Sunday, 31 March 2013

Revealing Character Through Action

This week for my creative writing class we were asked to write three short pieces which, through a focus on action, reveal much about character. The three characters I chose are from a short story I've been working on forever and which is still nowhere near finished. It's about six women from very different backgrounds who meet in a market research focus group for "feminine empowerment products" ie. tampons. I got the inspiration from a stint in market research as a telephone interviewer. Yes I was one of those annoying people who ring you in the middle of dinner and want to know if you're laundry detergent/toilet paper/bank is making you happy.

These pieces aren't from the stories, they're just exercises designed to help bring out character through action and they were really fun to write. They were only meant to be 100 words each but I went a bit over. I've never done much of this thing before but I'm finding the exercises extremely valuable because they force you to focus on every single word.

·         Your character does something that reveals or explains something about their physical self, their body. Don’t literally describe their appearance.


Charlie was only halfway up the hill but already she was fighting to breathe and her face was on fire. Her legs were hot and itchy, a fly kept buzzing around her head and she could smell her own stale armpits. Sweat pooled under her bra and trickled across the folds of her stomach. With each step the shopping got heavier until it felt like she was lugging plastic bags of concrete to the top of Mount Everest. She wished she’d been able to resist the three-jumbo-Cokes-for -the-price-of-two special that week but she’d always been a sucker for a bargain. The top of the hill was just coming into view when Charlie dropped down into the gutter and took several deep shuddering breaths. She fumbled around in her bag, growing increasingly frantic until she found whas she was after, and with an audible sigh relief she pulled out a packet of cigarettes.



·         Your character has been asked for assistance from another person that they know, who is bleeding profusely (such as a work colleague, sibling or neighbour). Don’t focus on the blood.


At the sight of the deep cut on Doug’s hand Ainsley took a step back. She turned away and scanned the hall to see if there was anyone around who could help,

.     “Ainsley, can you please get the first aid-kit. I’m bleeding pretty badly here you know.”

      “Okay, sorry Doug.” She glanced at her watch. It was almost lunchtime. When she  found the kit  Ainsley hurried back to the office and put it down on the desk next to Doug.

“You’ll be okay now?” she said, turning to leave.

“No, not really. It’s stopped bleeding but you’ll have to bandage it for me.” Glancing at her watch again Ainsley unfurled the bandage and tried not to be too rough as she wrapped Doug’s arm.


·         Your character either tries to keep someone they know in their flat or house, garden, car, office, boat (etc). They must do this in a way that is characteristic of them.  They may fail or succeed.


She closes the gate with a crash and sees the two boys jump. Tyler looks the most frightened but Jackson is a bit scared too. His eyes are darting around nervously even though he’s trying to look like he doesn’t care. She steps in front of them and raises herself to her full height.

“It was his idea,” blurts out Tyler after a tense thirty-second stand-off. “I didn’t even want to go but he called me a baby.”

“I did not, it was his idea too. He wanted to see the new fish in Ben’s aquarium.” Beckoning to Jackson to step forward first she holds out her hand.

“Oh, Mum, no, please not my ipod.” She doesn’t speak or break her stare and he looks away first, hanging his head and pulling his ipod from his pocket. “You suck,” he screams when he is a good distance away. She chooses to ignore him.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Falling: The First Draft

This is a short story titled Falling that I wrote for my creative writing workshop. It was written in between ripping out our kitchen and I can't say I'm very happy with it.  Based on the feedback I got I plan to rewrite it extensively for assessment, but I thought I'd share the original version. Feel free to leave any feedback/advice and stay tuned for the rewrite. (How cool is the picture below? Think I'll use it for my twitter profile!)


“Do you know who I am?” The old woman in the bed stares back at me, her face worn and faded against the white pillow. She opens and closes her mouth as if trying to speak. I lean down to catch her words but she turns her head away from me to stare at the wall. I look around the room to find out if anyone else can answer my question.

There are three other beds in the room and two of them are occupied. In one sits a woman with white hair. She is wearing a pink dressing gown and watching a television fixed to the wall opposite her bed. The sound is turned up loud and I see two people dancing on the screen. The other woman is reading a book. Every now and then she glances up and yells something at the television. I move towards the white haired woman because she is closer.

“Do you know who I am?”

She doesn’t look away from the television. “You, my dear, are the Queen of England, and this is Buckingham palace.” The woman in the other bed laughs, and I turn to stare at her. Her mouth is open wide and she reminds me of something I saw a long time ago. I don’t understand what is so funny so I move to her bed.

“Do you know how I got here?”

“You flew in on your broomstick one night, and now we can’t get rid of you.” She laughs loudly at her own words and I have a sudden image of a clown, its head moving backwards and forwards, its mouth open wide. There are swirling colours and the sound of music on a summer’s night. It is beautiful, this fairyland of lights and music. I want to ask her how I can get there, but she has gone back to her book, and I don’t think she can help me.

I hear a sound behind me and turn around to see a young woman with glasses coming through the door. She is smiling at me. It is a nice feeling to be smiled at.

“What are you doing out of bed, Rachel?” she asks. “Come on, let’s get you back in.” She takes my arm and leads me towards the vacant bed.

“Am I the Queen of England?”

She shakes her head. “No, you’re not the Queen of England. Have these ladies been giving you a hard time again?” She pats my hand and I don’t know how to answer so I just stare at her. “Come on guys, be nice to her, you know she can’t help it.”

She helps me into bed and as settle in I slip my hand under the pillow and feel something. Lifting the pillow I find a photograph and I wonder who it belongs to. I pick it up and examine it closely. It is of a tall man with curly dark hair standing in front of a boat. He looks so much like someone I used to know.

I search through my memory but it is like looking for something in a thick fog. I can see his outline in the distance and I run to catch up to him, but he is very fast. When I finally reach him I extend my hand out to touch him and he turns towards me, but before I can see his face the fog swallows him completely.

“Who is this?” I ask the young woman.

She looks at me sadly. “That’s your husband, Rachel.”

Husband. My husband. I am married.

We are standing on the deck of a boat, the wind in our hair, his arms wrapped tightly around me. He lets me go and drops down on one knee and I am so surprised when he pulls out a ring that I almost fall overboard. Before us the ocean stretches on endlessly.

Our wedding cake topples over before we even get a chance to cut it, but we don’t care because it is our special day and nothing can ruin it. Our house is made of brick and we joke that it can never be blown down. It is so big we almost get lost in all the rooms, but that’s okay because one day we will fill these rooms with children. Sometimes in summer we go fishing at the river or just lie on the grass and watch the clouds drift by. Me and my husband. My husband and I.

It’s as if the pieces of the puzzle have clicked together. Now maybe I can finally go home.

“Do you remember, Rachel?” asks the woman. I open my eyes and smile at her. Behind her is a mirror and in it another young woman is reflected. She is very pale with long fair hair and she is wearing a blue nightgown. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed I move towards the reflection. It’s me, it has to be me. How I used to love brushing my hair and arranging it in different styles. It seems like such a long time since I’ve done this.

“Yes, I remember it all now.” I reach out and touch the glass. It is hard and cold beneath my fingers.

“Do you remember all of it?” Something about her voice makes me look away from the mirror to her face. The fog is back again, flooding my brain, making it hard to think clearly.

“Where is my husband? When is he coming to get me?” I ask. By now the fog has filled my throat and I can hardly breathe.

“He’s never coming to get you,” says the white-haired woman across the room. The other woman laughs again but this time she looks frightening, like a wild animal.

“Why isn’t my husband coming to get me?” I have a cold feeling in my stomach.

“Because he’s dead,” says the white haired lady.

“No, he can’t be.” I try to block my ears but it’s no use.

“Come on, Florence, don’t be cruel,” says the young woman, trying to lead me back to the bed.

“He’s dead and you killed him.”

Angry voices split the night. A bottle smashes, wine spills across the rug. He says he is leaving. I try to follow him but I stumble and fall. A firecracker goes off in my ear and the sharp smell of gun powder, and then much red. I can’t stop it…..I didn’t mean to……I’m so sorry….

I open my eyes to find a young woman staring at me. She looks familiar but I can’t place where I have seen her before.

“Where am I?” I ask her, but she just pats my hand and helps me into a bed. She turns away from me as if she is going to leave.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“I have to get back to my shift now. You’ll be okay, Rachel.”

I feel frightened at the thought of being left on my own in this strange place.

“Who am I?” I ask.

“You are Alice and you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” says an old lady in a pink dressing on the other side of the room.

“She’s the white rabbit, and we are Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” says another lady, bursting into laughter, and pointing at a third woman lying very still in her bed.

“But I don’t belong here,” I say, looking around at their faces.

“Of course you do. We’re all mad here and you’re as mad as the rest of us,” replies the woman with the loud laugh.

“How do you know I’m mad?”

“You’re here aren’t you?”

“How can I get away?”

“It really depends where you want to go,”

I thought hard. “I don’t know. Anywhere, I guess.”

“Then you shouldn’t have any trouble finding anywhere,” she says. Her laughter fills my ears as I turn to face the wall. I close my eyes and feel like I am being pulled down a long, dark tunnel. I am falling, forever falling and the only thing I know is that there will never be any light at the end of the tunnel for me.

I Believe I Can Write

It's been exactly two months since I've written here so I thought I'd better check in and give an update or people will think this blog has died. My only excuse for my laxness it that life has gotten in the way. First of all I started a creative writing course which takes up a lot of time, and on top of that we're renovating our house and it looks like a bomb site. My job this Easter weekend is to try to restore a bit of order to the chaos and then hopefully my creativity will be revived. I'm the type of person who needs to be organised and clutter-free in order to write and that just hasn't been possible for the last couple of months.

AS GOD IS MY WITNESS I WILL NEVER RENOVATE AGAIN! (at least not while I'm living in the house).

That's not the only reason for the impasse in my blogging and writing in general. I'm trying to read more this year and I also mentioned a few posts ago that I was changing direction and toying with the idea of a new pen name. I thought I had a novella almost ready to publish in a different genre, but when I left it for a couple of weeks and then looked at it again I realised it's nowhere near ready to see the light of day. I want to grow as a writer and I know that takes time but I just can't shake the feeling that I should be writing constantly. It's hard to do this when everything I write seems so flat and unoriginal and my muse has left the building. I know I need to give myself time to refresh but I'm just so darn impatient that  I want everything finished NOW.

 One of my high school English teachers wrote on my report card once that I need to show more depth in my writing and I think she was spot on. I still struggle with this problem to this day. Some writers paint such beautiful pictures with words and make you savour the language as much as the storyline. I want to be one of those writers but it's not a skill that can be learnt overnight. It takes hours and hours of painstaking labour and endless rewriting - things that require vast reserves of patience. When I next release a book I want to feel that it's my absolute best work and something I can be justifiably proud of. I am proud of the books I've already written because they've been important milestones in this journey towards becoming an author, but I know in my heart of hearts that I need to give more and dig deeper to find out what I'm truly capable of. I think this applies to everyone who is travelling on this road so the message of this post is don't settle for second best when it comes to your writing. Try your hardest and keep working on it till you are satisfied it's worthy of you and your readers. And when it all starts to get you down repeat these words over and over in your head till like a mantra till you convince your subconscious mind they are true:

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly