Start Writing Fiction Weeks 3 + 4

It’s difficult to dedicate time to this blog while also attempting a creative writing course in my spare time on top of my job and various social commitments. This post is an update on the Start Writing Fiction course I’m currently taking through the Open University, and covers my progress in weeks 3 & 4. Still enjoying it.

Week 3

Reading work in progress: A discussion on what our radio prompt exercise (covered in my previous post), how we added more depth to an initial idea and what this short passage could become.

I turned the radio on to a report on flooding, and turned it off after a few seconds, not wanting to be influenced any further. I started doing some research on areas prone to flooding in Europe, a lot of which is farmland. I then started to flesh out a setting, and imagining characters who would occupy this place. I think what I wrote is the opening to a short, character-driven novella. It is far too early to know where exactly I am going with it or how I will follow up on it. The only structure was a ramble of thoughts through the mind of the protagonist, his stream of consciousness as he is walking back to his family homestead in the rain. There is no speech, purely thoughts on his life, his past, his home and his family. I’m not too sure where I would go with it but due to the nature of the passage written it will definitely benefit from a thorough edit.

Editing is your friend: Learning to be really harsh and critical when editing your own work. I find I write best when I just ramble on for as long as possible; this is great for actually getting words on paper, but it leaves a longer editing process.

I sometimes will come up with a really nice phrase or sentence but it doesn’t quite fit in with the context of what I’m writing. So I’ll save it or write it down – it might inspire, or fit into, another piece of writing.

Writing exercise with peer feedback: Hands down the best aspect of this course is the feedback and comments from fellow budding writers on the course. Having another person actually read your writing and give their honest thoughts is such a fantastic opportunity, and it is with these tasks that I feel the most benefit will be gained. The exercise itself was fairly vague; write between 200 and 350 words that is completely new and unrelated to anything you have written so far for the course. It could be an idea we had noted in our journals, or something that we have been inspired by or thought of recently. The main goal was to introduce a character and give a strong impression of them with a limited number of words.

It was quiet on the roof of the high rise office in which Alan worked. Above him clouds loomed, almost low enough to reach out and touch, and with the thick blanket of haze rising from the city below Alan felt sealed in a void, his own personal stratosphere. He could hear distant noise as life continued around him, but he was ultimately alone here.

It was 09:47 on Monday morning, and this was his second cigarette break of the day. With each inhalation of smoke he anticipated a rush of nicotine which would relax him and put his mind at rest. It never came, and he suspected this was largely due to the meeting with both his manager and the head of human resources at 10:00. A meeting in which he was to be told he was fired with immediate effect. The email informing him of the meeting had not explicitly stated this, but Alan had known for weeks that this was sooner or later inevitable. What troubled him was not that he was soon to lose his job; it was that loosing his job didn’t bother him in the slightest.

He took one last, prolonged drag on his cigarette in a desperate bid for endorphins, and flicked the butt to the floor. Feeling a little light headed, he stood up and stared down on the city below. He could see nothing through the smog. Several times every day for a month he had cigarette breaks, and always walked over to the edge of the roof to look down on the city. He could hear the impatient traffic and the hustle of activity, but he had never been able to see it. Alan had been coasting through life for several years now. Since turning thirty early last year, he had enrolled in (and subsequently left for one reason or another) six positions. They had all bored him, he wasn’t being challenged…these were the excuses he gave to his parents and friends. He soon lost interest and stopped turning up, or quit, or was fired and the cycle started over.

Feedback from Jacqueline.

How was the central character portrayed and was this portrayal clear and interesting?

Alan seemed very alone, depressed and in a self destructive rutt. I like the subtle pieces of information weaved into the story. I didn’t find his character easy to understand.

What made you think this piece was a story and did you want to read on?

It was a good introduction into a story, but I couldn’t see where it would lead on to. It was very descriptive of surroundings which I liked, but didn’t really get started.

What were the most, and least, successful aspects of the writing?

Very good descriptive writing, not enough information about the character though and the plot stood still.

Feedback from Janet.

How was the central character portrayed and was this portrayal clear and interesting?

I thought Nick, central character, was portrayed clearly, Inside this particular environment, and could visualise him, imagine what he looked like. He was portrayed as a “type” and yet, I had the feeling there was more to him than the easy come, easy go person he appeared to be. My interest was caught and I wondered what would happen to him, and whether he would make something of himself.

What made you think this piece was a story and did you want to read on?

i thought this was the start of a longer story, setting the scene well with one person in a very specific environment. I would like to know what happened at the meeting, ie was he been given something out of the ordinary to do, rather than be fired, or was he fired and walked out of the building into something exciting, where he eventually found his niche, and found something he cared enough about to show some responsibility and commitment and get some fulfillment.

What were the most, and least, successful aspects of the writing?

I enjoyed the scene setting – top of the office building, for a smoke – with the cloud above and haze below, temporarily cocooning him from the tricky meeting ahead. I thought it was a good start and caught the imagination. I’ve been told I have to be picky, too, which is hard to do here, I might change the word ‘ultimately’ in the first paragraph to something which has fewer different meanings, perhaps “fundamentally”? I felt this was well written, and I would look forward to the next chapter!

Week 4 

Hooked by lines and images: The question asked was ‘have you ever found inspiration to write from a single sentence?’.

“But neither ship nor land appeared, and I began to despair in my solitude upon the heaving vastnesses of unbroken blue.” An excerpt from Dagon, a short story by H.P Lovecraft. I remember being utterly captivated by that description of the ocean.

Reflecting on concerns and ideas: An exercise was suggested involving writing a list of what our primary concerns are, to see if there was any relationship between these concerns and what we tend to write about.

I think my answers is somewhat I want to write about the unknown, about things that my characters can’t possibly understand, and how they react to that. I also can’t think about the future without imagining dozens of different dystopian scenarios. I think the Earth is going to be a pretty grim place to live in the near future.

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