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Location: Cantonment, Florida, United States

Well, uh, hmm...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

More writing exercises

It's time for another writing exercise! This time, I was planning to write the first paragraph of a story about those triplet aliens I posted about a few days back. As I started to write, I realized that I was running out of words to describe intelligent beings. I was unable to go on, not wanting to rewrite the first two sentences for the sake of one word, when I realized my difficulty over one word could be the story itself. The exercise I made for myself has many goals:
1. Better blocking around the dialogue. Allowing the dialogue to flow naturally without awkward breaks that wouldn't exist in real life. If there is a large section of blocking between dialogue, it must be due to a silence on the part of the characters.
2. Better dialogue.
3. A perfect level of backstory. Not too much, not too little.
4. Leaving just the right amount to imagination of the reader. I don't have to describe every little detail about how the characters act or what their surroundings look like, I just have to hint at them and let the reader's brain take over without giving them any false images.
5. Being subtle about the characters' setting, not coming right out and say it. You should be able to figure out when and where this takes place very easily, maybe a little too easily.
6. Clever description without being heavy handed.
7. Telling a story from the perspective of one character without describing things he would have no way of knowing.
8. Having my facts correct. I hate it when I watch movies that feature easy to check upon mistakes like V8 sounds for a car that has an V6, period films that feature guitars yet to be introduced. Both those mistakes were featured in Back to The Future. To be fair, the added a V8 sound for the Delorean because it sounded way cooler than the pathetic Volvo V6 the car featured. Still, it's a mistake, and they should have explained some sort of engine transplant.
So, without further ado, I give my short story beginning.

The Triplets of Mr. Penfold

The creatures of this universe take for granted that they are what they are. Even when a being of a given species wonders what it would be like to have just a few of the unique qualities of another...

I froze as I typed that last sentence. "Shi..."

"Hold it, unless you want another 10 pence to go in the swear jar." My wife scowled at me from the top basement step.

"I can't find another word for 'species.' Just be quiet a moment and let me think."

My hands hovered above the keyboard, waiting for commands from my brain they weren't receiving. I furrowed my brow and stared at my withered digits as if that would move them into action. My wife had owl's ears and could detect a half swear word from 200 paces. It annoyed me because cursing helped me think. Still, when she poked her head from behind the basement door, she became adept at forcing her gaze through my skull and out the other side like an awl. My desire for profanity was no match. Besides, half my income was going into that blasted swear jar.

My wife stood silent at the door, but continued her piercing stare into my frontal lobe. At last, she became exasperated. "Well, if you can't think of a word, look in the thesaurus," she said as she headed back down the stairs.

"I've looked in the bloody thesaurus, and there are only three words that fit." I threw my hands in the air. "I've already used them and I can't put the same word twice in the first two sentences of a novel. People will flip it shut and save it to use as tissues."

"Then rewrite the thing. You've done twelve books in your life, you should know what to do by now," her voice receded into recesses of the basement, "and that's 10 pence for the swear jar."

"For what? 'Bloody?'"

"20 pence."

I sat back in my creaky chair, the typewriter looking dejected as I failed to think of more words to write with it. My lungs forced out raspy sigh and I reached for another cigar. It was my fourth one since I sat down to write. Under normal circumstances, my fingers whisked over the keys of my friend, the black Oliver No. 15 that rested on my flamed mahogany desk. I would lean into the machine, like a bicyclist racing to the top of a hill, forcing onwards through a mass of thick words, only to fly down a series of simple blocking descriptions or cheap dialogue. Today, however, was different. My cigar clung to my lip as I pulled it away, unlit.

I was writing a story about another world. A planet far beyond our most powerful telescopes. Tales of other worlds teeming with life are no new fad. C.S. Lewis introduced Out of the Silent Planet 19 years ago, and H.G. Wells wrote his War of the Worlds 59 years ago. I wanted something a bit different from those established books, however. The dominant beings on my ficticious planet have a curious difference from ourselves. Every female gives birth to identical triplets. These triplets are all the same sex, and remain together their entire lives. They look no different from you or I, but each of the triplets are limited to specific functions within the unit. One is the breadwinner, it does all the hard work earning for the sake of the household. The next is the procreator, the one responsible for bringing forth more of its kind and rearing the resultant children to adulthood. The final triplet is the one who lives life for the other two; traveling, pursuing hobbies, creating art. When these creatures marry, they marry another set of triplets, ending up with six people per home. Each couple performs their tasks, whichever role they've been assigned by nature, never complaining or thinking it odd.

My story concerns a particular couple who gives birth to a single child. An unprecedented event in my world, to be sure. This sole child has characteristics of all three of the triplets it was supposed to be. It can procreate, perform laborious tasks, and even understand a work of art. My world breaks into a massive upheaval, with many decrying this aberration as an omen for the end of their world, while others see it as a sign of a new beginning. But that's where my idea ends. I don't know how to finish the story. Not that I'm facing that problem at the moment, thanks to the English language running out of suitable words for my first two sentences. I scowled at my old friend, the Oliver typewriter, frustrated beyond what I'd ever felt when writing.

"Bah," I stepped over to the basement door, yanking my coat off the antique rack, "I'm going for a walk."


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