The Writer Sleeps

Image by Luis Beltrán

Image by Luis Beltrán

 

The writer sleeps…

Her dreams are home

To stories of such wonder

That could she grasp their truths,

Her pen would never leave the page again.

 

Grey matter feeds

Encrypted hope,

Its secrets — yet to plunder.

The unexpected soothes:

A journeyman’s respite in the inane.

 

So strange this land;

Dispelled by dawn

Its debris — buried under

The roast of coffee beans,

Like every morning’s rite of the insane.

 

Yet all the same,

The writer sleeps…

 

*

DailyPost: Mouths Wide Shut

A writer’s holiday from blogging

blood-quill

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” 

— Ernest Hemingway

There is a price to be paid for high productivity. The storm passes, the energy – seemingly boundless to begin with – recedes. Ideas continue to haunt, crashing through the plates of one’s skull and demanding to be allowed space on the paper. But fingers have turned sluggish. They wave away all hurried calls for more. Not now. Now is not the time. They are still caught in the half-dream of the morning, in the worlds that had gifted them stories without asking for anything in return. They long for the feel of freshly mowed grass, for the warmth of a steaming bun. They long for a break from the abstract and a return to the pleasures of life, as humble in their everydayness as they might be.

Today we shall have the world at our fingertips and live life so that we might glean something worth writing about.

My Love Affair…

Terence Zahner Photography - Underwater Photography

There are those who preach caution: infatuation is one thing, love – quite another. The first seduces the senses and blinds one to all but the object of their desire. For a time it is impossible to think of anything else, and yet such flighty passions will subside, and their object relinquished in search for another. Whereas love… as the bard would have it:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

So I will throw caution to the wind and confess to being in love. I was caught before I had any idea that the affair had begun, and now there is no escape. If it were mere infatuation, its candle would’ve burnt out long before now. Yet here I am still, a writer adrift. The more I write, the more I love it. Seduced by the sinuous texture of words, by their music and subtlety, I journey into the realms of the imaginary. This boundless sea is my home.

 

Day Two: Say Your Name

Exile in Silence

Black and White Photography by Eddie O'Bryan

The room felt stiff and forbidding. It denied me the luxury of distance and I was glad to have been left alone, if only for a few minutes. I searched for something to distract me and my gaze inadvertently fell upon his coat. It lay on the edge of the sofa, an abandoned shell with a fallen arm extended as if in supplication towards the ground. Lonesome and drab without its owner wrapped in its folds. He wore his clothes like his moods, with deceptive carelessness. 

The edge of a book inched out of the depths of the coat pocket. So this must be his escape. Stooping over aged pages, oblivious to the rest of the world, he would detach himself from all concerns and flee to another world. One of his own choosing. I tried to guess whether it would be a biography or a work of history. Perhaps a novel, although knowing him, that seemed unlikely. Before I had the chance to satisfy my curiosity, I heard the door open behind me. He was back.

I had grown accustomed to his silence over the past few months. At first I found it unsettling. I tried to reach out, make him speak. It mattered little what he would say. No accusation, no reproach could equal this continued absence of sound. I was reduced to searching for pathetic substitutions for our former tête-à-têtes. The  only times I heard his voice these days was when I tiptoed to the door of his office to eavesdrop on his conversation with others. 

He was punishing me. I knew that he would never make me leave, but he did his best to make it difficult not to. At first I stayed because I hoped he would relent, certain that he couldn’t go on ignoring me indefinitely. I was wrong. He had made an art of it and I was nearing the breaking point.

On reentering the room he had settled into the armchair by the window, his body turned away from me so that I could see very little of his profile. Light sifted through the blinds in jagged lines: the portrait of a shadow-striped reader.

“What is it that you are reading?” I asked, cutting through the silence.

He looked up, his expression… he had the look of a dreamer that had been suddenly awakened from their sleep, but upon whom reality had not quite settled. He paused. He blinked. A hand moved towards his hair and ruffled it slightly as if enquiring, attempting to guess what the question had been. I moved towards the sofa and extracted the book from the pocket of the coat.

“Ah. It is Huxley,” I answered for him.

A novel after all. Aldous Huxley. It was a good name. One could not help but be persuaded by whatever an Aldous might tell them. I turned the book in my hands. It was an old edition and looked as if it had been read many a time. The pages had acquired a rusty hue and the spine was not altogether firm. It had a mild scent of tobacco.  

“A favourite of yours?” I asked, turning one page and then another, aware that I was being observed as I did so.

He shrugged noncommittally.

Words swam soundlessly between us. He would not speak. Brave New World. I knew of it, but had never taken the trouble to read it. I wished I had. In my desperate attempt to cross over the chasm, this may have been a bridge. I believed that familiarity with something he cared about would have anchored me back into his life. Just like me… to depend on something so useless and fail even at that.

“What is it about?” I persisted, my eyes fixed on the page before me without being able to take in its contents.

“Inadequacy.”

His answer startled me. Its existence as much as its content. I expected to see a challenge in his eyes when I finally dared look at him, but I could not read his expression. I knew what he would read in mine: defeat.

For an instant only a compact formed between us around that one word. It hurt to hear it. It summed up my present state of existence. Somehow, it encompassed all that I had felt, been, for the past few months. He had made me feel that way without even trying. Did he know it? I looked away.

Moments later he was at my side. Not to embrace me. No. I had lost that privilege. I thought he wanted to reclaim his volume and offered to give it back, but that wasn’t it either. He shook his head to indicate that he didn’t want it and reached out for his coat instead.

At times I wondered whether he planned his actions or whether there was a cruel coincidence to the things he did. He fished out of the coat pocket the lighter I had gifted him the day after “the incident”. It was that clichéd gesture that gave me away in the end. Had I been a man, I might have bought him flowers. He knew me well enough to guess what it meant, and once suspicion found a foothold, it did not give way until he had it confirmed.

He lit a cigarette. It suited him. That vice. I watched him draw in the smoke and exhale it. He watched me watch him. Would that be it… a word once in a while and silence forevermore? Inadequacy. Succinct and to the point.

“It’s a dystopia. Or it was intended to be one. The way we’re going it may as well be a blueprint,” he said.

I waited for him to continue. 

“The main character is an outcast who cannot or will not conform to the happy world of endless consumption and promiscuity.”

A turn of the head, a swift glance and he had caught me out. I wanted to laugh, but did not have the strength. He may be mocking me. It was too painfully close, too coincidental for it to be true.

“And what is his solution?” I asked.

“Exile.”

I couldn’t tell whether he was speaking of me or of himself.

 

Daily Prompt: Land of Confusion

Lost in the maddening crowd

Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889. Detail: Crowd with masks.

Lying on the pavement. Helpless. A leg stuck under the weight of an overturned cart. Desperate. “Eddie! Eddie!” the shout reverberated through the crowd.

***

We had crossed the river in search for a terrace and must have veered off the established route into a side street at some point. We were so engrossed in conversation that the change of direction and scenery were lost to us at first, until we reached a busier part of the road, surrounded by an eclectic group of people. Their appearance and clothing were so strangely out of place that one could easily have believed themselves to have inadvertently stepped into the middle of a carnival or… through some deficiency of the time fabric, into 16th century Britain.

At first we could not distinguish between the disparate elements of that mobile picture to know what it was. A mound of bodies, half covered in dirty cotton, lines of rosy flesh interrupted by triangles of torsos, the  number of which appeared to be greater than it was possible to belong to the number of women and men entangled in wretched proximity.

The day was quickly turning into dusk. Streetlights flared up here and there struggling to disperse the gloom. We were making slow progress up the road, as the crowd inexplicably thickened. We could not walk a pace without having to turn and twist through the anonymous living bodies littering the street, wandering in lowered whispers what all of these people could be doing out in fancy dress.

Cries erupted somewhere in our vicinity. We tried to isolate distinct parts of the picture, differences of size and shape, length of limbs and skin colour before we could only view it all as an endless mass of grey. Turning towards the direction of the noise just in time to avoid the advance of a cart and horse, we were suddenly struck by the slithering movement of bodies and limbs all around us, their faces turned inward, as if ashamed to be noticed. 

Eddie had promised to lead us to the bank of the river so we followed him in silence, taunt faces in an line that threatened to be pulled apart at any moment. The increasing number of people, or perhaps one should rather say men, wearing clothes cut plainly from a brownish sackcloth ought to have worried us, but we were too busy trying to keep our leader in sight to think of much else. However slowly we were advancing towards our destination, we were advancing nonetheless. The crowds were only a background blur.

A woman of nondescript age approached us and asked whether she can make herself of any use. She was so tall that we thought she must be walking on stilts, although her maid’s outfit made her look rather matronly: a washed out blue dress set against a chalk tinted apron, the edge of which she kept twisting slightly with her thumb as she spoke. She asked whether we were lost. We were quick to decline her services. There was something otherworldly about her looks. It did not bode well.

Daily Prompt: If You Leave

unHooked

hook-em-inIt is a truth universally acknowledged, that an aspiring writer in possession of a manuscript must be in want of a hook. 

There is a very good reason why some of the most memorable lines in literature are to be found at the gateways of novels. A well crafted first line will grab the reader’s attention and pull them into the narrative. It will act as a propellant, set the tone of the story and showcase a writer’s creativity as well as their endurance.

Why endurance? It is a popular misconception that hooks are one-liners. The intensity of that first line has to be sustained throughout the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter and leave traces through the entire novel.

The hook is not a marketing gimmick, although it has been known to be treated as such. It is a promise of things to come. Crafting an incredible opening sentence will put us in good stead, but to keep the reader on-side, the story that follows in its wake has to live up to the expectations we’ve created. That’s the trouble with a good hook, once we got a taste of it, we are left craving more – insatiable readers that we are.

Another major oversight when it comes to using literary hooks are the closing lines of paragraphs and chapters: perfect places to dissuade the reader from putting down the book.

There are many ways to get a reader hooked. Here are my favourite trio:

Action:

If we begin a novel in media res: where something is already happening, the reader is plunged into the thick of it and are bound to stay with us. After all, they need not take the trouble of going through paragraphs of dull description before the spiced up, conflict riddled action begins. Of course, it must be a momentous form of action. If we can keep them wondering at the underlying motivation of our characters and desirous to find it out, all the better.

Dialogue:

This is another form of action. Its inherent drama is an advantage in using it as a hook, and a few well-chosen lines of dialogue can showcase conflict better than any other literary technique. However, there are certain drawbacks to this, especially when it comes to making the transition from a conflictual encounter to explaining the context in which the clash took place. It must be handled with care so that the tension of the moment is maintained throughout.

Foreshadowing:

Another example of beginning in media res. We start in the middle of a scene at a moment of intense conflict or tension – whether inner or outer – giving the reader a taster of what is yet to come. Once the scene is set, we return to where it all went wrong and guide the reader through the action back towards that moment. It is important to get the balance right between what is initially revealed and what is withheld with a promise that the next page – or perhaps the one after that – will hold the answer.

And a little extra for the adventurous:

Description is incredibly difficult to use as a hook and is one for the writer who likes a challenge. There are certain prerequisites to keep in mind if determined to take this path:

  • It must be dramatic,
  • It ought to establish the mood of the scene,
  • It should reflect the protagonist’s inner world at a moment of extreme tension.

Whatever hook we choose, it has to make the reader feel something and prompt them to read on. Most importantly, we must remember that hooks only work if they are in keeping with the tone of the rest. A brilliant start will fall flat if what comes after doesn’t live up to it, and a drama-filled final line will read like soap opera theatrics if preceded by bland prose.

Perhaps a quick overview of what will unHook the reader may help? Here are some common mistakes:

  1. The Iceberg: This is the stand-alone offender. A hook that will catch the reader’s attention, but has no relation whatsoever to the actual story. Remember that marketing ploy that got you to read a story and then made you feel cheated when the content didn’t live up to the original promise? This red herring is it, and the rule also applies to hooks at the end of chapters.
  2. The Screamer: Sometimes referred to as the over-exited hook, this hyperbolic supernova of intensity is in danger of making the rest of the story sound pedestrian. Unless of course, we take pains to bridge the gap and maintain the intensity in the pages that follow. The easier solution is to tone down the hook and bring it in line with the main body of the text.
  3. Inaction or Action UnHooked: Just because something is going on, that doesn’t mean it is important enough to make it as a hook. If the protagonist is hurrying out of the door because they are late for work we are unlikely to read on, unless of course the Earth is about to be hit by a meteorite and they are the only one with a solution. 
  4. Dialogue UnHooked: The main danger with using dialogue as a hook is the tendency to fall into the melodramatic. Moreover, when it simply floats on the page unattributed, dialogue is unlikely to work as a hook. It is a hard ask at the best of times. When it comes to opening sequences, infusing every line with tension and mixing in characterisation and scene-setting, without making it apparent to the reader, is key.
  5. The Void: This is, as the title suggests, the absence of a hook whether at the beginning or end of a chapter. The only solution to this problem is to practice writing them. Most of our favourite novels will have something to teach in this respect. For the cautious, the best advice is to err on the side of excess, and then pull back until the hook comes in line with the story.

Use that first line to pull the reader in. Make a promise, hint at more to come, and keep that promise. Let tension mount and if you do it well, the hook is in and the reader will find it impossible to slip away.

Let me let you go…

Train station glamorous woman leaving with suitcase retro goodbye mysterious lady

She stepped onto the platform, facing away from him, resenting the inevitable end. She did not want to watch him leave, to have that image of him to the last, stretching the physical distance between them until the cord could no longer resist the tension and snapped free.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

The electric glow of lamps, spaced in equal succession upon the high bolted arch, funnelled smaller and smaller into the distance where the tunnels began, theirs curves unseen. A dulled hum filled the space, the synchronic sound of motors. At first it seemed to be a continuous sound, but as she listened in, she began to distinguish the differing overlapping revs. It was a successive buzzing that came in waves one after another, building into one, a noise devoid of music, an annotation to that city’s life. Upon it came the staccato of the hammers. Iron heating iron. Like a heartbeat.

She envied that hollow space that would never be reached by pain or longing. Regret cut through the fullness of her lungs. She exhaled. Everywhere this invisible dust filled her nostrils with the black of its soot. Noise. The air was grey with it. Her thoughts devoid of colour as she walked those last few steps to board the train.

A whistle in the near distance called. Laughter, loud conversation without, drowning out the emptiness within. He was gone. She was sure of it and yet could not help glimpsing back for one last time, even as she berated herself for this show of weakness.

For a few moments her eyes were restless, searching him out. He was gone. Of course, he was gone. Then, just as she was about to give up, she saw him: a wild cloud of coppery locks advancing through the crowd.

The doors closed and the train motioned forward, its bowels shrieking with the effort of movement. Wheels crunched the lines below, another moaning sound and off it went carrying her with it. Away, always moving, motioning one way and then another.  

This was to be her last memory of him: pounding the doors so that they may open, his eyes affixed into hers.

*

Daily Prompt: Happy Endings