Friday Fictioneers – Gizmo

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PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

Oh, you may say it’ll never catch on. But I fear its terrible appeal. The young folk like it. They spend hours sending messages back and forth to each other.

In my day, we spoke to each other, danced, played. If there were stories to be told, we recited them. Now we are become shallow, relying on this infernal invention while our memory withers.

No, I say writing will corrupt us all. Nothing will be the same again

 

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

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Friday Fictioneers – Selkie

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PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Jamie’s eyes were fixed on the sea loch. Never on me. The brine- and shellfish-scented wind ruffled his hair into a halo and stirred the water. Out by the headland, a vortex formed.

“Look,” he shouted, pointing, “it’s Nessie, the monster.”

A grey head broke the surface. I knew it for a selkie, because I’d seen the shed sealskin once on the beach. A selkie, here to take a comely lass’s form and carry poor Jamie away under the sea.

Turn to me, just once, I silently willed him. Only once and I’ll save you.

He didn’t. I walked.

 

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

115. Frame Stories

Frame stories are useful literary devices. They provide “containers” that help organise other narrative material. Many stories, sometimes several layers deep, may nest within the frame.

Think, for example, of one of the best-known frame stories in the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  Shaherazad prevents the Sultan executing her by telling him a new story each night. Her attempt to keep herself alive provides the frame for the tales she tells.

Scheherazade

Some of these tales, in turn, are also frame stories for collections of others: such as the Sinbad sequence.

Uses of the frame story

The essence of all frame stories is that they offer the possibility of telling other stories. But there are many reasons a writer might want to do this.

A narrator may want a container into which they can drop smaller narratives from their preferred stock.

Or there may only be one other story inside the frame. In this case, the frame allows the writer to suggest things about the second story. For example, to signal that the narrator is unreliable, or to propose other reactions to the reader.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas contains six stories each nested within the previous one.

 

Framing for accessibility

Another use of the frame story is to make a more complicated structure accessible to the reader.

I used this device in my novel The Tears of Boabdil. It uses a simple frame story about an undercover policeman investigating a terrorist cell and falling for his target. The reader could choose to engage only at this level. But embedded within this are other magical tales which come to interpenetrate the real world of the frame story. Reality becomes the story we tell about things: a fitting epitaph for a professional liar.

 

Frame and reprise

A reprise is a repeating element. Often, the repeat is at the beginning and end of the story. This gives a sense of returning to the start, which readers tend to find satisfying.

Such a reprise functions like a frame, without being a complete story in itself.

 

This article is reprinted from my author newsletter. If you’d like to receive more pieces like this as well as tips on writing tools and news of work in progress, click on the Subscribe button on this page

Friday Fictioneers – Alex

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PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

Alex speaks a language no-one else alive understands. Well, we call him Alex, but we don’t know what he calls himself. He’s always refused to signal this.

It’s not that he has any hesitation about speaking. He will happily speak all day. Just that nobody knows what he’s saying. We detect pleasure, frustration, thoughtfulness and a range of other states. But the argument he’s advancing so passionately eludes us.

Today, though, Alex is silent. Is he angry? Sad? Or has he simply finished reciting the entire history of his race?

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

Friday Fictioneers – Temple

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PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

Mrs. Gant always scared me. She’d race out of the temple at us kids, waving her mop like a scimitar. The fear meant I never did get to find out who they worshipped in there. I imagined stern priests, stone slabs, and human sacrifice.

It seems fanciful now, slinking past the bland block structure. Four decades since I walked the neighbourhood. Mrs. Gant long gone.

And yet. The iron railings carry wrought shapes. And those swirling shapes pull in shadows from the temple garden, plucking with lean fingers at the shades from the street. I turn and run like hell.

 

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

114. From tiny tickles to character reveals: tropisms

What makes the inner world of a fictional character really sing? The author can, of course, have the character think ideas, speak, and carry out actions. But, besides and more interesting than this, is the way they respond to the world and understand things. After all, the universe inside every head seems magically different from the one inside my own.

Tropisms

I’ve just come across an author who tried to render that inner world, using an idea borrowed from biology. Plants grow towards the light. Biologists call this stimulus and response phototropism.

 

tropism
Encyclopaedia of Human Thermodynamics

The French writer Nathalie Sarraute used the metaphor of tropism to highlight the origins of actions, speech, and feelings in the momentary experiences on the fringe of consciousness.

In the first vignette in her 1939 book Tropisms, she writes

They seemed to spring up from nowhere, blossoming out in the slightly moist tepidity of the air, they flowed gently along as though they were seeping from the walls, from the boxed trees, the benches, the dirty sidewalks, the public squares.

This seems to be a plague of weeds or vermin. In fact, she is describing people staring into shop windows.  But these are not people as characters. Rather, stripped of identifiable shapes and personalities they become sensations. Sarraute eliminated plot or character from her work, in order to explore the “impulses, desires, processes that exist before speech, before comprehension, before consciousness”, as Allison Noelle Conner puts it.

nathalie Sarraute
Nathalie Sarraute

Sarraute would devote pages to exploring the mechanisms that intervened between the stimulus and the response.

The objective correlative

Though I don’t buy into Sarraute’s analysis that plot and character are conventional masks that prevent us exploring mentality, I do find something intriguing in her approach. T.S. Elliot had a similar insight in his idea of the “objective correlative”—a sequence of things or events which creates the sensation the writer is trying to summon in the reader. He described this: “when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”

 

Other techniques

This clearly has connections with the often tiresome writers’ dictum of “show, don’t tell”. But it takes this instruction further. It makes location, conversation, and events a means of conveying character.

It also might seem similar to Swain’s technique of the Motivation-Reaction Unit (MRU), which also works on a stimulus-response basis. However, these work on the basis of a chain from feeling to action to speech, whereas in tropism, all of these are preceded by a simple sensory experience. I wrote about my experiment with MRUs in a previous post.

 

A method for illuminating mentality

I’ve used the insight about pre-conscious stimuli to rework the opening chapter of my current book, The Star Compass. Robert, a bookish recluse, has come to the remote Pacific island of Yap. All his life he has avoided ever learning anything about the South Seas so he might believe there is one place on the planet where nature is bountiful and people are nice to each other. Now he is forced to have a confrontation with reality. The chapter begins:

He paused at the bottom rung of the stairway. Then stepped onto the tarmac and off the edge of the world.

Here all his maps ran out. Here be dragons.

The humid tropical night wrapped itself like a moist towel around his nose. The bulk of his body began to cook from the inside. Sweat pooled in his armpits, beaded his brow, and trickled down his spine. The perspiration felt clammy. He wanted to turn, run back into the plane, and get away from this island.

But he continued to shuffle forward towards the door of the tiny airport, keeping his place in the line of a hundred other passengers and urged on by those behind. The terminal complex was so small it lacked an immigration hall and they queued on the apron. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining, though puddles evaporating on the tarmac indicated an earlier downpour.

Things had happened here before he arrived. The island had its own hidden history. Anything might lurk here in the unknown South Pacific.

He reached the portal where souls were divided. One door for visitors, and the other for citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia. The sleepy official took his landing card, examined his passport. Robert Urquhart, UK citizen, fifty-one years old.

Yap airport
Yap International Airport

In making this revision, I hunted for small sensations in the draft and considered these as stimuli. I then checked that there was a response for every stimulus and a stimulus for every response. For example, the action of stepping onto the tarmac provokes the sensation that he’s stepped off the edge of the world. Or the stimulus of the humidity makes him want to turn and run. And the realisation from the rain puddle that the things have happened here before he arrived, triggers a fear that anything might happen here now. I aimed to render Robert’s profound unease through these small almost pre-conscious moments. Sometimes, it involved taking a small moment and expanding it.

 

I’d love to hear whether you’ve tried or come across anything similar.

 

Friday Fictioneers – Reflections

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PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

Reflections were no longer perfect.  The above ceased to mirror below. Below the meniscus the granite cliffs and great purple bruise of a damaged sky were gone.  Down under, a gentle surf lapped the peaceful strand, and fishermen cast their nets on a sea pulsing with cod and bream.

“Tis the devil’s work,” Molly declared, needles clacking as they wound the soft strong wool. “Paradise be above, and below, a vale of tears.”

Nothing could convince her. Heaven below must be hell.

“The sky will clear,” she said, “and we’ll go back up. When I’ve finished my Jeb’s new jumper.”

 

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

 

Friday Fictioneers – Sorry

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PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

I wanted to say I’m sorry. But she wouldn’t listen. She ran. She fell and didn’t move. I was frightened. So, I never got to say sorry, and I never got to be forgiven.

Do you see? You are my second chance. That’s why I had to hurt you. So I could say sorry, and so you could forgive me.

You do forgive me, don’t you? You must.

 

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

Friday Fictioneers – The Message

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Photo Prompt © Roger Bultot

It was the kind of place you expected to see a ghost walk. A tragic heroine, perhaps, throwing herself from a tower in the despair of a forbidden love. Shadows lay deep, and the fresh morning air, scented with mountain pine, carried a shiver.

It was the kind of place that primed you for belief. When the cowled figure, silver-shadowed in the dawn, floated towards me, it seemed to fit.

I don’t expect you to believe me or the message I received. But, unless you release me, I know terrible things are going to happen. The message must be delivered.

 

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

Friday Fictioneers – Stardeath

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Photo Prompt © Ronda Del Boccio

The light was failing. And it grew cold, so cold. Hoarfrost crackled on dying limbs.

“How can this be? How can the sun abandon us?” Frank was shocked by how reedy and tremulous his voice sounded.

His granddaughter put a hand over his. “It’s just the way of the universe. Everything has its season, comes into existence, lives and dies. As with people, so is with stars.”

“Great,” Frank muttered. “Philosophy.”

She was wise enough to remain silent, knowing she could say nothing. When a grandparent dies, she knew, a world dies with them.

 

 

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