Start Writing Fiction: Weeks 1 + 2

Nearly three weeks since my last post, and I promise it’s not (totally) because of the new Xbox. I was sent to the UK for work again, but it’s these cold dark nights that are really sapping my creative energies.

I mentioned a few posts back that I had signed up for a creative writing course, specifically ‘Start Writing Fiction’ by the Open University. From a previous post…

“It’s only eight weeks, all can be done online and in comparison to an academic qualification is pretty worthless in the grand scheme of things. But it is something I’ve always wanted to do…The aim is to take it seriously, and use it to hone my literary skills as well as receiving feedback and critiquing work from other aspiring writers.”

The Future Learn site is very clean, and makes it easy to show your current progress.

The Future Learn site is very clean, and makes it easy to show your current progress.

A link to the site (see above) for those interested, with details of the course

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/start-writing-fiction-2/details

So I’ve decided to document some of the writing and discussions I take part in on the Future Learn site here on the blog. There is also an added benefit in this, as the Future Learn site only allows us to write comments consisting of 1200 characters – only 200-300 words. It could be that for longer exercises I link my blog to the site.

Week 1

Fact And Fiction: Writing a short paragraph containing three facts, and one element of fiction. I was at work during this task, and used my surroundings and the mood in the office as my facts – it was getting darker, and the mood in the office seemed dull and moody. The fiction I decided to include was a feeling of danger; some incident occurring outside the office which had the workers inside isolated and worried.

The sun had begun to set, casting creeping shadows across the floor and up the walls, and as the office grew darker so did the mood amongst those trapped inside. The doors were still locked, the power was still on; for now at least. But it would not last, and as the workers sat in silence they knew they would soon have to make a choice. To stay and wait or to leave and run – there would be no right answer.

Imagining Writing Spaces: Here we were tasked with describing venues which were either ideal or ill-suited for writing. I took one of my recent experiences as inspiration, having been sent to the UK with work the previous week. I had actually planned to write some blog posts while over there, but it wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be.

A trip to the mainland was not what he needed this week, but he tried to look at the positives. While he’d be kept busy during the day with the company, he could retire to his hotel room in the evenings and catch up with some writing.

The first sign that this plan was doomed from the start was the lack of wi-fi in his room. The second was that the best alternative was a pub across the street. He took his laptop across with him, ordered some food and a pint, and sat down at a small table in a dimly lit corner. The atmosphere was busy but the level of noise was acceptable.

After a mediocre meal, and another pint, he began to think about writing. He looked around. A fat man was sat by the quiz machine, becoming more irate with every question answered incorrectly. A group of young girls were cackling and screaming at every lewd joke or crude reference. Groans and cheers were audible by a cluster of football fans across the bar.

Two hours, two pints and several cigarette breaks later, he was no closer to doing anything productive. In a slightly drunken stupor the thought of writing didn’t interest him, and after a burning nightcap he stumbled back to his room to a dreamless sleep.

Developing A Character: Having been encouraged to keep a notebook or journal and observe the world around us (people and potential characters in particular), we were tasked with developing a character we had taken note of.

The door opened to reveal the silhouette of a man, his tall frame casting a shadow against the dazzling afternoon as he walked in. He paused as the door shut behind him, seemed to take a deep breath, and surveyed his surroundings. He squinted slightly, his vision no doubt adjusting from the blinding sunlight outside to the cool, dimly lit store. He was young – mid twenties at a guess, and a good looking bloke by anyone’s standard. He wore a suit which didn’t quite fit, and I guessed it had been bought without any advice or guidance. His gaze caught mine and, as if remembering what he had come in for, immediately began walking towards the counter.

I looked down at my phone, not wanting to watch him as he approached. I looked up briefly, to see he was looking side to side at the various products on the aisles as he walked lazily towards the counter. Just as I turned my head away, I noticed his left foot dragged, as if he was trying to disguise a limp.

He finally reached the counter, and I turned to face him. “Hey. Can I help?”

He was looking straight through me as he spoke. “I have an appointment with your manager later this evening.” He spoke quietly, and his gaze twitched to the door behind my shoulder. “I will not be able to make it, and I was hoping he was in now so I could explain in person.” His voice was hesitant and cracked at one point. I realised he was nervous. His youthful expression and weak smile were betrayed by his darting, sunken eyes that wanted to be as far away from this place as possible.

Using a notebook to observe, speculate and generate ideas that occur to me

Using a notebook to observe, speculate and generate ideas that occur to me

Week 2

Familiar Words In Unfamiliar Places: A quick exercise to describe something relatively mundane with unusual terms and phrases. Another one I thought of while at work, and I was quite pleased with how it turned out.

The computer gave a series of muffled whirs and clicks eerily similar to choked tears; a last cry that expressed the acceptance of age and time. Its monitor faded to black, and beneath the desk the grey tower stood defeated, a husk of lost data and memories.

The Blank Page: My views on researching, and motivation to write.

I don’t know if I love researching, or if I’m addicted to procrastination. One research topic will inevitably end up moving on to something completely unrelated, and before I know it I’m watching cat videos on YouTube again.

Starting Ploys: Methods were given to encourage us to start writing, and to not worry to much on that very first line. With prompts like ‘Emma said that’ and ‘I remember when’, a story can be coaxed out of your confused, tired mind.

(Emma said that) she no longer wanted to see me at the bar. No more dropping by, no more drinks on the house, no more staying until kick out and offering to help clean up. I understood her stance, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept it.

(I remember when) the rain cascaded down in thick sheets. The dull rumble of distant thunder and an occasional bolt of light that revealed an impossible horizon of black cloud. We moved everything we could carry upstairs, and sat huddled in the centre of the landing surrounded by our belongings. Any attempts to talk, to comfort each other, were drowned out by the screaming winds and restless debris – so we remained completely still in silence and stayed there until morning.

Heightening your observations: An attempt to add more details to the character description from week 1. In order to keep it short, I cut the conversation from the end to allow myself to focus more on the observer’s first impressions of the man entering the store.

The door opened to reveal the silhouette of a man, his tall frame casting a shadow against the dazzling afternoon as he walked in. He paused as the door shut behind him, seemed to take a deep breath, and surveyed his surroundings. He squinted slightly, his vision no doubt adjusting from the blinding sunlight outside to the cool, dimly lit store. He was young; mid twenties at a guess, with a strong jaw but gentle features. A short yet messy head of hair gave him a more youthful appearance. It was the way the man dressed which caused me to take notice. He wore a suit which didn’t quite fit, and I guessed it had been bought without any advice or guidance. The tight fitting jacket was a shade lighter than the trousers, which were inches too long and hid the best part of the man’s scuffed black boots. In a place like this, he stood out. His gaze caught mine and, as if remembering what he had come in for, immediately began walking towards the counter.

As he approached he seemed to feign interest in various products on each aisle as he walked lazily past. Everything was given the same glassy stare. As I turned away I noticed his left foot dragged, as if he was trying to disguise a limp.

Ideas For A Story: We were asked to write a story, or the beginnings of a story, based on the first thing heard when turning on the radio. I tuned in to hear a news report of flooding. I found this difficult, as I wasn’t sure to create a story which could later involve flooding, or a short passage that involved flooding. I decided to introduce a character whose family lived on flood plains, and thus were always at the risk of floods.

I.
The first raindrop fell on a Tuesday morning, around half past eight, and it hit Dale Mackenzie right between the eyes. He had sensed it, and there was an almost poetic beauty when he had lifted his head up to the skies in anticipation to greet that first drop. Living on a farm and spending most of his waking hours outdoors for the best part of forty years had given Dale an understanding of the weather that few meteorologists could rival. He smiled, and goosebumps began to erupt on his exposed forearms. The summer was dying but it was still warm, and the rain was cool on his skin.

He began to quicken the pace back to the farmhouse, as the rain became heavier and the denim shirt he was wearing grew darker and more saturated. His worn, faded Stetson provided shelter for his face and created a stream that ran down his back. He removed the hat and let his long hair loose. As it became wetter he slicked it back to keep it from sticking to his forehead and out of his eyes. He looked around at the land that surrounded him. Fields that grew maize and were home to cattle and sheep that went on for miles and miles and ended somewhere over the horizon.

II.
The farm and lands were bought by his grandfather half a century ago, they had been passed down to his father, and now they had been passed on to him. While on his deathbed his father, hands shaking and tears streaming down his weathered face, had made him promise to never sell the farm, and this had upset Dale. He loved the farm as much as his father, and his father knew. His wife had told him that the desperate plea was due to the state of his fathers decaying mind, a shadow of the man he had been reduced to towards the end. Dale saw that clearly now. He had always known, he thought, but there was a tremendous strain on him during his fathers last weeks, and he had left the room in tears after making his promise.

III.
He saw the house, and as he got closer he could make out the figures of his wife and children stood on the porch. He was about half a mile away now, and now approaching with great bounding strides. Not that he was eager to get out of the rain – they hadn’t seen rain for over two weeks, and Dale was thoroughly enjoying this shower. Having predicted the rain when he retired to bed the evening prior, he had left the house earlier than usual this morning to finish his morning rounds in good time. This meant that he had not spoken to his family this morning, something he hated doing. He loved his family, as many men do, but Dale’s love for his family fuelled his existence. The way his son rubbed his eyes and yawned as he entered the parlour each morning, or his wife tickled the back of his neck and kissed the top of his head as she brought him his breakfast. His life was not exciting, but he did not live for excitement. He had been young once. Now he lived for love, and was wholly committed to his wife and their children. He was utterly content.

So the first two weeks have been interesting. I’ve been impressed by the quality of my fellow writers, and the tasks have certainly given me some ideas and inspiration to write more. I think as the weeks go by I’ll see a marked improvement in my writing ability, but it’s still early on. The main benefit is that I’ve enjoyed the majority of the tasks, and already have some ideas for short stories that I can’t wait to dive into.

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