional ambition is exposed and he has nothing to cling to. A drinking problem will surface. So will many boys with self-esteem problems. He'll move to Toronto, naturally, where he'll disappear into the abyss of all the other attention starved want-to-bes and end up waiting tables somewhere. In his off time he'll mutter to himself, walking around with grease stained pants and a tattered notebook.
Frederich heads for the door, doesn't bother with his coat.

That worked well I think. I got a little carried away with the length, but when I get going sometimes it's hard to stop, so why bother? My computer doesn't mind, and I hope you don't either.
Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The shutter clicks, and you are revealed

So, I've been reading a lot of Timothy Findley these days, and I've come to notice that's he's very keen to use photos as a valuable tool in story telling. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. If photos are the only device set in place to give the reader a sense of connection with the characters, it often fails, leaving the reader disjointed and standing in the distance, gazing at the novel from afar.
However, if used in a more natural way to move the plot along, I think photos can be a great way of setting the scene, and instant dynamics between characters.
Here's a good exercise. You can use a picture of your relatives that you have around the house, or like me you can just randomly google pictures. If you're using a photo of someone you know, resist the urge to describe them. Look for the interaction, or lack of interaction between the people in the picture, what are they doing, what are their expressions? What could they possibly by thinking? Is there anything written on the back?
You can describe the picture in the writing or omit it...but use it to describe what was happening just before this picture, or just after....or the the whole before--during---after sequence. It could be good fuel for a short story at a later date.

Here we go.

Fran didn't want to put on her underwear that morning. They itched, especially where the stitches were, well, used to be. The doctor said they were the kind that melted, or disappeared, or some such new-age nonsense. She trusted that the greasy haired twenty year old doctor as much as she trusted that nurse they saddled her with, who wore teddy bears on her clothes thinking it would cheer her up. But they didn't. And now she --Happy--or Charity--or some perky named creature, leaned over her at the edge of the bed and handed her the flesh coloured girdle.
"Now Ruth, come on, you want to look your best for Jimmi don't you?"
"I don't have to look any way for anyone. I don't care about that old goat."
"That's not what I heard." She chuckled and tried to pull Ruth's veiny leg through the hole, while Ruth lay limp, arms at her sides.
"Why what did you hear now? I'm no flirt. Everyone knows I'm George's. Did you hear something different?"
"Come on Ruthie, just work with me here. Didn't you say your nephew was coming today, after the movie? Don't you want to look nice for him?"
"Who was that?"
"Kenny, isn't he coming by today after work?"
"Oh, well. You'd know that better than I. Tuesday is it?"
"Sunday dear. Where's that Anne Geddes calendar I got for you?"
"Trash. No babies belong in a cabbage. Cabbage is for soup. Not for pictures. No one wants to look at that."
Ruth put her legs through the underwear, and let whats-her-name put on the turquoise dress. Her favourite. The one with the white trim that George had said made her look sixty. she would let the girl win this time. But only this time.

Two doors down Jimmy pulled open the drawer beside his bed, and grabbed his black bible. The good news one, with the big print.
"You almost ready Mr. Wellington? I hear it's going to be 'As Good As it Gets'". He shoved the bible behind his back. Didn't think the door was open. Can't trust a man to fill a woman's shoes. A woman would have had the decency to knock. Whatever happened to all the women around here anyway? He wondered.
"Well, I sure hope it gets better than this."
"No sir, the movie, that's the title of the movie." Jimmy stared at him. He wished he would leave.
"I'll Come back in a bit." He closed the door behind him.
Jimmy carefully got up onto his walker and hoisted himself into the yellow chair in the corner of the room. He opened the bible.
Inside he read the inscription. To my loving son.
Then searched for the flap. The golden bottle hidden between the pages. Canadian Club. That kid at the reception desk was finally good for something. The one with all the hoops, that looks like a lion tamer, or some kind of circus freak.
He took a swig, and then another.
Today would be the day.

The parade of wheelchairs began at exactly 11:15. Half an hour before the movie would start. Everyone wanted a good seat, so they fought it out like children. There was nothing else to do at Kildare Home that morning. It was the prime time of the day.
The staff had tried to organize evening movies, thinking they'd be even more popular, but no one showed up. They had all fallen asleep after lunch.

Ruth let whats-her-name dab a little rouge on her cheeks, but just a little, she didn't want to look like a prostitute. Those tarts on the TV that gave her a cold sweat, bearing it all to the world. Showing off parts Ruth had forgotten about, or had never really noticed until they were already covered with fat.
She examined her face and almost smiled. George would be happy. Maybe Jimmi would even be there. Not that she cared at all. But she'd heard he had surgery on his knee, and she was hoping he'd be up and around by now.

The lounge was packed. Walkers filled the Isle, and people were jammed onto the small couches, lined with plastic, just in case.
"Ruth, I'm afraid you're going to be over here darling."
"Not next to the ficus. I hate plants. Their leaves are so unpredictable. They're always poking me. Where's George?"
"I don't see him honey."
"Fine. then." Ruth let the girl take her walker, as she heaved herself onto the couch, next to Mildred who smelled about like her name almost mildew, and mothballs.
When she left, she scanned the room again. Even with her cataracts, she was certain she could see better than the little twit who hadn't even really looked for George.

Jimmi had a prime spot. Front row, so he didn't have to crank the hearing aid, and close to the bathroom, just in case. He saw Ruth come in. The blue dress. He loved that one on her, made her look like a librarian, with those black glasses. She was still a looker, even now. She turned all of the silver heads as she made her way by in the walker. Such determination, even after the fall she took which nearly broke her hip. It had wounded her pride more than anything.
Jimmi remembers the day he met her the first time, in the lunch room. Chicken soup. She picked out all the noodles and put them on the napkin.
"I'm not going to be in here long. my daughter's moving to Florida that's why I'm here. I'm not like all you old people. I'm only seventy seven you know. I should be living at home." She said. What could Jimmi say? Nothing. That was five years ago, and he was still in love with her.
He tried not to look when she came in, but couldn't help it.
Frank was sitting next to him with the chunky legs that took up the whole couch. Frank had a habit of picking his nose, so Jimmi didn't want to be near him.
"Hey Frank, can you check with Betty over there when the movie's going to start?"
"Uh, well, I don't know Jimmi. I already have a spot."
"Don't worry about it, just go and ask Betty for me, would you? I gotta whiz, and I need to know if I have time."
"Okay, fine." Frank's brown pants were stained with ketchup from lunch. His underwear was hanging out. Jimmi didn't have the heart to tell him.
"Hey Ruth, Ruthie, hey, how's it going?" He yelled across the room.
Ruth pretended not to hear.
"Hey Ruthie, come here, I want to tell you something."
"What?" Ruth leaned forward.
"Come here." She got up and left her purse in her chair. It had her puffer in it, just in case.
"What do you want Jimmi?" She pushed the walker slowly across the room, and sat down in the seat next to him.
"Just wanted to know if you wanted to sit here?"
"You made me come all the way over just for this? What kind of man are you anyway? This is Frank's seat. I saw him here not two minutes ago."
"Nah, he can sit over there. No problem, come on Ruthie, sit by me."
She could already hear the flutter of hushed voices around her, it was spreading already. She was the talk for sure. She was becoming such a fluzy. First there was her kiss with George, the excitement of winning bingo got the better of her. Now this, with Jimmi clearly sweet on her. It was too much.
Jimmi was looking good though. Although his ears stuck out, at least he still had all his teeth.
And he smelled good, like soap. Most of the men around there smelled like sour milk.
He had been handsome once, she could tell. The way he carried himself, and smiled at her. She had been pretty too, so they were evenly matched. Not that any of it mattered now.
One of the nurses announced the movie just before it began. She had a little snap and shoot camera.
"This one's for the wall!" She said, aiming it at the crowd of sunken cheeks and brittle bones.
The hum of hearing aids being turned up grew louder, like the hum of mosquitoes on a hot summers night.
It was as the nurse clicked the picture that Jimmi bravely grabbed Ruth's hand, capturing the flicker of Ruth's smile before she had a chance to compose herself again.

Okay, so that was a little longer than expected, but you get the idea. You can use it to start, or end a story. Basically photos just get you thinking. We all have ideas about what we think people were doing at the time, and sometimes they can be great tools just to get things moving, and suddenly you have a little story.
Happy writing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I'm finally willing to admit it. I was wrong.

I'm finding with many of these exercises, they're as much about stretching my mind creatively as they are mini therapy sessions. They seem to be releasing a lot of emotions I must have buried deep down, a long with the memories.
Professional writers must be emotionally advanced.

So, for today's exercise, it's time to lay it all out on the table, and admit we were wrong.
I know it can be difficult, I myself am never wrong.
On an unrelated note, my husband has a habit of apologizing.

So, this exercise came about while I was skulking around the book store on my lunch break, scouting out some interesting exercises. I came across a really great, although fairly expensive book called "The making of a Story" by Alice LePlante. I think I'll be asking for this on my next birthday.
There are some excellent exercises in there, so I got out my little notebook and jotted some down.

Here's the first one that caught my eye.
It has to do with not forcing epiphanies in characters...which can be a common mistake. How does your character do a complete "about face" with something they feel so passionately about?
Here's a way to approach it.

1. Describe a time when you knew you were right, like every cell in your body was saying yes.
2. then describe the moment that lead up to the epiphany that you were actually wrong like the "suddenly I realized" moment.
3. Then talk about the event from the "morning after" perspective.

Here it goes, I'm going to dredge up some real memories, and perhaps embellish it a little.
You can also try this with characters you're working on, it doesn't have to be personal.

I wear the bright green wool sweater with the buttons that go all the way down. Anyone else would have mocked it. But I know he'll touch the thick fabric gently and rub it back and forth with his fingers. He can't help himself. He'll touch my arm with his fingers.
I've already seen it all in my head. When he answers the door and says "That shirt's wild" the blood rushes, and all I can hear is the ocean.
A crooked smile lights up his faded blue eyes, as he pushes a loose strand of hair behind his ear.
I can't speak, I need to hold onto the wall as I take off my shoes.
Later in the basement, we sit on the damp sinking-in grey couch. Elbow to elbow. Balancing a plate of samosas between us. Knees touching.
I've never seen Purple Rain, and I hate Prince, but I'd eat kibble if he wants me to, shelving all of the stubborn opinions I've collected over the years. I'm just happy to hear him talk in a low vibrato. His chuckle. The way he pushes up his glasses. His perfectly pink cheeks that flush when he gets excited.
I can't imagine that anything else has ever been or will ever be this captivating. I don't even taste the samosa, which is a shame, since I love samosas. Can't recall chewing it. though I realize I've eaten it when we put down the plate.
I'm staring at his perfectly curved ear, wondering if his hand will make its way over. Wondering how much more I can slink down into the couch, without being too obvious.
Or whether I should ask for a guitar lesson, just so he can place his fingers over mine.

He doesn't want to talk on the phone again. He wants to see me, and insists on the diner. I make an excuse and get there before he does.
My clammy hands can barely grip the handle of the mug full of hot tea. Peppermint to ease my knotted stomach.
He hovers near my side of the table for a moment as he comes in, hesitates and sits down opposite, bringing with him the smell of wet wool. His camel colored coat drips, glasses foggy.
I twirl the ring on my finger, the one that's not from him, but I want it to be.
He brings me a mixed-tape full of Prince and Paul MacCartney ( Wings) . We are the only two people still living in the past. Worshiping dead idols, and ideas.
He grasps at my hands, fingers intertwined.
I pull away when the waitress comes.
Peppermint tea, he orders. I sigh, and feel it deep in my stomach, this pain I know won't go away.
I want to climb into the seat next to him and hug him so badly, but this is my neighbourhood, not his, and people know me. They might see.
He orders fries, and talks about his philosophy course. He doesn't care about this ludicris situation, he's moved above it.
While I'm caught in the midst of it, feeling it in my gut as I sink deeper, the quicksand approaching my lungs.
I sit, asphixiated, unable to move, while he chatters on.
He doesn't ask the obvious. The thing he wants to know, but doesn't really. Am I done with him?
And I don't want to talk about it. I can't tell him no.

His eyes were defeated. I could tell from the other side of the phone.
They were droopy. I could hear the trembling in his voice. He was breaking.
I was already broken, and spreading my venom. He didn't deserve it.
I never meant to say those things.
The emailing was not a good idea.
Such a cold disjointed dialogue did not belong in the midst of our passion. Emotions running wild, and the tears streaming down onto the keyboard.

I hung up the phone, just like that, while he was mid sentence.
I couldn't listen to it anymore. His heart breaking like that, and bleeding all over me.
I was backpeddling fast, and he knew it, so he tried to cling to me as hard as he could.
But I flung him right back.
And then there it was, in the inbox.
Staring at me. I couldn't look away, I had to open it.
He was right, I knew he was, I was a coward. I wasn't strong enough to say yes to him.
So instead, I shot myself point blank, and wondered why I was in pain.
I can't even recall what it was that I wrote.
But I know it was mean. I know It was blistering. I know it hurt him, like he hurt me for having the audacity to love me, without so much as a kiss.
I know I'll regret this, wish I could have handled him with some tact, some grace.
But I can't summon the strength. I'm all tapped out.
He's dried me up of longing, and now it's just the ugly vulture-cleaned bare bones.

I think that one worked quite can see how the progression takes your character through the changing mindset. It's also a nice way of letting the reader imagine the actual blow out---or the actual epiphany, without having to write about it. Because, really, that might not be necessary to write about at all.
Happy writing!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Going Home Again

'Writing Fiction' by Janet Burroway has been the best book I’ve come across so far to help me out of a slump. It’s a text book that has lots of great exercises as well as explanations of how to get things going, beyond talking about metaphors.

One of the her exercises suggesting sketching out the floor plan of a house you lived in, mark X’s on spots of significance and then write out a tour of the house.


The picture is tinted green on the luggage tag, of the little white lopsided house with the red trim, the second from the end.

It looks so cute, I want to pat it on the head.

Two trees in the front, one bushy with pine cones, the other a large maple, I think, with a swing. But the swing wasn’t there until I was older.

The maple tree has a crook in perfect for climbing, and then sitting. Sitting mostly. With my back against one limb, a book balanced on the other.

But you need a ladder to get up there.

We don’t have a ladder so I get a couple of wobbly chairs and hope they don’t fall over.

No one asks where I am. I want them to wonder. But I stay up there for hours, picking sticky sap off the tips of my fingers.

Watching the tops of people’s heads....curly like a poodle. Shiny pink skull through thin strips of hair. Big ears.

It’s a luxury I never knew about before. Not even coming up to a grown-ups shoulder.

The old man down the street in the house with the crazy Christmas decorations walks by slowly wearing a hat. A gray one that looks old fashioned, like in old movies.

His cane clicks before he steps. He stops under the tree, and looks back down the block. He’s looking for someone, and I don’t know why it makes me sad.

He can’t see me, but I can see him. I hold my breath and concentrate on his grey hat. I’m in the tree. Look up. Come on, look up. I’m up here.

But he keeps shuffling down the street. I feel sad for the old man, waiting for someone, walking by himself. But he’s not alone, while I’m up here watching over him.


From the branches I can see the grey cold stone steps, one- two-three-four. Standing at the top, first day of school. Four years old, one sock lower than the other.

I’m squinting into the sunlight. I don’t like the camera. It’s proof that this is something, when I just want it to be another day.

But I have a brand new yellow backpack. I don’t know what it’s for, but I have to have it. I also have new sneakers, white ones with a pink trim. I’m going to have to play with kids I don’t know.

Mom’s mouth is determined as she takes the picture. She’s nervous. She wants me to look nice. I’m in a skirt. I only wear skirts to church or grandma and grandpa’s. She brushed my hair and put in a barrette. A little red circular one. I get to pick it out. But I don’t get to pick out my clothes. The collar is tight. Too many buttons that I can’t undo on my own. Up to my throat.

Stop fidgeting, she says, probably, from the bottom of the steps. Say cheese.

but I don’t. I don’t like saying cheese sometimes. When mom doesn’t look happy. I know something’s coming that I’m not going to like. I can feel it like butterflies in my stomach.

I just look stunned, disoriented, and not at all impressed.



The carpet in the living room is going to have to go. That’s what mom says to dad. It's beige. I like the scratchy feeling on my legs. I like to run my hands through it. But I’m only allowed after mom vacuums.

The first time I meet the carpet there’s no furniture. It’s still in the other house across the street.

But this is an important day. It’s the first day we have our new house. The new house looks exactly like the old one. But this one is different. This one is all ours, we no longer have a land lord.

We are eating MacDonalds on the carpet, and I have a fish fillet.

We never eat MacDonalds and we never eat on the floor, not at the table, not even on a chair or anything.

Mom puts a blanket down so it’s like a picnic. But I think picnics are supposed to happen outside. So this is a warm picnic. Dad and mom are laughing above the crinkling of the wrappers on the floor.

Hilary is picking the onions off her burger.

Dora doesn’t get MacDonalds. She’s only a baby.

I know this means things are going to be different.


Downstairs is the pull-out couch, peach coloured, it’s still intact. There are no pen marks yet. We never should have got a light coloured couch, but it was on sale.

Every Friday night we get to sleep on the pull out.

We have supper and mom takes the cushions off, puts on sheets, and Hilary and I put on our pyjamas and get under the covers up to our necks. She wants the wall side....and I let her because I’ll get it next time.

Friday is the best night because Full House is on, and we’re allowed to watch it in bed. But then we have to go to sleep. Right to sleep.

Full house is just like our house, kind of. We have a little sister too, but she doesn’t say silly things or put her thumbs up. She’s mostly annoying, especially when she cries. So that’s why she’s not allowed at these sleep overs.

When the show is over the lights go off, and we aren’t supposed to talk, but we’re in the basement, so they can’t hear us talking. They’ll never know. Especially when we do it with our pillows smooshed against our faces.

Whispers under the sheets. One--two--three--four--five, okay, now close your eyes and pretend to sleep.

Are you asleep? Me neither.

Seven thirty is so early.

Let’s sleep back to back so we know each other’s there. Like we’re not just sleeping alone. So even when I close my eyes, I know you’re there and we’re in the basement on the pull-out.

I feel like I could go on forever with this one, there are so many memories, I think this exercise has real potential for the backbone of a short story. However, these particular memories are not exactly riveting. I'd have to expand on them, embellish, or make them up all together. But they're a good jumping-off point. One thing that Janet Burroway stresses is the fact that the truth is usually boring...describing things exactly as they are, without any drama or conflict doesn't make things leap off the page. That's why fiction is so much more riveting. There are kernels of truth, or "truthiness" to quote Stephen Colbert...and you just have to make it better.