Writing Practice – Prompted Fiction

From time to time I will find a piece of fiction and use a line within as a starting prompt to write. Usually when this happens I don’t get a whole story, because I’m not intending to. Occasionally this will produce an interesting character, or perhaps a tone or voice that I enjoy, or a phrase that really intrigues me, or even the start of something that I will come back to later.

Today I picked up the book Myths of Origin; Four Short Novels by Catherine M.Valente, and opened to a random page. There were no page numbers, but the title was “Heaven and Earth Stood Still”. The first line is the first line of that page. Everything after is my own writing practice (don’t think, don’t get logical, keep your hand moving, lose control, go for the jugular):


When I was a child and Ayako only, the village had a great number of silkworms, and the women wove with radiance.

They created tapestries of artwork, beautiful to behold, intricate and delicate and precious, and displayed these draped across their own shoulders, or the arms and legs of their husbands or children. The silks were the finest in the land, or so the rumor went, for three generations.

The women prided themselves on their abilities. We children, myself, my playmates Tokira and Sakai, felt that there must be something magical in the air. We would wait at the edge of the village, playing “step-one-two”, our only game, in the dust at the edge of the path leading in and out and to the next location. We would watch as caravans of five, ten, twenty people would drag themselves along the route through the far-away forest and emerge, looking tired, and, somehow, lonely as they walked. Then, as they would look up from their feet and see that they were approaching the village finally, they would begin to transform.

Smiles would form on their faces. Their shoulders straightened, their steps lengthened. They chattered with each other. And they would gesture to one another, and point towards us, towards the huts behind us in the village, and as they approached we could hear their voices become stronger and more excited.

When they would pass us, on their way in to the village to purchase silks made by the women, to trade for other rice or paper or material goods made by the people of their village, they would smile at us and throw tiny candies to us, in appreciation of how blessed we were to live in the village of Kan, where the silks were the finest in the land. We appreciated this and would shout our congratulations back to them, wish them good trades, happy buying, invite them to  the soup brothel that stood at the opposite end of the village, where Sukai’s parents kept the tables clean and the patrons always left satisfied, invited them to stay at Tokina’s guest room, which was always filled with warmth and pleasantly, suggested that they also visit the wishing well in the center of town to toss a coin in for good luck, for happy futures, for much love and success wherever the road would deliver them next.

At times I wished I, too, had something to offer those weary souls. I wished my parents would be the cobblers in the village, perhaps run the animal stable, ensuring that the beasts were as well-cared-for as the people. Or that, perhaps, my mother was one of those celebrated weavers who knew how not only to make cloth but somehow infuse it with the magic that seemed to fill the village with its peace, and happiness, and warmth.

Alas, I could not, for my parents had died, two nights apart, years ago, from a coughing sickness that took hold on the thumb-day and took my mother’s life on the pointer-day, and my father’s life on the next-to-last day. They were buried together on the next thumb-day, once the rest of the villagers were certain that all of the sickness had left their bodies. I had cried, then, but at only four years old I knew not much about life, or death, only that I would wonder where I would find my soups and my bed from then on.

It was then that I started to climb down into the wishing well to scrounge for the coins left there by hopeful travelers. It was then that I began to sleep alone in the hut I had previously slept with my mother and father in. It was then that I began to wake in the middle of the night, shaking and sweating, unable to console myself, unable to sleep, unable to do anything but listen to the crickets outside as they chirped the night into the morning. It was then that I began to dream during the day. It was then that my nightmares became reality.

***

Commentary:

So, what was that? Well, it began with the name “Ayako”, and the image of silkworms. These automatically make me think of China, a rural village, a small, simple place. So I began to draw on what I know of weaving (very little), and of merchant travels (still little), and of children (about as much) and making up stuff (a little bit more). But by the time I had the idea for an orphan (yes, it’s been done much), I was enjoying the tone of the story. A bit nostalgic, a bit like an old woman telling a story to her grandchildren. She is not angry, or bitter. She is simply relating what happened, and with a lifetime of experience afterwards, can see that many of the things that she found difficult while young prepared her for much greater struggles later on.

One thing that stuck out – I was trying, in the moment, to have a time cycle that wasn’t our standard 7 days. Because various cultures develop in different ways. I’ve read of cultures that separate time by the fingers of a hand, so I latched on to that. If I were to write this into a story (which, by now, is kind of intriguing), I woudl develop this more fully. That would be part of world-building: what do each of the days of the cycle mean? What is special or taboo on each day? How would those days intersect with the plot and character? I like the idea of the thumb-day being the most important. So is that the first or last day of the week? Do we use both hands? Do we go right-to-left or left-to-right? One hand cycles (5 days) or two (10)?

All of these could be investigated, thought through, accepted and rejected, and integrated with the story that comes out. If I ever were to come back to this story, I think it would be a fantasy where Ayako must learn to battle the nightmares that come out in the day, and she must fight them with different people throughout her life – her friends at first, then her family (husband and children), and finally at the end of her life the whole village must believe the things that she sees but they do not and she must convince them to fight with her.

Oooh – many demon/monster stories revolve around everyone finally believing the heroine when the monster reveals itself and they see it with their own eyes. But what if – what if she is the ONLY one who can see them? That is, the villagers will see terrible things happening, like death of their animals and destruction of their silkworms, but they suspect her of witchcraft or magic or bending the will of the spirits  because she is claiming that invisible beasts are really the culprit. That would be interesting.

Prove That Dreams Are Not Real

Writing practice 9/29/2017

Postulate – Dreams are not real. Prove it.

Suppose that dreams were real. Then wouldn’t there be an inherent contradiction between dreams and reality? We would have never needed to come up with a new term to describe them if they were real. They would simply be “I lived last night,” instead of “I dreamed we were climbing a mountain wearing orange bicycle shorts, and jaguars carried our packs on their backs, their long, lean tails swish-swishing against the new-fallen snow. We trudged up miles of the mountain, and one time you stopped to take a picture. But what you were holding was a coffee cup, not a camera, so instead of taking a picture you ate the cup.

Then we continued on and the jaguars had become my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Steve, and they didn’t want to carry it any longer, so we had them put down the packs. And when we turned around the mountain was no longer a mountain, but it had transformed into a train station – huge, with soaring ceiling inlaid with stained-glass windows, and at least a dozen platforms and all kinds of people rushing about – people from Victorian England, and feudal Japan, and sub-Saharan Africa in the 5th century AD, and even Julius Caesar was there. He was addressing the crowd – gratefully, thankfully, luckily, I don’t know, he was speaking French. You translated.

You said that he was happy to be there on a momentous occasion. You said he said he was a teapot. Then you said he felt yellow, and that’s when I knew it was time to wake up, so I blinked my eyes twice and I was awake!”

You see? All of that is nonsense. There is no way that could have ever happened. There is no way that “reality”, that “irreality”, that dream theater could ever play out in real life.

So what is real life? Why is it not a dream? Maybe the world in which jaguars transform into relatives is real, and then when those people sleep they dream this world.

Why would they? Escapism – the same reason we dream of them. They must, somehow, find an order, a semblance, a pattern in their lives. Can you imagine, every moment is a contradiction? Every instant you know not whether the thing you are holding at the moment will remain that thing, that object, even that idea, or will transubstantiate into something different – something other – not anything better or worse – but just not what it was before. Can you imagine the toil that would take on a person – on a psyche – living through such experiences?

No wonder they would dream of regularity. No wonder they would invent magical, mystical worlds in which people got up every day at the same time, put on the same clothes, drove to the same building, said the same things, ate the same sandwiches, departed and went back to their same houses, slept in their same bed. Same. Safe. Sound – Regular. Predictable.

Comfortable, because of all those things. Not scary, or intimidating at all. Peaceful. Serene, a rest in a world of chaos. A break form the norm, and a way to reset their mind to be able to handle, to compensate for all the turbulence in their regular world.

So – why are dreams unreal? Because –  I can’t tell who it is that’s having them.

Story Art

Often, when we read a great story or magazine article or book, once we finish we immediately turn it sideways and put it on a shelf. We have a hard time seeing it again, remembering it again, allowing it to influence our lives in any meaningful way. But. . .  what if you could see that story again? What if you could display a story on the wall, that anyone who entered your house could read in 2 to 3 minutes, and allow that to spark a conversation? What if it looked great, fit well inside a frame, and added to the ambience of your room?

This is Story Art. I realized I could do this a few years ago when writing to fill a prompt. I completed a one-page story quite quickly, and as I looked, realized that it would be a shame to hide that on a shelf. I thought about how to make it more visible, and came up with a format I’ve been working on since.

Here’s an example of just the story:

Story Art–Stunt

And these are the finished product I sold to a grandmother who wanted a story starring her three granddaughters:

20151014_StoryArt

I like the way this works. I like that you can do very much with very little. Yes, there is quite a bit of limitation in terms of what stories you can tell and the character development and depth you can reach. There isn’t room for gratuitous world-building, or theme, or motif. But, there is writing, there is story, there is art. There is creativity. There is challenge. There is connection, there is beauty in simplicity, there can be adventure, and in all this can be a great way to add something different, something unique to your experience of the world.