Friday Fictioneers – Boundarising

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PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

“You may go anywhere you please in the house,” my uncle said when they took me to live with him, “but never into my study.”

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat.

My guardian taught me boundaries. I learned to push him all the way to, but not beyond, his limits. Boundaries reassure us that, within them, we’re safe

A rise in global temperature of 1.5oC is tolerable. Beyond 2o, we reach a tipping point.

Later, when I met Greta, there was no tipping point, only a fall. Real maps lack boundaries.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on creativity

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The Swan and the Company – Scrivener’s Forge 12

This is my response to the exercise on creativity which asks you to build a story combining two unrelated things. I followed the exercise literally and linked a swan and a company.

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The swan looked morose, or at least self-involved, as it swept sedately down the river. Will knew how it felt.

Knowing how others felt was Will’s great gift. It wasn’t for nothing that Ben called him the Swan of Avon. He was celebrated at court and beloved by the groundlings. Or did Ben mean this was his swansong, the glorious music before he was taken to Apollo’s bosom? Yes that would be like Ben. Will frowned.

Portia’s speech came to him: “Let music sound while he doth make his choice; then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music.”

He hardly heard what Burbage babbled. “Will, you cannot, must not.”

Will struck a pose, chest out, gazing out over the reaches of the river. “It will be a wonderful play, a great play. My finest work.”

“Mayhaps, but it will be the death of us. Your Henrys were magnificent. The groundlings hissed with glee at your Richard. But you cannot write the story of the Queen’s Royal father. It is too bloody and too soon. Stick to history that nobody alive remembers and you can fashion the story as Her Majesty pleases.”

“Cannot? Cannot, you say?” Will thumped his chest. “I am William Shakespeare, the Bard, the Swan of Avon. Have I not proven my worth to good Queen Bess? Did not my piece for her revels delight her? May I not write as I please?”

Richard Burbage put a hand on his playwright’s arm and spoke gently. “Were it up to me, you could write whatever delighted you. But it is not up to me. Richard. Lord Robert has taken an interest in your latest work.”

Will waved an airy hand. “Pah, Robert Cecil, the Queen’s pygmy.”

“The Queen’s spymaster. Those in whom he takes an interest tend to end up lacking their heads. He has closed the Theatre and turned my company out into the streets.”

“My Henry VIII will rescue you and bring us glory, Burbage. If it be my swansong, then so be it – I am prepared to die for my art.”

Burbage sighed. Will was two people – the amiable jobbing wordsmith, always ready to rewrite a scene, and the vainglorious braggart. He took Will’s arm. “Let us to the tavern, Will. A pot of ale is what we need to aid us meditate upon this matter. Bring what you have written thus far and we will see.”

“An alehouse be not the place for my manuscript. There is too great a danger of spillage and ruin.”

Burbage smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes. “Fear not, Will. You can trust that I will ensure no harm comes to our endeavour.”

Friday Fictioneers – Succour

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Photo Prompt © Dale Rogerson

When the water turned solid he knew things were getting weird. Elongated raindrops hung from the branches like stretched taffy. He wondered if they might taste sweet. The air itself crystallised out and dropped in blue-white chunks from the sky, shattering musically on the ground.

So, it wasn’t really a surprise when a unicorn stepped into the clearing.

“Hello unicorn” he said.

“Hello man,” the beast replied.

“What’s happening?”

“You’re having an episode.”

“Oh, okay. I hope it doesn’t stop. It’s pretty.”

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on creativity

 

95. I won, I won, I won

It’s been a lean year for writing plaudits. In the 12 months to the end of November only 6.2% of the stories I submitted were published, compared with 14.7% for 2016. To be fair, this doesn’t include the analysis piece I wrote for Writers’ Forum, and also I’m now submitting to magazines with lower acceptance rates. But despite all the quibbles, it’s glum-making.

So, I was encouraged to get the e-mail telling me I’d won the Plot of Gold Challenge with the outline of my work in progress, The Tears of Boabdil, which I mentioned in an earlier post. This contest run by two literary software companies, ProWritingAId and Beemgee, was open during October and November. Using the Beemgee outlining package, contestants developed characters, plot outlines, and synopses.

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This was the first time I’d used Beemgee (short for Boy Meets Girl) and I was impressed, for two main reasons. Firstly, it connects character organically to plot, embodying the principle that, if you know what your characters want, you have a plot. Secondly, because it invites you to think about your expectations of audience response to your characters and how this might go wrong. I’ve been using the ProWritingAid editing package for several years now, and swear by it as an effortless way to check grammar, punctuation, and word-use.

“Ideas were unconventional and daring, narrative strong and complex, characters were sympathetic and compelling. Stunningly ambitious with great literary potential.”

The elevator pitch for my book was “When a policeman infiltrates a terrorist group, he embarks on a doomed taboo liaison with a beautiful quarry. He must choose to betray his love or his duty. This story, about politics and passion, tracks the magic and tragedy of a lie.” This isn’t a spoiler because I followed the principle of “if you have a secret, give it away right at the top”. We learn in Chapter 5 that he is an undercover police agent.

The judges said of my outline and that of CL Lynch with whom I shared the winning spot “Huge congratulations to both of these hugely talented authors. Their ideas were unconventional and daring. Their narratives were strong and complex. Their characters were sympathetic and compelling. One is superbly structured and instantly moving, the other stunningly ambitious with great literary potential.”

Winning boosted my flagging spirits. And I take home a lifetime licence for Beemgee and ProWritingAid. Congratulations to my co-winner, CL Lynch, and thanks to both companies.

 

The Scrivener’s Forge 12 – An exercise in creativity

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You can have all the technique in the world, but it won’t help without a great story idea. Luckily, there are techniques than can help you create new ideas. A big part of creativity is about making new links between old things. Metaphor, that staple of poetry, does exactly this (“shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”).

Exercise

Write a scene in which you take two unrelated things (a swan and a company takeover for example) and make one flow from the other. The craft is in making the connection seem natural and urgent.

Friday Fictioneers – Bio-hacker

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Photo Prompt © Russel Gayer

Jerry was always … different. Once when we were kids at the swimming baths he came up for air, pushed the black hair from his brow, and said “wouldn’t it be cool to grow gills?”

Now he’s proposing to do it.

“Jerry, you can’t,” I say. “It’s not right.”

The syringe is poised in his hand. “How so? It’s my body. I can tattoo it, pierce it, so why can’t I modify my DNA? I can cure my colour blindness and add vision into the ultra violet.”

“You won’t be you any more, not fully human.”

He just laughed.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on point of view.

Friday Fictioneers – Invention

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Photo Prompt © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

“What if …”

You have to love any sentence that starts that way, don’t you? It conjures up delightful fairy tales and the deepest philosophy.

“… the whole universe is a story?” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “So who’s telling it?”

“Nobody. There’s no narrator or listeners. Only the story.”

That’s why I adored her. She lived in a different world; more magical, more complicated.

“Once I open the box, I know whether the cat is dead or alive. But you don’t know until I tell you,” she said

“Ha! So the observer exists and creates the tale.”

“Damn!”

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on point of view.

93. Stories for change – restoration or transformation?

George Monbiot’s book, Out of the Wreckage, is the second this year to explore the idea that what the planet needs is a new story. Like Alex Evans in The Myth Gap, Monbiot suggests that people are mobilised to action by stories, not by facts and evidence.

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Image © WWF https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASwq1XITrOI

This is clearly an idea whose time has come, and one which resonates with a “post-truth” world. I won’t rehearse again my concerns with the anti-rationality of the idea, which I covered in a review of Evans’ book.  And, in fairness, Monbiot advocates a new story based on science. I do agree with both authors that we need new stories to confront the challenges of our times.

Stories, as I said in my review of The Myth Gap “are among the oldest human devices for encoding and sharing knowledge. They have the huge advantage over collections of facts that they tell us what goes with what, what is important and what is unimportant, who to praise and who to blame.”

Monbiot goes further than Evans in suggesting the structure of this new story.

“Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful and nefarious forces working against the interests of humanity. The hero – who might be one person or a group of people – revolts against this disorder, fights the nefarious forces, overcomes them despite great odds and restores order.”

He calls this the Restoration Story and says “stories that follow this pattern can be so powerful that they sweep all before them, even our fundamental values.”  He suggests that this is an archetype, which is common to both social democratic and neoliberal narratives, and he may indeed be right in saying this.

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Restoration – The Tête-à-Tête, from Marriage à-la-mode, William Hogarth

However, the interesting thing about the idea is how timid it is, with its narrative of “restoring order”. And it isn’t the only archetypal story we tell about the future. I know this because I did some research a few years ago, analysing 64 futures scenarios (“Futures and Culture”, Futures 44 (2012) 277–291). All these stories fitted into four broad classes – Progress, Catastrophe, Reversion and Transformation.

  • Progress is, as the name suggests, one where existing trends lead towards the expected goals. This story was dominant during the brash optimism of the nineteenth century.
  • Catastrophe is also simple – the outcomes prevent us realising our expected goals. In the darker years of the twentieth century, dystopian visions became more common.
  • Reversion, which is essentially Monbiot’s Restoration, is a little more complicated, and involves a return to previous conditions in order to maintain viability. These stories often have a sentimental view of a simpler earlier time.
  • Finally, the Transformation story involves, as the name suggests, a fundamental change in the “rules of the game“, leading to a new and unexpected end-state.

I would suggest that to get out of the wreckage we need Transformation stories not Reversion stories. Monbiot would probably agree, but perhaps he might want to rethink his narrative archetypes.

Friday Fictioneers – Breathing

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Photo Prompt © J Hardy Carroll

She lay beside him, sleeping. The respirator of her chest rattled as it rose and fell, the breath rasping alien through sunken tubes. In terror, he believed he heard a mechanical hum and then a click at the end of every in-breath.

Beyond the fevered bedroom, the church clock struck thirteen.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on point of view.