Week 1: Skills

Skills used this week

This predominantly focused on skills relating to creative writing. These are vital skills to be used in any literary industry. While these skills in particular are not focused entirely towards journalism they can equally be applied to improve one’s writing.

The skills covered this week revolved around a focus of character and setting. These were worked on through both a look into professional examples (as seen below) and free flow writing exercises.

Firstly the skills revolving around creating a central character. We touched on this the previous week while analysing a front cover of The Daily Mail, which included a picture of 3 young women who had died in car accidents due to the use of mobile phones. We discussed how even in the non fiction setting of an article how crucial it is to include a central character to which the reader can identify with to supply a human element to the story.

Following on from this we did a creative writing exercise around specific prompts. We were to respond to a series of questions and through which we would create a character. We were instructed to write the first answer that came into our heads. Through this method I was able to easily construct a narrative around this character due to the process being so natural. We were then told to write it in whichever medium we saw was most fitting for the character. I wrote mine as a first person piece of writing from the character’s perspective. The reasoning behind this is due to the character resembling a friend of mine through my answering of the questions. As I have known this friend for a long time and have read a lot of his writing over the years, I felt it would be a good exercise to try and replicate his writing style.

We then did another similar exercise based around setting. However with setting I found myself more challenged. This was due to my setting being in space; therefore I had to be more creative with my answers to the questions as simply answering ‘no’ was too simple. This, again, ended up creating a more natural narrative. Again I chose to them write out my piece through the use of a character, to show the setting in their eyes rather than use descriptive third person rhetoric. I again felt this implemented the skill of showing not telling very well. I felt that showing a setting through use of character meant I could portray certain aspects that otherwise wouldn’t be possible such as the atmosphere and how the setting made the character feel emotionally. This way it gives the setting a more three dimensional feel and gives the audience more to interact with in their imagination as they read.

Finally we completed a piece of free writing. This consists of being given a sentence prompt and then writing continuously for 5 minutes as a stream of consciousness and seeing how this impacts the writing. I found this skill is very effective at getting ideas to paper and helps very effectively with writers block. This could equally be applied to journalism where you write out the article shortly in 5 minutes and pick out what is relevant from the writing and see what narrative has formed around it.

Professional example

Raymond Chandler – I’ll be waiting (Chandler, 1939)

Extract from ‘Slaves of the Mastery’

‘On a clear day the island can be seen from the mainland, the long ridge of its tree-ringed hill breaking the horizon to the south. Fishing fleets sometimes pass its rocky shores, and the fisherman stare at the dark outline of the great ruin that tops the hill, but they don’t stop. The island has nothing for them. Little grows on its bare sides, only tufts of dusty grass, and the circle of ancient olive trees round the roofless hall. Also there are stories about the island, of wizards who can summon storms, of talking animals, of men who can fly. Such matters are best left alone.

 The island is called Sirene. Long ago a band of travelers settled here, and built the high stone walls on the top of the hill, and planted the olive trees for shade. The building has no floor, other than the grass and rock that was there before. It has no roof, its tall windows have no glass, its wide doorways no doors. But it’s not a ruin: this is how the people who built it meant it to be. No timbers to rot, no tiles to slip and fall. No glass to break and no doors to close. Just a long, light space swept by wind and rain, a house that is not a house, a place to meet and sing then leave again.

 Now after many years the sound of footsteps is heard again on Sirene. A woman is following the long rising path from the shore. No boat lies moored in the cove, and yet she is here. She wears a plain faded woolen robe, and is barefoot. Her grey hair is cut short. Her face is weathered, lined, brown. How old is she? Impossible to say. She has the face of a grandmother, but the clear eyes and agile body of a young woman. She barely pauses for breath as she makes her way up the hillside.’

Own examples of skills being used

Character:

It’s 4:56 am, all I can hear is the buzzing of the hospital lights in the hallway and the loud drone of the rain continuously pounding on the roof, with the occasional interruption by thunder. You know, thunder can be an asshole like that, always wants to be the centre of attention. Even though it should be the lightning’s (quite literal) time to shine, it has to butt in a few seconds later and steal the spotlight.

The hospital I’m surrounded by is clean; its dull. The room is white with a machine next to me which does who knows (and honestly who cares).

But the ceiling, the ceiling is way more interesting. It’s nowhere near as clean. It’s not a blank emotionless space, there are flecks of dirt here and there; it’s obvious the ceiling went by unnoticed by the cleaners (it has quite literally gone over their head). There’s what appears to be a coffee stain in the leftmost corner. I think about the story of that stain, how’d it get there? Is that actually coffee? If it is who did the coffee belong to and how did they take their coffee? Did they have milk or not? You know, the important questions.

Fuck I’m bored, how am I supposed to sleep here. This isn’t nearly enough of a tip to feel like home. The thunder butts in again, “alright we get it, you self-obsessive, displacement of atmosphere” I mutter to myself.

I roll over to my side. I stare out of the window, or I would if there was one. Stupid tiny cubicle. Instead I stare at the blank wall and imagine a window. I see the blackness of the winter morning. I see the tree being smacked about by the wind. I see the same tree drowning under the storm. I think about myself drowning; holding my breath. I float there and close my eyes. The water surrounding me. I open my lungs and let the water in. It’s strange, the water as it enters me makes me feel warm.

And just like that I’m lucid dreaming. Sick. The next thing I do is turn the water around me to lava. I swim in it for a bit before surfacing and creating myself a boat out of my consciousness. I clamber aboard and sail this lava sea until I decide to happen upon an island. The world swirls around me as it forms while I walk it. Creating whatever I see fit before me.

But before long, I start to lose control of the lucidity of my dream. My subconscious begins to wrestle control back for itself. And then as quickly as ever I fall into the nightmare.

“John, we need to talk” I’m told by the large awkward figure in front of me.

“Oh just piss off I was enjoying this dream” I reply.

“That’s no way to talk to your father”

“No, that’s no way to talk to someone I respect, however you don’t have to worry about that.”

Dream dad looks hurt. I feel guilty, this version of my father isn’t the problem; it’s the physical one.

“Look I get you mean well, but I just really need to be alone right now.”

“You always need to be alone”

“Yeah well I’m tired”

“You’re always tired”

I stop feeling guilty and punch him in the face. As my fist connects he disintegrates into black smoke.

I open my eyes. I look at my wrist questioningly, 5:27am is my watches reply. “I did a lot for 31 minutes” I mutter to myself just as the thunder makes another loud remark. I return to staring at the ceiling and contemplating the mysterious coffee stain, I continue this until my father arrives in the morning to take me home.

Setting:

The first thing I noticed about space was the fact it’s big. Really really big. As far as I could see in every direction there was just black. A continuous empty sea of space, populated by grains of white stars.

I glanced from the window to look around my more immediate surroundings. I am thrown from the quiet blanket of darkness to the busy everyday commotion of the space station. Nothing about my surroundings was natural; it was all made with blood, sweat, and I imagine a metric shit tonne of metal.

It was very much like the old space stations from long past sci-fi movies, except the cast in this particular motion picture were significantly less attractive. The centre of the space station in which I was situated was a flurry of a lab coats trolleys being pushed around containing various scientific do dads.

The clinical smell and lab coats were almost reminiscent of a hospital; where everyone rushing around often with clip boards all with somewhere else they needed to be. There was no real moment to breathe. It was an atmosphere of controlled calamity where every second had been meticulously calculated by a bunch of nerds to ensure no time was wasted.

It was as if no one actually seemed to spend any time in the labs that situated the halls they were all rushing off down. Of course the odd explosion gave away that people did more than just commute.

The thing with scientists is that they never seem to have time for emotion. Everything was very efficient but in a robotic way. No one spoke except for a quick exchange of numbers and scientific words I didn’t really understand.

It made sense why they like this. If you spent your entire life working your butt off to finally realise your dream of working on the Calico Space Station you weren’t going to blow it when you got here. And with the government just looking for an excuse to cut people’s funding it was the only logical thing to was to replace emotion with numbers and theorems. Although at that point where you replace the emotions that drove you to get here in the first place, what was the point in staying if you no longer had that drive. It was a paradox of scientific reasoning.

Free writing:

I feel very strongly about gaming. Games are something that have been a part of my life since I was a child. From the age of 6 when I got my first games console, games have become an integral part of my day to day life. From hardcore competitive gaming with friends to the casual mobile gaming on the bus ride to and from Canterbury without games I would not be who I am.

Influencing almost every aspect of who I am from my personality, sense of humour all the way down to small pieces of my idiolect. Terms such as LOL, ‘get wrecked’ and ‘scrub’ are all words and phrases I have picked up from gaming. I have had conversations with friends in which the  entirety of the conversation was based around buzz words other people around us did not understand. I feel like this is something that can really bring people together.

For example look at Pokemon Go, the release of that game prompted so many people to leave the house and interact with people they never would of met before. It’s even got 2 dating applications linked to it now.

From the music to the story telling every aspect of a well made game blend together perfectly to make an experience that no other medium can replicate. The genres are almost endless with continuous mixes of theme and implementation from the mechanics to the art style. Each game is it’s own small confined experience and it’s through this that I can experience realms of thought never opened to me through other such mediums.

Evaluation of own work in reference to professional examples

The stylistic choices I made through this emulate my friend’s writing style, such as the continual internal monologue written in the present tense as he sees and interacts with objects in the room. This also extends to the methodology of showing not telling. I found it much more natural to tell the story through his reactions to things and have the reader piece together parts of his personality and leave them wanting answers rather than simply dictating it to them. I feel like this is was a good piece of writing however can be improved upon. While my writing style is quite different in the character piece when compared with ‘I’ll be waiting’ I think there are a lot of elements I could apply in future writing. Such as Chandler’s use of metaphor such as “In the corners were memories like cobwebs” (Chandler, 1939) is a very emotive piece of writing. I feel I could apply these in a way to improve my writing as my narrative tends to shy away from emotion due to a more stone faced character and light humour. I tend to give character to inanimate objects, or in the case above, things such as the weather. While I feel this is an interesting technique I feel I may be slightly overly dependent on it and the occasional use of metaphor in it’s place would balance out my writing.Also the third person style of writing Chandler uses is something that I feel would work equally well for my style of writing, I intend in future to try this style for perhaps the same piece of writing and see how this varies the piece. I think the third person style of stating what the character is thinking through such writing as ‘That red-haired girl was spoiling his nights’ (Chandler, 1939) does a similar job of showing not telling as it would through first person and is something I intend to use in future forms of writing.

My setting piece is something I think works well. The character can help create a more three dimensional plane for which the reader can interact with. This is based around the ability to show emotion through thought or the senses and how that character feels in that place. However as Chandler has shown it is possible to still impart this in the third person and as such I feel maybe this piece could have benefited from being written in the third person. I feel near the end of the piece I began to lose my way and this shows in the writing coming across in a much less fluid manner. The writing slowly became more about the people inhabiting the setting rather than the setting itself, while I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing I feel like the setting itself should have been given more attention before this transition. Slaves of the Mastery use almost a story telling method to build up the history of the setting and make it feel very real. The writer tries to make you interested in the place its set before the story even unfolds. I find that this could have been applied in my space setting building up the story of the space station rather than jumping straight into what was currently going on. This would of likely made the setting less jarring and given the reader more time to build up a basic image in their head before filling out the rest of the detail.

The theme I was trying to portray in both pieces was this feeling of being lost. I feel I have done this well by portraying the character in the setting piece as an outsider who does not necessarily belong, a calm observer in a busy non stop environment. This goes again for the character of the first piece who I tried to show conflict through his lucid dreaming and the issues with his father, only to be reliant on him to pick him up from the hospital in the morning. This sense of being lost is more in the sense of not understanding what he’s doing and feeling lost in terms of not having the closeness he would like from his father. I feel like these themes have been written into the pieces well without them being forced on the reader. I feel like the reader can emphasis with the character’s and that the settings also reflect this feeling of being lost (a hospital being imagery for possible grief and loss in a different sense and space as a large empty expanse of which we do not know much about).

My writing I would say have been heavily influenced by the writing style of John Green whose book “The Fault in Our Stars” was the last book I have read. I am currently reading another of his books “An abundance of Katherines” and have found my writing style has begun to emulate his within my first person narrative. This is based around a mixture of a series of descriptions that are quite descriptive (almost emulating George Orwell’s style) while still appearing as a stream of consciousness. This is a style I am very fond of in terms of reading as I prefer to see descriptions through the eyes of a character in the first person than a description in the third person. I feel like having recently read George Orwell’s essay “Why I write” coupled with my recent reading of John Green’s works have heavily influenced my recent writing style, especially in those included above.

Bibliography

Chandler, R. (1939). I’ll be waiting.

Nicholson, W. (2001). Slaves of the Mastery. Independent Publishers Group, 352.

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Week 1: Skills

One thought on “Week 1: Skills

  1. There is some excellent writing here Scott. I enjoy reading your work, it engages me immediately. I like the style and especially the tone/pace/rhythm of your writing.

    I also think that your reflections are skilfully composed and evaluate thoroughly not only the sessions but your own research and further study. This is a very high standard Blog post.

    A clear voice and style of writing is coming through in both your critical and creative writing. Look for other writers across the mediums and focus on their voice – through language. pace and rhythm of the sentences – syntax – word choice, humour, tone etc – and compare and contrast with your own. I think you may be pleasantly pleased to see you are already writing to a very high standard.

    Setting example: through the writing and words we get character instantly – this is skilful writing.

    Setting impacting on character is it’s main role and you reflect upon this well.

    You reflect on Point of View and Perspective very well; try and use these words in your critiquing.

    emphasis? should empathise.

    The length and style of this evaluation seems fine to me.

    Like

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