Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And There Is A Right Way by Katy Board

I am so enjoying writing the activities for this last chapter, which is dealing with prose. I was asked, in activity 11.4, to write a story in 500 words, and so I did, using a sci-fi genre to do so - my very first attempt at sci-fi!
We were given a multiple choice of subject, and I chose ' a funeral', but we were to use a different title for the story, which I have.
Anyway, here it is, and I hope you enjoy it:

And There Is A Right Way

In the instant that the sun sank beyond the horizon, Zed placed the torch into the stacked wood in front of him. For a second, nothing happened; the only sound was Zella intoning the death dirge quietly in the background, as was her role in this passing of a mate. But, in a second, the flame flared brightly and the wood, stacked neatly in the cremation pyre, caught and quickly spread to envelop the wrapped form of Zarn.
Zed stood back, placing the torch in the holder waiting beside the pyre. He turned to face west, and saw a flare, an after-image of coruscating green, where a shard of light from the set sun reflected back from the clouds. He knew this was a sign that his mate’s soul had reached the gods, and he felt happiness that Zarn would be there waiting when it was their turn for the funeral pyre.
Zella finished intoning the prayers of the dead, and then silently came to stand beside Zed. They shared a moment of reflection, remembering the times before Zarn breathed his last in this world. They quietly spoke to each other about this, using it as a way of remembering their mate, and of reassuring themselves that they had done everything tradition demanded for this precious time of death-dealing.
Zed was reassured by Zella’s respectful demeanour, knowing that he had dealt the death-blow in the correct manner and at the right moment, so that Zarn would know nothing of it. He knew that Zarn would now be finding his way to the gods, still full of enough vigour to serve them in whichever capacity they chose, and this comforted the two remaining mates. They knew that it wouldn’t be long before it was their time to join with him, and they looked forward to that time with peacefulness.
As the pyre burnt down, all that was left was ashes. Zed and Zella waited patiently and, as soon as the ashes were cool enough to handle, they were gathered into the box waiting nearby. Then, with solemn steps, they made their way down from the headlands, until they reached a promontory that led out to sea. With all the solemnity it deserved, they continued the funereal tradition, by taking it in turns to scatter the ashes of their mate into the sea.
Just as the last handful was spread, they looked eastwards, and saw that the sun was about to rise once more. They had timed it perfectly. They looked at each other in the growing light of the hot, white sun, and the nictating membranes that served to protect their eyes in this bright world automatically slid over their eyes. With a last look out over the sea, they turned, and stepped slowly back up the promontory, using their powerful legs to push upwards to the headlands again. Zella carried the emptied box in her central arms, using the front set to pull herself over the rim of the cliff, and then walked back to the site of the pyre, where she placed the box for the next cremation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Developing a story - wow, it's hard!

With the creative writing course, we have been guided slowly, but surely, into developing the skills needed to create a believable scenario. It's something I've taken for granted all my life, and didn't realise just what skill is required to make anything you write,

1) hold the interest of the reader and,
2) draw the reader in so that it is as real to them as their own life.

Of course, this also depends on exactly which genre you decide upon, as fantasy and sci-fi, while extremely popular, especially by me, is also reasonably obviously not real. I guess the trick of drawing in your reader depends on your skill as a writer and, while I'm sort-of getting there, this course has made me realise my many shortcomings as well as my few strengths.

I've been busy catching up with the activities we are supposed to be doing, and the one I completed this morning, Activity 10.8, was a peice that is supposed to help us practice towards the second TMA, or tutor-marked assignment, that is due in on the 5th January. This activity was a 1,000 word story which, as well as using repetition, should also show some, or all, of these technical elements:

A dramatic present
A dramatic action
Habitual time
Starting in medias res (in the middle of the story)

I went slightly over the word limit, even after copious editing, which is one of my weaknesses, alas, but I didn't want to cut any more for fear of losing the flavour of the peace. I'm still not sure if I've covered the brief given, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story, and so decided that I'd put it here for you to read - and you can decide yourself if it's any good!


Jenny dabbed at the sweat trickling slowly down her neck, trying to keep her movements unnoticed. Her heartbeat was uneven with the fear she felt, and tiredness had settled heavily in her bones. She puffed up at her fringe, but there was no relief from the heat and closeness of the room. She moved her head carefully, trying to check up on the children sprawled in uneasy sleep all about her on the hard-packed, earthen floor, and she tried to spot the third man, who she knew was somewhere behind her. She could feel his eyes boring into her back.
Be strong!
It amazed her that she was in this position. After all, it was only last week that she had landed in Malaysia, and this morning that she had started her job as infant teacher to the charity-run school. Then all hell broke loose, and she ended up with three lunatics holding them all hostage. She only wished that her aide and translator, Sahrizan, had been in the room with her when they came – at least then she’d have some idea as to why it was happening. She took a slow, deep breathe, trying to get some air into her lungs.
The heat and humidity had been a big shock to her on her arrival, especially as this was January, and she still hadn’t quite adjusted to air that felt as if she were swallowing it down like water, rather than breathing it in as she had the clean, crisp air of her welsh mountain home. She missed home terribly at this moment, remembering the Christmas just gone, and she struggled to contain the tears that sprang to her eyes. She couldn’t afford to show a moment’s weakness to these men. She knew that if she did, any advantages she might find would be gone and, if she were to keep the children safe, then she needed to be strong.
The clock on the wall ticked away the dreary hours, and she waited, sweat sticking her shirt to her back. The children all gradually woke up from their heat-induced sleep, and they slowly crept around her on the floor, getting as close to her as they could, and as far away as possible from the men carrying guns. It had turned four o’clock before there was any change in the stillness of the room, and it was disturbed when someone knocked on the door, and spoke loudly in the local Malaysian dialect that Jenny was having such difficulties in understanding. Jenny’s heart beat faster in fear of what was to come but, as one of the men opened the door, she was relieved to see her aide, carrying two gallon containers of what she hoped was water into the room.
The children still sat unnaturally still, the presence of the gunmen keeping them silent. Jenny looked at Sahrizan, trying to catch his eye, but he looked behind her, at the unseen man, ‘Selamat tengah hari,’ he said to the gunman, and Jenny knew this was just a ‘good afternoon’ greeting. There was a second’s silence, then the man behind her spoke.

‘You may speak in English, Sahrizan, so that the new teacher will know what it is we do here’.
Jenny’s head span around as far as it could with her awkward position on the floor, and she stared in amazement at the man sat casually behind her on the seat provided for her in the classroom.
She saw immediately that he wasn’t armed as she had assumed, and realised that he must be British by his accent, which held the slightly rough cadence of the south Londoner.

‘What in God’s name is going on,’ she burst out, a flush of anger burning through her body. She quickly struggled up to her feet, and stood, legs braced, and hands balled into fists on her hips.
‘Who the hell are you, and why have we been held here like this for most of the day?’
Her breath came in gasps, as anger drove her to breathe more deeply of the humid air. The man just sat there staring intently at her then, to her shock, he suddenly burst into laughter, peal upon peal bursting from him as if he had been told the funniest joke ever.
Jenny’s face flushed with anger, and her temper snapped. With a cry, she lunged forward, swinging her arm towards her tormentor’s face but, quick as she was, he caught it before her hand could connect with his face. In an instant, he was up, and had Jenny in a hold that, no matter how she struggled, she couldn’t loosen, and it was this helplessness that sobered her, changing anger to fear. She stopped struggling, and the man’s voice came calmly from behind her.

‘That’s good, Miss Evans. Losing your temper doesn’t help, and could only bring trouble to yourself and the children. Now, I’m going to release you, so could you please be still, and you’ll get the explanation you deserve to have?’
Jenny stood stock still for an instant, then her body relaxed a little, and she nodded her agreement. His hand left her face and she felt able to breathe again. She was slowly released, and was turned to face him once more. He stared at her, then nodded, and indicated for her to sit in the chair he had left.

‘I’m sorry you were involved with this, Miss Evans, but it couldn’t be avoided, as the exercise had been organised long before we knew you were coming and, yes, it was just an exercise. I work for a security firm that works out safety measures. Measures that people can put into action, in order to stay safe from terrorists and the like. I’m afraid you got involved because, although you were new here, our plans couldn’t be changed’
Jenny looked around her at the children scrambling happily around Sahrizan, grabbing for the little cups full of water he was handing out, and realised just how idiotic she felt. Taking another deep breath of the humid air, she gave the man in front of her a wry smile, and then held out her hand.

‘Well, you know who I am – don’t you think I deserve to know who has been holding me captive all day?’

(1,053 words)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thinking on new year resolutions

As I don't celebrate christmas, it's given me a lot of time to get on with my course work - although I'm a little bit behind due to health problems, alas!
But what it's also made me do, is think of the new year, and what I want to happen then.

I learned long ago not to make resolutions - I always fail at them, and it just makes me feel bad, so I just stopped beating myself up about it - probably at the same time I stopped 'doing' christmas itself!

So, what do I want to happen?

Well, I've got my second TMA due on 5th January, so I'm hoping that the effort I'm putting into it will pay dividends, as it's worth 30% of the total course markings!

I'm already working on it, along with trying to catch up with the course work, and I'm fairly pleased with the idea I've come up with, so I'm hoping that, with some tweaking and editing beforehand, it'll do for my tutor!
I realised today that I haven't put much of all the stuff I'm working on up on the blog - but it's all quite bitty so far, and I don't like putting partially done stuff up for perusal, so I've decided to wait until our next block, which is poetry, to put up any work I might have done.

It helps that poetry is the one thing consistent in my life. I've always jotted down impressions, and feelings onto paper or, nowadays, directly onto the computer.

I've found that this is a great way to focus on any problems that have occured in my life, and the sheer concentration needed to create something out of the chaos of emotion, is a great way to sort out a solution to whatever problems have occured in my life.

I am really looking forward to this next block! Lol

Hope you all have a relaxing time over the holidays!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The biggest surprise to me so far, with this course I'm doing, is how much sheer fun it can be!

What could have been sheer hard work - or even thought of as torture - has become an event that I look forward to on a daily basis, and is, in fact, a reason for me to get up early to concentrate on. It's also a great distraction from my various woes both physically, and mentally!

At this moment, we are concentrating on 'showing' and 'telling', learning the technique that should give our narrative voice it's power to draw the reader into our world - and keeping them there - and all by the sheer delights of our ability to show our characters in all their glory, or to tell of their situations without becoming a bore about it. A tricky one, this!

Despite the fact that I've been writing all my life, I was almost unaware of the technicalities of writing. Most of the things we are learning, I have been doing almost instinctively - albeit, not very well - but there is a big chunk of technicalities that I was practically unaware of, so this course is definitely teaching me a thing or two, or three . . . Lol

Right at this moment, I'm trying to absorb a section called Dialogue and Stories - we are supposed to write something with dialogue, and 'show' what's happening, leaving out the 'telling' altogether - not an easy task, and I have to confess to struggling with it a little (hence, the distraction of catching up with my blogging! Lol). But I will do my best, as we have an eTMA looming, due in for 5th January, 2009 - at the latest!

That's ages away, I hear you cry! Well, it may seem so now, but I've got to produce a 2,200-word story, using all the techniques we've learned so far, and it's not as easy as I'd thought it would be. To be fair, I've got the nugget of the story already written down, but am having great difficulty deciding on a narrative point-of-view. I've written it in first-person limited omniscience, but I'm not sure whether it's working as well as I'd hoped - which means I'm going to have to experiment with various other viewpoints, to see which one will work best!

A writer's work is never done! Lol