Saturday, May 14, 2011

Creative Writing Course - Stage 2 - Module 5

This was the last week of my Creative Writing Course Stage 2, with the Sydney Writers' Centre. We focused on redrafting, redrafting, redrafting, editing, and finding an agent.

The best thing about this course was that it made us focus on the book we want to write, and helped us make substantial progress towards getting started. Some significant scenes were written, characters developed, and plots constructed.

Our assignment focused on the climax of our story. Here's my submission:

This is a very difficult task. Although I have a broad outline of the story in my head, I like it to unfold while I write. Having to write the climax when I haven't fully developed my characters and setting is difficult. I know that I want Harry to find Jim's killers and subtly confront them. But I don't know where or how that's going to happen yet. I don't think I'll end up using this scene, and I've rushed it because I know I won't use it. But the exercise was great, because it's made me think that far ahead.
by Jacqui
He sat in the hard pew at the back of the church, back stiff, and hands folded unnaturally in his lap. Mark sat beside him, leaning towards Harry and whispering gossip about each of the locals as they filed past to the front of the church. Harry was not listening closely. He was watching each man pass, trying to recognise any of the figures that he had seen from a distance, sitting on top of the Buckland spur and watching the drovers. He began to think his intuition was off. He was kidding himself if he thought that Jim's murderer would walk through the arch and identify himself. It was a long shot that the murderer had been sitting comfortably here in Myrtleford, as the police scoured Mansfield, Dargo and Gippsland.
But when Harry saw him, he knew instantly. An average looking man, wearing a suit that was rolled up at the sleeves, and the legs tucked into his boots. The man had forgotten to remove his hat as he entered. It was pulled low over his eyes. As Harry watched, the man reached up and lifted the hat from his head, revealing deep-set eyes and greasy dark hair.
"Jack Beveridge," Mark whispered, continuing his commentary which Harry had not listened to until now. Harry took note to the initials - JB. Jim Barclay. "His family is from Harrietville. A whole heap of Beveridges all over there. He's come into some money recently, because he's been buying up farms and land all over Buckland and Abbeyard. Strange, though. His brother is always trailing close by." As if to prove his point, a taller man ducked into the interior of the church. "There he is. Sid."
The service passed without Harry hearing a word. He murmered "Amen" when the congregation did. He tried to concentrate, but his eyes kept slipping over to where Jack and Sid Beveridge sat. When the priest finally shut his book with a snap, Harry slid from his pew and ducked straight out the back of the church, into the sun. He was letting the warmth soak into his upturned face when Mark found him.
"We're not leaving yet. Let me introduce you around to some of the best cattle men you'll ever meet." Harry nodded.
He shook hands and chatted about weather and calf prices with various landowners and managers for the next half hour. Finally, Mark eased him towards where Jack stood with his brother and a short woman who was cackling away to them.
"Jack," Mark got his attention. "This is my cousin, Harry Smith, from down Eaglevale way." Jack turned slowly towards Harry, his deep eyes slipping across Harry's face and taking in his extended hand. Sid shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and Harry noticed recognition flash across his face. He wondered if this man had sat upon a horse on a ridge and watched him, as Harry himself had done. These were definitely the men droving up the Buckland.
Jack extended his hand and grasped Harry's, his rough palm rubbing on Harry's own, and his thumb calloused from holding a rein. Jack firmed his grip, and Harry also squeezed harder. "Nice suit." Surprise passed across Jack's eyes briefly. Harry recognised the suit as Jim's. It was dark expensive wool, and cut for a man far taller and broader than Jack.

The men continued to hold their hand shake, looking into each other's eyes, each now knowing that the other man knew that he knew. Harry recognised the importance of this moment, and would not drop his eyes first. He would be forever in danger if he did. This man would come and hunt him down. Or send his brother.
Sid shifted again and stepped forward, breaking Jack's gaze and drawing his eyes towards his brother. The moment passed, and Harry released Jack's hand as the other man stepped back. He watched Jack for a moment longer, before turning to grasp Sid's hand for two brief pumps. It was clear that Sid did not see what had passed, and though Harry felt sure that Sid knew who he was, Sid did not suspect that Harry knew who they were. Knew their darkest deeds, and where they had come upon their money. Selling cattle with the brand "JB".
After briefly discussing the lack of rainfall, Harry let Mark steer him away. He felt the deep set eyes burn a hollow into his back, which made him walker taller and stronger. He knew.

Here's my tutor's comments:

To Jacqui
Jacqui, I like the second half of this scene although, like you, I’m not sure it’s the proper climax.

The first half, though, could be significantly improved by giving us some of the gossip Mark is whispering to Harry.

This has a couple of functions: first, it fleshes out the sense of community and closeness you have established earlier (and it may also be very amusing!). Also, when Mark then introduces Jack, it will flow more naturally.

When you do get to write the climax, however, I hope that you will give us a little more than this.  ‘Subtle’ is all very well, but I feel you are being just a little too subtle here. 

For example, we don’t get Jack’s final reaction.  Yes, he knows Harry knows, but what then?  What expressions cross his face?  How does his body language change?  When Harry watches the man ‘for a moment longer’, what does he see?

This is the big pay-off for the reader – they have been wondering and wondering who the killer is, and now they want a good look at him.  A chance of understanding why all this has happened.

Don’t disappoint them.

I love Harry as a character and I love the details of interaction, like hand shakes and chats about prices.  But to give me a reason to have read the story in the first place, you need to show me the killer in psychological as well as physical detail.

Now that my course is over, I really need to knuckle down and write. Next weekend ...

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