Week eighteen study diary – Advanced Creative Writing
I missed a few weeks of blog updates because of a hectic schedule of a book release, my daughter’s birthday and submitting assignments for the course. During this time, I’ve studied – Analogy, Time and Timings, Poetry and Theme and Sequence.
I’ll include a few notes on each of these subjects and share some of the activities I completed over the weeks. From this moment the course becomes entirely self-study and I will be producing three assignments. Once the course is finished (in May), I’ll take some time to reflect and then write updates to my “How To Write a Novel (10 parts free guide)” and add it to my blog.
Analogy includes similes and metaphors. The most effective analogies in fiction are surprising (not over-used cliches) and infrequent (used sparingly rather than crowded together). They can be evocative or amusing. Raymond Chandler loved his analogies, including the brilliantly weird and funny - “I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”
The use of analogy can connect separate strands of a narrative if used thoughtfully. It is always preferable to have analogies that coalesce rather than collide. A writer can add tension to a story by using an image that seems to cut against the flow of the story.
Activity 14.7 was to write 100 word descriptions of three characters. A 16 year old, a 50 year old, and a 90 year old, using metaphors and similes.
Daisy-faced, skin smooth as cream. Eyes, bright as sunlight on water, follow laughing boys, her magnetic north. Clothes fit as perfectly as the skin she displays. Peacock colours decorate her eyes and lips. Her mouth is never still; it trembles like leaves in a zephyr. Her oyster shell smile opens around pearl teeth to receive a kiss, before clamping into a sulky pout when her invitation is ignored. Hair in drill-bit ringlets to pierce young hearts, and expressive hands that cut through air like dove wings. Wasp waist between hints of curves to come. Delightful potential, chained to the frisson of desire.
Towering in stilts by Prada, she marches, stretching the pinstripe skirt of her armour with each measured step. Her hair is tamed and bound into a ballerina bun, coloured like autumn leaves fresh from a bottle. She carves a route between bodies like a river. Self contained and tranquil on the surface, but busy beneath, silently reciting appointment times, deadlines, and the minutia of her clients’ interests like a mantra. The Rolex welded to her left wrist is her God, and the brief moments she can steal from him are guilty pleasures.
Tap, scrape, tap, scrape. That ubiquitous cane serves both as an elongated limb, and antenna to feel her way, testing the stability of the ground before tortured hooves that distort the leather of her battered shoes, risk the next shuffle forward. A hooded turtle with a question mark body. What we can glimpse of her downturned face reminds us of a discarded plastic bag, sexless, and pale. Her eyes, if we could see them, are dull opals sprinkled with frost. Earthquake tremors threaten to break her twig-like calves, yet she refuses to submit to Father Time and be erased. She walks among us, threat or hope, depending on our perspective.
Time and Timings
A story includes all the events that happen, while a plot is an arrangement of the events into a narrative, foregrounding some, relegating others to the background and frequently messing with chronological order. Years or centuries can be condensed into a few sentences, or a moment can kill a page. Dialogue is the closest writers often get to real time, but if a section of dialogue includes simultaneous thoughts or action, real time will be slowed down and expanded so it takes longer to read about the events than it takes for the fictional (or reported) conversation to happen.
Stories need not be linear. Modern audiences are used to time shifts, but these should have an eternal logic to them. Putting past and present events side by side can highlight connections between two different events.
A story can begin in medias res (in the middle of the action or plot) and then flashbacks can be used to explain how the characters reached this point. Time shifts can be naturalised – such as memories provoked by a smell, object or person; or a journal entry or letter. They can also be post-modernist – abrupt and frequent time-trips.
For activity 16.9 we were asked to write a piece where two friends reminisce together, while also showing present actions and location(s).
Lucy placed a pint in front of me and some sort of clear spirit, I would find out what when it was my round, on a second Strongbow promoting mat. She leaned back on the padded pew and breathed out some of her constant pain.
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked, knowing that she was suffering.
She smiled, thinly. ‘Nostalgic.’
My eyes scanned the room. This was a bar we’d frequented in our late teens, but the patrons had changed beyond recognition in that time. The Bristol crimps and mohawks of the past had been replaced by business suits and painstakingly gelled hair.
‘Remember Rob?’ I asked.
Her eyes softened around wide pupils. ‘Always.’
‘Remember that hand-painted leather jacket with the Christian Death logo he used to wear? It was that artwork that made me pick up an album and listen. The band should have paid him commission.’
She giggled. ‘Do you remember when we all piled down to Weston-Super-Mud?’
‘Oh my God! Yes! When was that? Thirty years ago? It must have been. We had no tent and we ended up huddled together on concrete steps, smoking and drinking.’
‘We were next to the golf course.’
‘Yeah! And we thought the sound of the sprinklers was a giant snake who was coming to eat us. Wow, we were stoned.’
‘How about that time we saw the Cramps?’ she asked.
‘You sat on his shoulders, but he had to put you down when it got a bit hairy.’
‘The most violent gig I have ever been too. And you, Mia, were up at the front. How did you not get knocked out?’
‘They were pussy cats really, but I came away with a patchwork of bruises on my arms. That reminds me of The Whip. I miss that club? How was it that the trendies and Goths managed to be in the same place without massive fights? You couldn’t run a club that way now. Too much tribalism.’
‘Yeah and they sold snakebite and black. Lethal. But there was never any trouble.’
‘I met my first husband there.’
‘I know you did. I didn’t stand a chance.’
‘Well you got Rob.’
‘Did we always compete for men?’ she asked.
‘Yeah. I think we did, but we accepted our defeats gracefully.’
She laughed. ‘I cried when they shut down The Whip.’
‘Me too. Golds wasn’t half as fun.’
‘We met those guys there though. They were cute.’
‘I can’t remember their names.’
‘Paul and Matt.’
‘We went to the park to meet them, but they never showed. Was Matt the one I flirted with? What happened to him?’
‘I heard he died in a gutter. Heroin.’
I shook my head. ‘Too many lost to that poison. Glad we stuck to speed and joints.’
‘And good old alcohol,’ she said, lifting her glass.
‘Now we’re both settled, and you got married.’
‘It took long enough for him to ask.’
‘Was much nagging required?’
She sniggered and nodded. ‘And you’re twice divorced. Will you marry again?’
‘I should hope I’ve learned my lesson by now. Want another?’
I knew she would, so I grabbed her empty glass. ‘What do you want?’
‘Vodka and tonic.’
I wrinkled my nose. ‘I can’t even sniff that stuff anymore. Not after all the Harvey Wallbangers. God I used to pack it away.’
‘I’m the same with gin.’
‘Funny isn’t it, how smells can take you right back to that moment when your head was halfway down a toilet?’
I took our empties to the bar and waited for a break in the crowd.
‘That took ages? You should have shouldered your way through.’
‘I was never as good at that as you, even before I piled the weight on.’
‘It’s not about size. It’s about attitude.’
‘That’s probably why you led and I followed.’
‘Is that how you remember it?’
I swallowed hard. I’d worked for a year before I went to college, having realised that I wasn’t cut out for 9-5 in an office any more than I was cut out for another two years at school. I met Lucy there. I hadn’t really settled on who I was or how I wanted others to see me. I knew I didn’t fit in at school or work, and I didn’t expect to in college either. I wore clunky shoes and mismatched clothes. No style.
Lucy took me under her wing. She was who I wanted to be: confident, weird, and strong. I copied her at first, before I found my groove. I’d always loved her, but it was admiration more than anything. A role model. They say never touch your idols and I’d seen her at her worst more times than I’d like to recall. But she’d been a friend when I had none, and that’s something you don’t forget.
‘I’m amazed you put up with me,’ I admitted.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I was your awkward little shadow. I must have cramped your style.’
‘I remember it differently. Sure you were always quirky, but you were up for any sort of adventure. Life wouldn’t have been half as fun without you as my partner in crime.’
We learned about formal schemes and the use of repetition, rhythm, rhyme and analogy. Some of the forms I attempted to write were Villanelle, Pantoum, Sestina, and Sonnet (both Petrarchan and Shakespearean).
Writing poetry is about being economical with language. Length exposition is to be avoided, as are abstractions. Modern poetry uses concrete images to convey its message. Full rhymes have been replaced with slant or half rhymes to make the sound of them more modern and less sing-song. They are thought to be a snapshot of a moment – image or incident, rather than a narrative form.
You are allowed to laugh at my attempts, but cross your fingers for me because I’ve challenged myself to write, rewrite and edit a crown of seven sonnets for my next marked assignment, and I need all the luck I can get.
Crimson stains on a mattress. Deep
within me, you rest, satisfied.
Awake no more. In dreamless sleep
I heal my wounds in secret. Keep
still my love, while I try to hide
crimson stains on a mattress, deep.
When you return to her, I’ll weep.
My loss two-fold, although I tried
to wait. No more, in dreamless sleep.
Your shame and mine. A price too cheap
to value. Is that why you lied?
Crimson stains on a mattress deep.
Time marches onward. Nightmares creep.
Two lines revealed as cells divide.
Awake. No more in dreamless sleep.
Screams silenced. Down. Dirt walls too steep
to escape. Though you know I tried.
Crimson stains on a mattress, deep.
Awake no more. In dreamless sleep.
Even When He Sleeps
My cat hunts even when he sleeps.
Limbs twitch and jerk with muffled cries.
A sprinter, vaulter. High he leaps,
chasing mice under shuttered eyes.
Limbs twitch and jerk with muffled cries.
Nightmare sympathies pierce my heart.
Chasing mice under shuttered eyes,
far from sharp claws, the phantoms dart.
Nightmare sympathies pierce my heart.
My own dreams, restless, rarely good.
Far from sharp claws the phantoms dart,
while I am wrapped in Death’s dark hood.
My own dreams, restless, rarely good -
sprinter, vaulter, high we leap.
While I am wrapped in Death’s dark hood,
my cat hunts even when he sleeps.
Themes and Sequence
Themes normally develop during the course of writing, and can frequently be condensed down to one word – jealousy, grief. In the process of rewriting, themes can be foregrounded by the use of reverberation, echoes and repetition. However a reader should never be told explicitly what the theme is. Plots usually carry the main story, while sub-plots often reflect the theme.
I didn’t complete any activities this section as I’ve been obsessing over getting the sonnets right.
So that is that. No more study diary posts, at least until the course is finished and I’ve had time to reflect on what I’ve learned. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts and that you’ve encountered something that might help you develop your own craft. Now get out and buy my latest book release – The Venus Virus, pretty please.