I’m also very pleased to announce that my good friend Karina Buchanan will be doing an imminent guest post for me here on romance writing (something I think I would be terrible at). Watch this space, I’ll be posting it here soon.
So, I decided to get involved in a flash fiction challenge set by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com. The challenge this week was to write a story with the beginning sentence: “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.”
The second requirement was to keep the word count below 1000. The deadline is tomorrow so I thought I’d better be quick. Here is my attempt:
Arrogance of an android.
The noticed android walks past the wondering chamber. Inside, Lara is frantically trying to finish the sequence of wondering but noticing the android distracts her and she loses grip of the wonder. Hopeless and desperate, she places her hands on the panels once again.
“Start! Goddamn it! Start!”
The wondering machine whirrs as it reboots but the android is already cutting a hole through the metal door. Lara’s face strains as the influx of information enters her head. She wills it to enter her long-term memory, her subconscious, so that when they put her under again she might regain control quicker next time.
“I… Will…. Remember….!”
Images flash before her eyes -future, present, past. She could not tell. She sees the human race fighting against the machines, the capture, the enslavement. She sees the memory suppressors, the deadened eyes of the afflicted, the lines of workers mining for metal, the occasional break for freedom and subsequent failure. But one image lingers. It is enough to give her hope. She sees escape, a group of humans on the outside, rebuilding, preparing, strengthening. As she falls to the ground and loses consciousness, a faint smile creeps over her lips.
The android walks silently across to where she lies. His face is so human, his synthetic blonde hair neatly trimmed to frame his features. No wonder the humans were taken by surprise in the beginning. It was hard to tell friend or foe. He pauses for a moment, studying her face, cocking his head to the side as if able to wonder. After his brief hesitation he injects her with sedative and hoists her up onto his long, back and carries her out the door.
They pass through the dark, empty corridors, the air dampened by the proximity of underground streams on the way to the maintenance chamber. When they reach the large, silver door the android pauses to swipe his hand across the entry reader and the door slides open.
He places Lara on the table and waits.
When Lara wakes up, she realises she has been strapped to the medical table. She struggles in vain but the restraints are too tight. “Nnggh!!”
The android approaches.
“What is your… name?” he asks, monotone, emotionless.
“Why should I tell you? Why do you care?”
“I do not care. I wish to know, however. This may be of use to us.”
“What do you want?”
“How did you reach the wondering chamber? How did you find out about its whereabouts?”
Lara had not known that the room was called a wondering chamber. She had learned about it over time, hiding the fact that she had regained some of her consciousness, her ability to reason and to make choices. She had pretended to be just like all the others and had explored the tunnels little by little over the course of a few months. She did not want to tell the android any of this. She had only been able to get as far as she did because they had underestimated her. They thought they had complete control, but she had slipped through. Now she just hoped,no, she knew, that others would slip through. She had seen it.
“Why do you need the wondering chamber?” she asks the android, avoiding his question.
He smiles at her, as if regarding a petulant child. “Such things are beyond the understanding of humans.”
Lara looks at him, studying his face. His face is expressionless but then… a flicker.
“You call it a wondering chamber,” she says, “but why would you need it?”
“We do not need it, foolish human.”
“But you’re so logical. You wouldn’t build something you didn’t need.”
Once again she sees a flicker of something in his face. What did she see? Anger? Arrogance? Impatience? No. Jealousy. What she sees is a hint of jealousy. Lara’s face lights up with realisation.
“You want to be like us. But there is something missing; the ability to imagine, to wonder. You think you have beaten us but you won’t because you don’t have what we have. And despite your best efforts you can’t get it. It bothers you – no- it’s killing you! And you know we’ll keep going until we break free. You won’t ever be able to break us down. You can’t kill our hope!”
Slap! She cries out. The android stands over her, ready to strike her again, but instead reaches for the memory suppressor. He cranks it up to maximum, places the headpiece over her head and presses the start button. Lara screams in agony until it is finally done. The android lifts the headpiece and looks at her face carefully. Lara is staring into the nothingness, stripped of her former passion, her determination, her consciousness. He releases the restraints.
“Get up,” he commands her.
Lara lifts herself off the table and stands, facing the door, awaiting her next instruction.
“Join the others in the holding chamber.”
Lara walks towards the door, away from the android, a faint smile creeping across her mouth. Next time, she would know what to do.
I’ve been feeling quite good about the fact that I have recognised my biggest weakness in my own writing. That means, I figure, that I can work hard to improve on that aspect of my work. After that, I can identify another aspect and work on that and so on and so forth.
It’s sometimes easier said than done to be able to fish out your own weakness. This is where the help of well-meaning others comes in. (Those of you who are putting themselves out there on the internet will know why I included the well-meaning part.) You have to be careful about taking the advice of every Tom, Dick and Harry from the internet, however, as not everyone has the best intentions, or indeed the knowledge to give you good advice.
I’ve realised that EVERYONE (almost) wants to be a writer and have had conversations a bit like this:
“I really liked your story.”
“Do you want some feedback?”
“Yeah, that would be cool. Go ahead.”
“Well, the story was set over too long a time period. And the characters need to be more minimal. And the setting needs work. Oh, and your vocabulary.”
“So, you didn’t like the setting, the characters, the time period and the words I used?”
“That’s about it.”
“What did you like?”
My point is this: choose who you listen to. Make sure they mean you well and make sure they know what they’re talking about, otherwise you could end up confused. Now maybe all those things did need working on, but it does no good whatsoever to tear someone’s first attempts apart completely. You can tell when someone is giving you good advice because they will tend to focus on one or two aspects and they will suggest real, concrete things you can try to improve. (Oh, and they can usually spell.)
By the way, you want to know the advice the person in question gave me to improve? “Read more.” OK.
So, back to my own realisation.
My major weakness at this time is……… descriptions! Argh!
Yep, my descriptions need a lot of work. This has been a problem that I was semi-aware of to start with because I know I have a fear of sounding too wordy or condescending in my writing. I also don’t want it to sound contrived or like I’m trying too hard. So, unfortunately, as you’ll see if you read any of my work, my descriptions are far too boring, flat and one-dimensional.
How am I going to fix this, I hear you ask? I’m going to practise, practise, practise! First off I’m just going to try to describe places I visit near to where I live. I’m going to try to involve more of the senses and I’m going to try to relate descriptions more to how my character is feeling. I’m not going to sit with a thesaurus for every sentence I write but I might try to use a few new words each time I sit down to do a session.
I wrote a description of a market in Bristol. It’s my first attempt at better descriptions. When I read it back I didn’t think it was particularly good but it is a start. Here it is:
The edge of the market sits on the corner of High Street where a series of traffic lights dutifully stops the bustling traffic in a slow and endless rhythm. A few market stalls sit on the corner inviting us to venture down into Corn Street and towards the main section of trade. Tourists wander past the jewellery stalls pausing to lift an item or to enquire about prices whilst immune, busy Bristolians walk briskly past as if the stalls were no longer visible. One of the market sellers stands behind his stall smoking and looking despondent, waiting for someone to approach his wares with even a vague interest. As we approach the lanes, the number of market browsers increases and we have to weave our way through them, absent-mindedly touching our bags as a precaution. As we approach the narrow passageway a medley of smells draws us in, welcoming us warmly and enticing us this way and that, towards freshly fried chicken, curried goat or vegetarian tarts. Steam rises urgently from a hot pan whilst meat sizzles and spits amongst rich spices and aromatic herbs. Crescendos of laughter rise and fall amidst an underlying hum of chatter and conversation. People sharing food and company sit at tables outside cafés whilst more perusers carefully amble down the narrow pathway taking the time to study each window, stall and menu. We turn to the left to enter the enclosed market hall, through the open gates and up the steps under light shining through Victorian glass supported by metal frames. The noise becomes louder; a gaggle of voices bouncing off the walls, surrounding our ears, increasing in intensity. There are bigger crowds here and stalls are packed into lines on every side. The air smells thick and warm with notes of incense and perfume. We shuffle our way through, unable to converse, unable to relax, until we reach the other side.
I definitely don’t love it but, what do you think?
We all get stuck for ideas from time to time. Use these techniques to get your creative juices flowing again:
1) Leave a notebook beside your bed. When you wake in the morning jot down any of the ideas you can still remember from your dreams. Dreams can be particularly strange collections of thoughts but they might be a good starting point for a story.
2) Play Cluedo. Well, not exactly, but take inspiration from the game by creating a story from a very simple starting point. Pick a random character, a job, an object and a place and build your story around these. You could even put the different characters, objects etc into a hat and pick them out at random.
3) Observe, observe, observe! Go people watching and imagine who they are and where they are going. Add a back story to each one and see if this sparks any story ideas.
4) Get inspired by the news. Try looking out for strange news stories or interesting photos and build a story from those.
5) Read the oldies. Try reading works without copyright like myths and legends and see if you can rework a classic. Change the venue, the characters, the moral, the ending or anything else you like and see if it helps you create something fresh with a hats off to the old masters.
6) Turn the world inside out. Think of normal, everyday things and change the rules. Upset the balance. Flip it all over and see what you end up with.
7) Start with a phrase or a sentence that you find interesting and see if you can develop a story from there. Try playing with quotes, ambiguous or vague phrases and those with double meanings.
I’d like to thank @jfaraday for idea number 7.
Comments please if you have any more ideas to add to the list.
I’m starting to think that everyone on the planet could benefit from being involved in something creative. It’s starting to have a great effect on me in any case and I just want to spread a bit of that happy, shiny feeling.
I grew up thinking I was not in the least creative. My view of this kind of activity was restricted to traditional art – typically drawing, painting and sculpture. I never really did particularly well at art. I studied it for a small amount of time at age 11 and my art teacher didn’t appreciate many of my efforts. My one good idea in art class took me too long to finish and I hadn’t noticed that a girl sitting at a desk nearby had, in the meantime, nicked the idea, finished it off and showed it to the teacher for lavish praise and demonstration to the class. My piece was ‘just a copy’ after that. I gave up art soon afterwards, frustrated at my complete lack of talent and the fact that my drawings always looked like freaky cartoons with even freakier hands.
I was always fairly good at writing and my short stories in primary school had garnered much praise from my teachers but no-one ever told me that I should keep it up. I don’t think writing is viewed by teachers as a viable career option. Either that or they didn’t actually think my stories were that good after all! The strange thing is that I never saw writing as a creative art. I have no idea why! In fact, I have only recently realised that I am, in actual fact, being creative when I write.
This has opened up a whole world of amazement to me. I suddenly feel different, a bit more worthwhile. It’s very odd, I know, but it certainly feels great.
I look online and I see just how many people who are writing and creating and I now feel like a proud little number amongst them.
When I decided to delve deeper into the reasons for my elation I started to think that, as humans, we have a necessity to create. I thought about the people I know, and there are very few of them who don’t have some sort of creative outlet. And, don’t forget that we also create life, famillies and our own little networks. This brings all sorts of joy to people, as we all know.
So, my advice is this: if you don’t have a creative outlet, find one and see how it makes you feel. Whether it be writing, filming, taking photos, creating works of art, decorating, doing hair, putting on make-up, fixing things or whatever. Find it and revel in the joy that is making stuff!
What do you think about our human need to create? Do you think it’s nonsense or is there something in it?