Purple? It’s not Purple!

The common response to a subtle suggestion that the writer may have added a little too much purple to their prose seems to elicit that response. It’s shock, I suppose, that someone could see their words as other than deep and meaningful, as a play of beauty in the deep sea of banal.

There, you see, is the problem. We love to ‘hear’ our own voices, and to put a bit of ‘magic’ in there by using words that make the story disappear under the crashing waves of words that don’t move the story forward.

That’s what purple means when referring to prose. Want an example? I’ll even highlight all the bits that I consider unnecessary, and therefore, purplish.


Blood drizzled down her hand, along the blade of the knife, dripped onto the ground. It turned from crimson to black as it seeped into the dark earth. The long shadows of dawn were beginning to fade into full day. Rose looked around at the ground, felt with her feet, listened for the right sound. She found what she was looking for.

“Blood to blood, earth to earth,” Rose whispered, as she stabbed the knife into the sharp sand. She pulled it out to check, stabbed again and again until the blade shone clean in the light of the torch. She slipped the knife into the leather sheath and shoved it down the front of her jeans.

“That’s for Lily,” Rose said aloud. “For what you did to kids like her. May your soul rot in hell for eternity.”

The leaves of the huge ghost gums whispered; branches and twigs rattled and tattled as the high wind above slowly settled. The breeze slid down the deep ravine, through the dry creek bed full of rocks and sticks, to the paddock she stood in. The cool spring squall whisked away the smell of tannin, of copper, of death.

One more down. One more off the list. One step closer to the end. What was his number? Her count should be minus one for the first kill, because that wasn’t really hers. However, she had disposed of the remains; she had taken control of the list; she had killed all but the first; and now the count belonged to her.

Copyright Cage Dunn 2016 – used with permission.


Do you see it? The red is cliche, so if you start your story with cliche, you’ve already turned off most readers. Describing things that don’t do anything for the story are purple. For the first page of a story, there’s a lot of purple in this example. Not as much as some, but it’s definitely too much – it would be too much for a whole scene or chapter.

The green – that’s the good/better bit. Why? Because that’s the hook, that’s what will draw a reader into the story. So why isn’t it closer to the beginning? I suppose it is at least on the first page, but to get the reader to continue, give them that bit of intrigue as close to the start as possible. Within the first two paras should do it. Catch the eye, catch the heart – at the start.

The lesson – if you want to give us a story, give us the story without the things that don’t do anything. If you want to be Tolkien, get a professorship first.


And that’s the Sunday rant for the infusion of sanity to the story-telling role.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The End …

The stick-figure who was once a man, who used to toss not-so-little kids up in the air and then catch them as they screamed, who once refereed football games without getting up much of a sweat – he’s slipping away.

We all go there. We all know that. But this descent is awful. The person he was is still in there somewhere, but can’t be seen, can’t get out. It’s in the eyes. Once deep and dark, now filmy and grey.

We all die. It’s a given. Once born, there is only one path to follow, only one end. The end.

Is it better to hang on and give family and friends the time to say goodbye? Or is it better to go quickly, while the chance exists for people to remember a good-looking, alive, person? Is it worth the pain and discomfort, the heartbreak and looks of pity and horror, and sometimes disgust, as the body fades into crackly skin and bone?

Death is not a nice thing to watch. But we watch. We sit with him until the final moments, we want to hear if any last words might be said, we can’t bear to leave him alone on his final journey.

Nor should he be left on his own. What if he’s scared and can’t tell us that? What if he’s scared there’ll be none of what he’s believed in his whole life? What if …?

We can’t help, not him, not each other. Each one of us will go through the process in a different way. Some will want to talk about it, some won’t. Some will want closeness and hugs and being surrounded, some will melt into a corner to be alone with it. Some will be forced into a foray they must comply with, rather than the one they want or need.

Until it’s over, we wait, we watch, we stand guard. We don’t know why, nor do we care. It’s what we do for someone who gave us life, who gave us joy and determination and justice. We wait for the end, and see in it a relief of the constant, harrowing pain and distress. We see the silence as distance, feel the letting go as the muscles relax, sense the departure.

But we don’t let go. Not immediately.

The ritual of placing the remnants of a person who once had a soul must be followed. Everyone must share in the process of farewells. For without it, we see only the lonely road to the end.

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The Story Wall

It was a piece of board, then a whiteboard, then a door, then one side of a wall. Now, it’s the whole room, every wall, every thing that stands solid and still long enough to take the bits of story in the right place.

The Story-Board. It’s there, in pieces, in scatters of lines linked by different colours of wool and string and push-pins and map-pins (different colours, of course, to represent the difference in meaning).

Someone walked in the other day and their mouth fell open so far I had to help them lift it off the floor.

“Get out,” says I. “This is my room.”

“But I was hoping to stay for a while. This was my room.”

“You left. It doesn’t belong to you anymore.”


The story room is plastered with small chalk-boards and whiteboards and butcher’s paper and funny looking drawings and maps, and bits of words scribbled on sticky notes or other things (napkins, etc.) stuck up with blu-tak.

And it’s coming together nicely. The initial flow of story has moved on to a double-edged sword, deeper meanings, more power to the context and theme and motif. I hope.

Anyway, the room that is the story room once had another life, but the one who lived it went away and left the room empty, alone, bereft of intellectual and spiritual company. So the story moved in and took over and the room exploded into colour and song and movement, light shone in the window and glinted against the rows of pencils and pens and screens and markers. The story room came alive with the story.

It’s ready to set up the whole gamut of this new movement, this new journey. Just a few more days and the story-line from the story-room will become real words in real space for real characters who will march through the story that becomes.

Until the story-maker walks into the room and sees the bare walls, the cardboard box filled with junk and tangles and torn pieces of paper.

And the voice that comes up behind her to whisper.

“My room,” with a swagger that she sees in the shadow of the enemy.

What do you think happened?

Of course. One cannot be a sister if one hasn’t had to push for the right to be. The pushing and the shoving and the screaming and yelling and … all that stuff, caused a ruckus in the whole household.

And the result. The room is back to being the story room, the intruder is gone back out to the world she came from, and the final result that came from that:

Even though she had no qualms about destroying the work and reasserting her right to the territory – now lost, the work improved for the disturbance. What was once a really good story-start got mixed up with another piece of the story and became a great piece. Inspiring. Brilliant.

So, thanks, I guess – but don’t come back.


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Titles

Do you start with the Title to the story? Or something else, and the title is a temporary collection of words strung together to give you something to hold it in place? Following is a few ways different people start their story, and how they place the Headline (Title to the rest of us).

One way: (see Snyder: Save the Cat) search for the title that best reflects what you’re going to do with the story; set the genre, the audience, the style. Have a title before you go further.

Two way: use something like a short sentence if you don’t have a title. Something that does all of the above: sets the genre, calls to the expected audience, hints at the story. Later, the words can be refined (or redefined) to better suit the expectations.

Three way: Use a ‘stay’ word or number to indicate it’s not ready for a title yet. Yes, some people use numbers. Consider the movie ’47’ – but it only has relevance because of what’s gone before, doesn’t it? So be careful with these things, or the title may put off even the writer. Using a stop-gap like this can take away from the inspiration to continue with the work, so unless you’re very confident it works for you please try to put at least some words to indicate what’s going to happen in the story. Something like the ‘big’ event of the story, or the main character’s name, or something that jogs the juices to want to continue the story.

Four way: workshop the idea until the title pops up and won’t go away. This is a good one, but only if you have people who are willing to do their part as well. It needs to be ‘no strings attached’ and ‘no holds barred’ until a quorum is reached (and even then, author/writer has last say). That will most likely be the title that says: what it is, who it’s for, and what it’s about. An example of this one: Title = Pick, Lick, Roll, Flick (thanks, Cage). It says it’s a story for young people, specifically for young males, that the content is going to be a bit disgusting, and most likely contemporary. (It hasn’t been used yet, but is still on the burner!)

Five way: Look at all the titles in the area this story will belong. Find a title that says the closest to what it is, etc., and make a title similar, but not too similar, different, but not too different.


So, that’s five ways to find a title for a story. What do you do?

 

Tiny

“A teeny, tiny little house.”

“Just a Tiny House – that’s what they’re called. Tiny Houses. It’s a lifestyle choice.”

“What?”

“I can live here, be debt free, wander when I feel like it – and  my snail shell will be here when I come back – or I can be like you, do what everyone else does, and spend the rest of my life trying to ‘manage my money’ and not sink.” He frowned at the look of shock on Cassida’s face as she stuck her head inside. “Maybe you should look beyond your platinum credit card and see life for what it really is.” He shook his head as he walked down the track to check if the sign was still standing.

Was it a mistake to ask his group to come here? Did he think they’d approve of his choices? Was that why?

No. He didn’t need to get approval.

Matt was here because it freed him. He owned the tiny house, he owned the land, his bio-diesel vehicle was enough to get him around when necessary. He was free.

The house was tiny. Adobe-mud walls, rounded over so from a distance it looked like a giant snail – or a desert-style hobbit house – with a semi-circular door, two main windows – and the eye-spikes at the end of the snail-walkway were helical wind turbines. The water tank was hidden below the walkway. He had water, power, peace. He had a small income from his military pension.

It was enough. Almost.

The inner sanctum had an open space on the main level. What wasn’t immediately visible was the bathroom, hidden behind the door that looked like a half-pantry. The kitchen was a sink, plank shelving that followed the curve, and his two-burner electric stove top. The  crazy-pattern step-stair that followed the line of the helical shell went up to his private zone, the sleeping space. There was a barbecue outside, on the north side, near the vege garden.

It was enough. Except for one thing.

The small mound was the first thing he saw each morning on his daily walk. From the front door the rising sun sparkled on the granite. The rocks were laid in patterns of colour to reflect the spiral of the snail home shell home they’d built together. No marker.

The sign was still up, tall and clearly visible, despite the best efforts of the wind. Matt raised his hand over his eyes to check. Not many came this way, and the low roll of the hummocks of stony hills didn’t hide anything bigger than a rabbit. He’d see if a vehicle was within ‘cooee’ – nothing.

Maybe he’d have to tell Cassida it would be just the two of them. She wouldn’t like that, would she? If he didn’t tell her, and they sat down to start the work while they waited – to get ahead, he’d say – would she stay and not realise until too late?

No. She’d go. He walked back. She wasn’t outside waiting for him, so maybe she didn’t find it as claustrophobic as he’d thought she would.

He opened the door. Cassida sat at the slide-out table reading his work.

“This is so good,” she said. “And so sad.” She looked up at him with glints of tears in her eyes. “I didn’t realise Tiny wasn’t here. I didn’t realise he’d …”

“He died last month,” Matt said.

“Are you … do you … It’s just … there’s this person who went into a nursing home, and his dog … it’s going to be put down … do you …?”


Rose Brimson 2017 copyright

Going on a Journey

There’s the itinerary, the maps laid out over the table, the schedules for planes and trains and other forms of transport. Don’t forget the costs associated with getting over this border, through this country, visa’s for here and there and every little scratchy line on that map.

When you go travelling, you prepare. You get the maps to see where it is you want to go, you get your tickets and pay for them, the passport and visas for each place, lodgings and food considerations. You are an apprentice to the path.

You prepare. But the map is not the journey. If you saw the same places you wanted to travel to on television, would it be enough? Could you say you’d been there through that lens?

No. Because that is not the journey. Planning where and how and what and who and why is not the objective. The objective is to be there, to smell it, feel it, be in the middle of it.

That’s why a story needs that mud map. And it’s just as flexible as the plan you make for any journey. You could get to one point and find out that the border’s closed – what to do? Just stop and wait until it opens? I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t.

The plan is not the journey. Things can change – the mind and body must be flexible enough, must be capable of seeing the opportunities as they arise, must see them as potential, or better, or stronger, or different.

Story is the same. Why start the journey if there’s no idea what to foreshadow? If you don’t know who’s going to be there at the end? If there’s no known flaw to fix or message to see/learn? Why carve a path to nowhere to only end up leaping off the edge into the abyss of unknowing?

When you do the story mud-map, it’s not the journey. It’s not the first step on the journey. It’s not even a full plan, is it? Because as soon as the door is open, the train has left the station, the plane is in the air – where’s the level of control over ‘stuff’ that happens? When you have a mud-map and can see the general direction, and that’s how you start the first steps on the path, it can help when the path slides out from under your feet, when the power of a moment is easily recognised as ‘the way it should be’ rather than the ‘same old, same old’ response to the situation.

Having a mud-map helps the storyteller avoid the things that’ve already been done, the cliche, the boring and repetitious. The mud map may have some of those things in the beginning, but writing them out can sometimes make them much more visible, and therefore, give the writer the opportunity to ask “How can this be MORE?”

Do you have an itinerary for your story? A map? A clear direction with possible side-shoots?

Or are you stuck in the mind-set of ‘It will come’ because that’s the way ‘art’ is supposed to be? Or are you going to be the one who finishes a story and realises it’s not just good, it’s really good. It’s something to be proud of. It has movement and passion and connection.

I want to be that person, the one who knows I’ve written the story to the best of its potential. I want to complete my apprenticeship with a solid understanding of my craft.


 

Gram’s Wisdom

“It’s a pumpkin, kid.”
“What’s a punkin, Gram.”
“It’s a big fruit that grows on a vine all summer until it gets so big that the vine dies off.”
“Why does the punkin kill the vine, Gram?”
“Because it spent all that time to make seeds on the inside, and when next Spring comes, it can make more vines with the seeds, can’t it?”
“But don’t we eat it? Are we eating the punkin babies, Gram?”
“We eat the flesh, not the seeds. We keep them for next year.”
“What would happen if we didn’t eat it?”
“The pumpkin grows until the vine is knackered. If we didn’t pick it, the thing would sit there and the flesh would rot over the winter, until it got warmer. Then the mushy, mouldy flesh would melt into the Earth, and the seeds would sprout, and new vines would grow.”
“So, shouldn’t we leave it to grow like it wants?”
“If we left it on the ground and all the seeds tried to sprout at once, then most would die. Of the two or three that survived, there wouldn’t be enough nutrients to grow a good sized pumpkin without a lot of care and attention. If even one pumpkin doesn’t get to a good enough size, there are no seeds. If there are no seeds, there won’t be a chance to sprout the following year. The end of pumpkins.”
“So, we eat them because it’s good for us, and it’s good for the punkin, and we take care of the babies and make sure there are more for next year, and that’s our job?”
“Close enough, kid.”
“Is that why I’m here?”
“Yep. So the baby can pop out of that big belly and grow into a proper person – like you!”
“Do we grow from seeds, Gram?”
“I suppose we do, kid. I suppose we do.”
“Do you think I should plant my brother or sister when they come out?”
“Do you think it’s wise to plant something that’s not grown to full size and doesn’t have time to make seeds?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Don’t you want a brother or sister?”
“What would I do with one? It’s not like I don’t have enough toys. I don’t need more friends. And babies are so noisy. My friend Jack says his baby sister screams all night …”
“That’s like when the leaves wilt on the pumpkin, kid – it needs a water and a feed, that’s all. And she’ll grow up and -”
“I don’t want a new brother or sister, Gram. I don’t want to share. I want to be the only seed in the garden.”
“And that’s why brothers and sisters are necessary, kid.”
“You don’t make sense, Gram.”
“Nope. I don’t have to, because I’m almost at the stage of knackered, an20160722_130353d my vine is getting a bit wilted – and you are …?”
“A seed.”
“Of a seed.”


Rose Brimson copyright 2017