Monthly Archives: January 2014

Friday Fiction – A Rare Kindness

For the last few weeks, my Friday Fiction entries have been a bit of fun – a nod to our beautiful hostess, Rochelle, and an admission from the heart of a struggling procrastinator. But this week, I wanted to go back to real story-writing. Then I saw the prompt from Erin Leary and it made me think of a couple of things. Initially, it reminded me of the third FF photo I ever responded to, but then it made me feel much bleaker and darker, helped no doubt by the fact I’m currently reading Cornell Woolrich’s ‘Four Novella’s of Fear’ and getting back in touch with my dark side.

It was the dark side that won out, and I’d love to hear her well (or not) this story works for you.

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A Rare Kindness

The weather is so rarely kind. But when I passed the spot next morning, I was pleasantly surprised. The rain in the night had fallen on saturated ground, there and upstream, and the field beside the road was now just more river. No evidence of my labours remained.

Tomorrow, perhaps, or next week, or next month, when the waters recede, her grave might be visible. The water might even reopen it and free her body the way I freed her soul. But for now, my crime escapes detection. And tomorrow I will be far enough away to do the same.

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Out of Equilibrium

The other night, we watched Christian Bale in Equilibrium, a 2002 movie about a futuristic world where human emotion is banned in an attempt to keep the peace. ***Warning, this post contains substantial spoilers (for Equilibrium, also for Fahrenheit 451 and 1984)***

If this were a film review blog, I’d tell you that this film has some fantastic cinematography. There’s a great scene towards the beginning where Bale shoots a load of guys in the dark, lit only by the machine gun bursts.

But this is a writing blog, so let’s focus on more relevant aspects. The characters are 2 dimensional, the story is a blatant take -ff of Fahrenheit 451 / 1984 etc, and the casting is terrible (for the record, whenever Sean Bean dies early on, the casting is terrible. Sean can’t get enough screen time in my book). Ok, that last one belongs to a film review. The ending has the potential to be a saving grace; it made sense and was reasonably well thought-out. Except the bit about the kids. I’ll explain that later.

Here are my two big lessons from Equilibrium:

1) Get your promo material right. According to IMDB.com, the taglines for this film were:

In a future where freedom is outlawed outlaws will become heroes.      

This appears on the cover of the DVD box. It’s ridiculous, because the main character isn’t an outlaw. At least not until the final few moments. Until then, he’s the main guy for the secret police, and about as “inlaw” as you can get. Also, in most people’s heads “outlaw” equates to “hero” anyway, because it makes us think of Robin Hood. Or at least Clint Eastwood. Finally, freedom isn’t really what’s outlawed.

Two men.  One battle.  No compromise.      

Not sure where this appeared, but it reflects the box which shows Bale and Taye Diggs next to each other in a Matrix-style stance. Well lovely. Except that this isn’t a film about two men. It’s a film about one man (Bale) and the various challenges he meets including, but probably not principally, Diggs’ character.

The only thing more powerful than the system, is the man that will overthrow it.

This is where I’m going to get all grammar-police on you and say they meant “the man WHO will overthrow it”. Apart from that, though, way to give away the ending of the film in your tagline. Until about 30 minutes before the end, it’s not even his goal to overthrow the system. After that, it’s not clear (except that this is Hollywood and couldn’t possibly end as unsatisfactorily as Fahrenheit 451 or 1984) until pretty much the very end, that he’s going to succeed.

2) Audiences like to love / hate Characters

The premise of Equilibrium is that emotions have been drugged out of the populace. But the question behind it is, without emotion, are we truly human? Fascinating question, difficult premise for a novel. Because without emotion, it’s very hard to build characters, at least ones we could give two hoots about. Bale’s character is in theory off the drugs and therefore has emotions for much of the novel, but he has to hide them from everyone, so we don’t see them much. And even when we do, either he’s a shoddy actor or the script / director didn’t give him much, because apart from a crying scene and a dodgy bit with a puppy, I didn’t get much to care about throughout. At the very end, he watches the bombs going off in the city where he lives. The city where his kids live. Does he get in a flap about whether his kids are OK? Nope, he’s just pleased about the bombs. There’s also a whole bunch of dodgy love nonsense, with his wife (whom he only knew when he didn’t have emotions) and some woman he’s only met twice. Honestly, no.

Like I say, it’s an interesting premise and I’d like to say it made me think about what it is to be human, but mostly, the film just made me wonder how as writers, we can portray emotion-less characters without losing our readers’ emotions too – and normal characters without retreating to ‘don’t kill the puppy’ clichés. Oh, and wondering why directors so often insist on killing Sean Bean off early…

 

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InMon – Hatching

A long story for this week’s InMon entry, but I included two of the prompts (unattended children / midwife), so perhaps you’ll forgive me. One of my aims for this year is to vary the length of my writing more, so this sneaks in around 1000 words. If that’s too long for you, I understand. I’ll try to go shorter next time to mix it up!

Hatching

“How long have they been there?” The nurse held piece of yellow paper in front of her mouth, but Joey could still hear what she said.
“Three hours,” the other nurse replied. This one wore a paler blue. Joey wondered if that made her the boss of the other one, or the opposite way around. “They’re very well-behaved though, barely a peep out of them.”
He was being well-behaved, Joey decided. He and Kirsty had been deposited in the waiting room by their father after he picked them up from school early. He hadn’t seen Mummy since this morning, but she was here too. In that room across the corridor. Kirsty said it was because the baby was eating its way out of her tummy, like when a baby chick pecks open the egg and hatches. She said Joey had done the same thing when he was born and Mum was OK after that, so she would be OK again.
But Joey didn’t like to think about the baby eating Mummy’s tummy. It made him feel sick. And that was why he was being good, really, because if he stood up or moved, he thought he might be sick all over the clean carpet.
“How’s she doing?” The pale blue nurse looked straight at him, but she was too far away to be talking to him.
He couldn’t see the dark blue nurse’s face because of the paper, but it didn’t sound like she was smiling when she spoke. “Epidural’s in, but I don’t think baby wants to come out.”
Epidural sounded bad. And it was in. Joey tried to picture the baby pecking Mummy’s tummy. What would be in? Surely out would be better than in.
“Shall I see if they’ve got any biscuits?” Kirsty’s voice roused him from his thoughts. She’d been sitting next to him, swinging her legs and reading out loud all the posters on the wall. “Breast is best,” she said as she stood up, then she giggled. “We’re not allowed to say Breast at school, because it’s rude. I’m going to write that in my news book on Monday. I’m going to write ‘We went to the hospital and had a baby brother and breast is best!”
“Yes please,” said Joey, ignoring all the stuff about breasts and news books and baby brothers.
“What?”
“Yes please, I’d like a biscuit.”
“Oh.” Kirsty turned away and ran over to the nurse’s station. He heard her asking about biscuits and then the pale nurse took her hand and led her away. He wondered if he should follow, but the dark nurse was coming towards him now, so he sat up straight and tried to look well-behaved.
“Hello, Joseph. My name is Britney. I’m your Mummy’s midwife.”
“Mummy hasn’t got a wife,” Joey said. “Mostly only Daddys have wives, except Ian Pilbury’s Mummys. They are wifes and he hasn’t got a Daddy except in Hawaii.”
“Right,” said the dark nurse. “Well, I’m a special kind of nurse and I’m going to help your Mummy have your baby brother or sister.”
“What happens to the baby’s beak?”
The dark nurse looked a bit confused, but before she could answer, an alarm went off on her belt and then the whole room seemed to be shouting “Code Pink!” and the dark nurse, who wasn’t Mummy’s wife, stood up really quickly.
“I’m going to have to go, Joseph. Can you sit there nicely until your sister gets back?”
Joey nodded, but the dark nurse ran towards the same room they had Mummy in, and he suddenly needed more than anything to know that Mummy was OK. He followed the nurse and slipped through the door behind a man in a white coat.
The room was small and bright and there were loads of people all gathered around a really tall, thin bed. Everyone seemed to be busy, but nobody was saying very much. He couldn’t see Mummy, but Daddy was standing by the top of the bed, and the pale blue nurse was there already. Worst though, he could hear Mummy. She was puffing and panting like she’d just run in a race, only really loud and occasionally she shouted out, like she was angry.
Joey stood close to the door and wished he hadn’t come. But now he was there, he couldn’t leave. “Mummy?”
No one heard him. They were all busy with Mummy and the baby chick that didn’t want to come out.
“Mummy?” he called louder, but Mummy’s breathing was getting louder and now one of the doctors was barking orders at the baby chick, like “push” and “breathe” and “easy now”.
Joey suddenly felt a hand grab his hood and pull him backwards. He stumbled for balance and looked at his attacker. Kirsty was there in front of him, blocking the doorway.
“We shouldn’t be here,” she said. She looked kind of whiter than normal, and her eyes were red. “Come and have your biscuit.” She took his hand and led him back to the chairs.
There was a plate of biscuits and two plastic cups full of juice waiting on the little table, next to the toys that belonged to the hospital.
“What’s happening?” he asked, when they were sitting down again.
“Mummy’s having the baby. We just have to wait here a bit longer.” Kirsty pulled a police car out of the toy box. “Why don’t we play with this?”
“Is she going to be OK?”
Kirsty looked over at the door to Mummy’s room. They couldn’t hear her now, or see the nurses and doctors crowded around her. “Yes, it won’t be much longer now. Come on, Joe, you be the police car and I’ll be the burglar trying to steal something.”
Joey did his best to play, but Kirsty kept looking at Mummy’s door and he kept thinking about the doctor shouting. They had nearly used up all the toys in the box when Kirsty stopped playing at all and smiled. Joey turned round and saw Daddy coming towards them with a blanket in his arms.
“Kirsty, Joey, meet your baby brother, Issac,” he said smiling. “Then we can go in and see Mummy.”
He crouched down so that Joey could see the baby’s face. It was red and scrunchy and really really small, but it still looked like a person.
“Where’s the beak?” Joey asked.

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Friday Fiction – Writer’s Retreat

It’s Friday Fiction time again! This week’s photo comes from Dawn Q Landau, via Rochelle’s HQ for this unruly group of mariners. My response follows below the picture and I welcome your feedback.

Just a week in, and 2014 is already testing our strength and resolve. Still, D:ream would tell us Things Can Only Get Better, and Rudyard Kipling would declare it a test of our manhood (I mean that in a strictly gender-irrelevant sense). In light of that, this is a story about filling the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run. Enjoy…

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Writer’s Retreat
“Look!” Susie pointed at the screen. “You know I’ve always wanted a place to write, away from distraction.”
“A ruin?” Len asked.
“OK, the picture in my head was prettier, but lighthouses are expensive. I can’t earn without writing, and I can’t write without somewhere to do it.”
“That isn’t somewhere to write! That’s a renovations black hole!”
Susie nodded. “It needs some work first. But then I’ll be free to write!”
Len sighed and tapped the screen. It flicked back to the flash game Susie had been playing when he walked in. “There are cheaper ways to procrastinate, honey.”

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The Good, The Bad, and The Slow To Start

Actions speak louder than words and a picture saves a thousand of them. These two phrases capture exactly the efficiency of the movie over the book. When we read (or write), we use many minutes and many words describing the scene: the appearance of the characters, the places they find themselves in and their reactions to those places. On film, those things appear instantaneously – in a single second, the Director (or more accurately, the Director of Photography) can transport us to a dank prison, an open plain or a distant galaxy.
All of which is a blessing for a reader like me, who gets easily bored by long passages of description and has great difficulty visualising things anyway.
Most movies rely heavily on dialogue. Next time you watch a film, or even a TV show, time the longest gap between speech and it’s likely to be less than a minute. Even in something like an epic car chase, where music and action take over, there are probably moments of dialogue to ensure that we stay connected to the characters. By contrast, flick through most books and you’ll find double- page spreads where not a single word is spoken.
All this came to me in sharp relief when I recently watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The opening scenes introduce the three characters described by the title. The Director of Photography does a great job of placing us in the American West (not bad for a spaghetti western) and the combination of music and action leave us in no doubt as to what’s going on. But it’s a full 10 minutes before anyone speaks. Ten minutes! That’s a lifetime in movies. The only thing I can think of that comes close is two and a half minutes before Maria starts to sing in The Sound of Music (indeed, almost a minute before you can be certain you’ve not accidentally muted the TV), and nine minutes before the first words of dialogue.
As novel writers, we can learn from the movies, but we also need to be aware of the differences between the genres, and to accept that even if our masterwork might one day become a screen-play, it will be a different beast.
How long is too long? Well, both these films have done pretty well for themselves, so perhaps a long opening is fine, but if there’s a lesson here, it’s a reminder to the writer not to hang about too long before getting stuck into the action. Even if Julie Andrews is prancing about the mountains or Clint Eastwood is looking rugged and grizzled, there’s only so much world-building we can take.

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Not really Friday Fiction

Happy New Year!

Rochelle was kind enough to mention me in her home post this week and I can’t wait to read her story. Mine is a bit of a break from the norm, for which I’ve got 100 bad excuses which I won’t burden you with. I hope it pleases or amuses, and is received in the manner intended. If you want to see some proper FF entries, click on the link back on the homepage.

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Photoshop

“Clearly the work of photoshop,” smiled Elmo.

“Rochelle says not,” Doug reminded her. “She says her daughter-in-law will swear to it. That’s her granddaughter right there.”

“Well, that’s proof then,” Elmo nodded, more to herself than the others.

“What do you mean?” asked Janet.

“Well, Rochelle is no way old enough to have any grandchildren. Her attitude, spirit, the photograph on her blog…”

“She and her husband just celebrated their anniversary. Forty-two years,” Janet reminded them.

“Then I rest my case. For the person who made Rochelle’s beautiful youthful blog photo, a dog up a tree would be a doddle!”

 

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