Saturday, April 9, 2011

Once Upon A Time

To become a professional writer, I need to make sure my writing is good, if not great. Well, we all know that practice makes perfect.
   The latest exercise I assigned to myself was again from the book Now Write! The exercise is entitled "Once Upon A Time" and was suggested to the editor by Elizabeth Graver. The exercise uses the classic fairy tale, "Little Red Riding Hood," as a springboard for exploring how experimenting with time in fiction can help you explore your characters in more depth. There a four short exercises within this exercise, each of which should only take about 10 minutes. Elizabeth Graver starts each exercise, and then we need to take over the story from where the ellipses end.

1. First person, Subjective Time:

   "What great teeth you have, Grandmother!"
   "The better to eat you with, my dear," shouted the wolf, and with one bound, he sprang out of bed and would have gobbled me right up, had not I been to quick. I ran screaming out of the cottage, and as I ran, all my fears ran close behind me. I saw ... the mill, its stone foundations like a fortress. If I could just make it inside, I knew I would be safe.
   My lungs burned, and I didn't realise until later that I had screamed the whole way to the mill.
   At first, the hot breath of the wolf was blowing on the back of my neck. His paws were thudding on the ground right behind me, it seemed. I can't remember the precise moment when the wolf wasn't chasing me anymore, but by the time I reached the shade cast by the mill, the wolf was gone.
   It was in the shadow of the mill, with my hand reaching out to touch the blue stones, that I finally stopped running and turned around.
   A small crowd had gathered around what looked like the wolf on the ground. But part of its snout and its ears were separated and lying a few feet away. The people were all looking from the wolf to a man who was leaning on an axe handle. Despite everyone congratulating him, the man was watching me.

2. Future Time:

   Little Red Riding Hood was very much frightened but not hurt. Karl took her home to her mother, and after that day she was not allowed to go through the woods alone. What she could not know then, but would learn may years later, after she had a daughter of her own, was that ... wolves were not the only predators to fear. 
   Riding Hood had moved to the city with her husband, and lived in a cottage that was identical to all the other cottages in the street. None of the neighbours spoke to each other, and Riding Hood's daughter was kept in doors to keep her safe. If she went outside, there were many bad things that could happen; being hit by a car, falling out of a tree, bitten by a snake, or even kidnapped by a stranger.
   Riding Hood often wondered if moving back to the village near the woods would give her daughter more freedom, a more relaxed way of life. But there were more opportunities in the city - the best schools, the best piano teachers, the best hockey coach - so they stayed.

3. Animal Time:

Little Red Riding Hood lingered on in the wood, gathering posies for her old grandmother, who could not get out and see the spring flowers grow. At last, tired with her play, she set off to reach her grandmother's cottage. While the girl played, the wolf shambled off through the forest. His legs felt ... energised and springy. His stomach growled with anticipation.
   Once Little Red Riding Hood was out of sight, he took off at a run, stretching his legs and letting the wind whip his lolling tongue against hist cheek.
   As he approached the mill from the woods, he saw immediately the little cottage where the old lady lived. Despite the carefully tended flowers surrounding the little house, the wolf could pick up the musty scent of the elderly on the breeze.
   He paused just inside the tree line, cautious of open spaces and large groups of humans.
   But his hunger exceeded any fear that he felt, so he padded out of the dappled light into the sun. Quickly crossing the open gravel space to reach the white picket fence surrounding the little house, the wolf then raised himself precariously onto his hind legs to knock on the painted green door.

4. The Grandmother's Time, or Time Collapsing:

   "Pull the bobbin and the latch will lift up," called out the grandmother. And the wolf pulled the bobbin, lifted the latch, and entered the cottage. Now the grandmother had lived for ninety years and had seen a great many things. What happened to her next threw her back upon her past, flung her far into the future, and froze her solidly in place, all at precisely the same time. She ... felt like she was in a dream, when your movements are painfully slow, and the danger was racing towards you.
   She thought of the day she had met her husband, and the blue of his smiling eyes. She thought of the eight children that they had raised together, the laughter and joy, and the struggle it had been to feed them all. She felt the happiness that had enveloped her each time one of her children married, and left the cottage to make their own way in the world. She remembered the birth of each of her grandchildren, and also the death of her husband.
   The thought of death jolted her - not her own, but of Little Red Riding Hood's death whom she now knew was on her way to this very house.
   All she could think of to do was try to cause as much damage to the wolf as she should, to give Little Red Riding Hood a chance to escape. She grabbed her knitting needles, and held one in each hand, facing the wolf with resolve.

This was a fun exercise, and could have taken my many directions. For the next five weeks, I will be doing the second creative writing course with the Sydney Writers' Centre, so I will have their assignments to complete. I will post those, instead of doing my own exercises.


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