Week two study diary – Advanced Creative Writing
This week I have written four short pieces or fragments from different prompts, including one poem. The first prompt was to adapt a private letter or diary entry into a piece that showed conflict (the poem “I Bite My Tongue”), the second was to write a piece using only the words of a person I disagree with (I wrote a reply to the poem), the third was to write a conversation between two characters with similar backgrounds but with a point of conflict “Country Pursuits”, and the fourth was to use a character’s voice to write the same scene twice with a very different atmosphere.
Besides these practical exercises I studied contrast and conflict, pace and tension.
On conflict – Aristotle used the term “consistent inconsistencies” to describe contradictions with a person or character. Conflict can arise from within characters as well as between them.
I made further notes for my first end of month assignment and looked at how conflict and contrast could be used to strengthen the scene and add tension.
These pieces are shared for fun. I make no claim as to quality and they are barely edited.
I Bite My Tongue
I bite my tongue
Pride swallowed with my blood
Awaiting permission to speak.
Red-faced, you cry
“I am not a racist”
Although I never said you were.
You’re the boss
I need this job, my wage
Outside my costume of silence
You turn away
Jaw moving while you chew on the problem
And decide you are not at fault.
‘Look here, Milla. What do you mean by this? I really can’t understand how you were offended by what I said... I checked online and the word isn’t racist... It was never intended as an insult. I was joking with you. I can’t believe you took it seriously. It’s come to the point where a person can’t say anything without it being analysed and misinterpreted... Take it further if you want. You won’t get anywhere. I guess I’ll have to make sure I don’t have a laugh with you in the future. We’ll keep it business-like. Hopefully then I won’t accidentally cause offence... No, I don’t want to hear it. We’ve talked about this enough. We’ve both got work to do... Well it doesn’t matter either way because I’ve checked and you’re wrong. It isn’t racist. You chose to be offended by what I said, having taken two days to turn it over in your head, but it isn’t important, and I don’t have anything to apologise about. I am not a racist. It wasn’t inappropriate. It was a joke. I was being friendly... I don’t know why you felt the need to complain. I’ve got enough to worry about... Yes, well, let’s agree to disagree... No, I don’t think we need to discuss it later. Let’s forget it, okay? I know you struggle to understand other people. You told me you don’t always understand what people mean, so I’m explaining it to you. Yes, I’m sure you thought you were right, that you were helping. But you are wrong and I apologised if I accidentally offended you, didn’t I? See. I listened to you and thought about it, but you’re wrong. The word uppity is not racist.’
A friendly bark and the movement of a man-shaped bulk of earth tones, hurrying up the hill towards him, distracted Giles from his wistful contemplation of the forest. The crimson glow of his friend’s cheeks warned him that this was not a social visit. He crossed his arms and waited.
‘Look here, G,’ Hugo spluttered when he was still a few wide strides away. ‘What’s this I hear about wolves in your forest?’
‘Good afternoon, Hugo, old boy. You sound quite out of breath. Shall we sit down?’
‘Nonsense, G. Walking does my constitution the world of good. The day I stop rambling across my land is the day I’ll stop drinking malt or eating venison. In short I shall not cease or desist until I am planted in the ground. Betty here needs her exercise too. Don’t you girl?’ The white-haired, wax jacket and tweed wearing, middle-aged neighbour bent down to ruffle the working dog’s ears.
Giles smiled, remembering the ageing man as his closest childhood friend. A man tied to the land. Who had not travelled as Giles had done, but taken over the duties of landowner with enthusiasm after university.
‘First you stop my sheep entering the wood and now you plan to introduce wolves? What are you thinking, man?’
‘Don’t you ever look out across the cropped fields and dying woodland and wonder what it could be like?’ Giles asked.
‘Of course not. You cannot improve on perfection. Look at that blanket of colours under the sapphire sky. Listen to the whisper of clean water full of salmon. We have all we need and more. Nature in balance with man. Sustenance and sport. You will upset that balance with your trendy ideas. Rewilding? This is what the countryside is supposed to look like. Wide expanses, crops, livestock and game. Your father understood, but you’ve never loved this land, always eager to visit new places, believing the pasture would be more verdant elsewhere. What you plan to do will destroy the land I love, the land I work. We’re friends, Giles, or at least we were. Be reasonable. Your father would turn in his grave to hear such ideas.’
‘You are living in the past, old boy. The future is eco-tourism. Wolves, beavers, maybe even elephants. Imagine! Giants returning to this isle. Isn’t it glorious? These chewed up fields, the dying woods where no saplings can gain purchase before your beloved deer or sheep strip them bare, and what for? So you can hunt and fish, gather wool, eat lamb and venison. None of this is natural, Hugo. Sheep do not belong here, but wolves do and people will come to see nature restored, rewilded. They will kayak along your rivers, marvel at my fauna rich forests, and they will pay handsomely for the privilege. Think of the jobs I’ll create, the economy I’ll enrich and the history we’ll rediscover.’
Curled up in the ancient embrace of a leather armchair, my long-haired old friend, Pickles, purring on my lap, I listened to the fire crackle and pop as it consumed a dry twig. Wuthering Heights dangled open from one hand as I traced the noble curve of Pickle’s skull with the other. Air squeezed through the gap between two trembling halves of a sash window, keeping the air fresh while buffeting smoke into dancing sprites whenever it sought freedom from the confines of the vast fireplace. Branches from a horse chestnut tree I’d climbed as a child tapped on the window of an empty upstairs room adding, to the sleepy rhythm, a swishing percussion like a drum brush. The cat stretched and yawned, claws dragging the already tattered armrest. I tried to return to my book but my eyelids resisted - too heavy. My lashes tickled my cheeks. The thud of the paperback bouncing on the carpet disturbed me for a moment, and Pickles not at all, before I sank into velvet dreams.
The leather chair groaned as I shifted my weight. Pickles, my ailing Persian tom, dozed on my thighs, ignoring the sharp cracks and snaps from the open fire. The wind whistled an eldritch tune as it chilled the air, sneaking through a window that I had never managed to seal. I stroked my cat, trying in vain to slow my heart. Only succeeding in disturbing him. He tore at the armrest with bared claws. Ghosts of smoke twisted in the air before me. A branch scratched at a window above, demanding entry. Only a tree. Just the fire. Calm down. I looked at the volume clutched in one hand – a ghost story. I released my grip and it thudded to the floor. My eyes shuttered. My body pinned to the chair by my storm cloud pet. I knew only nightmares waited beyond the barrier of sleep. Yet I was powerless to free myself from its grasp.