An Excerpt: The Third Moment

Chapter 4

Screams. Blood. Death that came in oozes through cracks; black claws that dragged viscera in a trail over the floor. Something reached for her; electrified hairs lifted in a crackly, sparkly line from her wrists to her shoulders. The neck hairs followed, lifted and sizzled with the new energy.

Something was about to happen. Something was coming. For her? To rescue or to finish? Evinna didn’t know, but any change was better than this. She wriggled her wrists in the plastic cuffs, tested for even a small measure of space, lifted it to her mouth to chew. No movement. Nothing. Too tight. The plastic bit so deep her hands were swollen and hard and dark. Something would have to happen soon, or this would be her end. The end.

No.

Evinna threw her body up, eyes wide open, mind wide-awake, heart pounding; body sweaty and tense and jittery. A dream. It was a dream. Ragged breaths panted from her mouth to the cold damp air, wobbled and vibrated in smoky wisps of fog.

Wintery light oozed a green hue through the dirty glass window, outlined the shape of feet hanging off the bunk ends.

Early. Her hands shook. She rubbed her wrists – no ties, but the skin was red and swollen and hot. Her ears still heard the screams from the nightmare.

Should she get up? A breath blew out like a rainmaker, took some of the freeze from her limbs, loosened her mind.

No noise came from the other bunks. Well, except gentle snores, growls, soft farts. Sleep sounds. Hands dangled to the floor from under plumpy doonas. Five other bunks with doonas and lumps. The people who came for the Eartch course.

She wished the accommodation was decent, not this draughty and cold, run-down and mouldy, old and decrepit scout-hall tin-shed thing in the middle of a dank half-hearted attempt at a lake. Last night would have been so much . . . more.

The bunk opposite hers – that lumpy bit was Billy.

Her breath deepened and sped up to match the increased pulse rate. Her mind drifted to the things that happened last night. His hands, his lips, his eyes. Soft brown skin that sent senses a-scatter in every direction all at once, to return with a crash of cymbals right in the middle of her heart. She still felt it. A slight touch here, there, a whisper as skin slid on skin, as hearts beat in unison.

The magic of their night drifted over her like an aura, enfolded and warmed her, brought a flush to her cheeks. Evinna sighed; deep contentment flowed through her veins. She felt alive, so fully aware of life.

A half-heard memory tried to rattle her thoughts. The dream, the screech of a whistle that pierced through the fading darkness. She pushed the nightmare back into insignificance, away. Not now.

Her tongue licked her lips, rubbed at her teeth. Yeccht. First, coffee. She shoved the doona off and slid across the floor in her socks, pulled the wrapper around her shoulders as she slid into a glissade (in her mind, anyway), soared into the dawn, slithered to the door.

A discordant squeal as she opened the door with once-yellow paint that peeled and slivered in its own dance of shape and colour to land the floor with many of its friends.

The floorboards squeaked when she stepped into the middle of the hall. Crap. She’d forgotten that. Did anyone hear? She smiled, in her mind swirled a pirouette across the room to him, a triple-axel spin and leap over his body. Breathed in his scent, his laughter, his deep growl when . . . Breathed out. Checked for movement from the other bunks.

No change; no sounds, no grumbles.

Time for coffee. Evinna put her hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t laugh or squeal or giggle, tiptoed close to the far wall to avoid any more noises, made her way to the kitchen-diner common area.

The long table was clean, plates and cups and cutlery set out on the white cotton table-cloth ready for the next meal. The urn – quiet. She tapped the side. Thonk. Full. Flicked on the switch at the wall, waited for the crackle and hum of start-up, dragged the cupboard doors open; another tooth-tearing squeak – must have been a long time since this place was used; found the coffee, tea bags, chocolate powder – all new, unopened. Coffee mocha. The best drink for . . . after. She swung her body in adagio, a circle, arms soared and spun, body twirled as her legs dipped and dived, flipped and flung up and curled in to counter-balance the sensuous spin. Her eyes skidded, became motionless as she saw it on the large wall behind the wonky trestle table covered in glaring white cotton.

The dance stopped, mid leap. Eyes widened.

A tanned skin hung there. Was it there last night?

Maybe, maybe not. Evinna remembered Billy. The moment he touched her hand, the moment their eyes met. Nothing else existed. She could have missed an elephant.

She would have missed a wall hanging.

The urn crackled. She touched it – still cold; she turned and walked to the skin.

Not well tanned. Lumpy bits. What animal did this skin come from? Small head, long body and limbs. The shape . . .?

Frowned, scowled as something bit at her memory; her eyes skimmed down the hide, rapido. Stopped. Widened. A scar. The backward seven. Her fingers remembered it. She raised her hand – no, not . . . Remembered sliding over the ridges. Her lips remembered the shape of it, the taste of it, traced by her tongue.

Air tarnished to orange and black stripes, solid, couldn’t get past her lips. Her hands lunged . . . The wall slid sideways. The skin tilted – horizontal? Blackness shadowed in from the sides, left only a diminished tunnel of half-light. A focus for . . .

A sonic horn shrilled. Sirens cut the air and screamed and screamed and screamed, the pitch higher and higher, ear-splitting. Evinna heard the thump as her head bounced on the timber floorboards. The hands, her hands, played out a twitchy dance on the mouldy-coloured timber. Muggy air from the swamp lifted in stringy wafts through the cracks in the floor; danced in the vortex her hands created as they flapped and slapped in a manic patter. Two nails cracked and tore.

Flakes fell from the crinkly, dried-up skin, flowed in the damp air, rolled with it, became . . .

Her eyes wouldn’t close, things were both clearly outlined and blurred and distorted and rippled with tension within the point of focus. Oily rags under the bottom of the cupboards, covered in webs and dust. A mist slid out through the slits of splitting timber. Her head bounced again, rolled; flashes of bright colours fractured across her vision. Teeth clacked and cracked in a xylophonic off-key dinkle. Everything rolled in swells that rocked and rollicked her head, bashed her senses.

A warm hand settled on her shoulder; words slinked, rebellious, through the cacophony of sirens and screams and hammer of sound waves.

“Evinna,” a woman’s voice whispered in colours of honey and wax and summer warmth. “Evinna, come back from there.” The voice belonged to Gnangarai. “Leave that place, and come back.” It wasn’t words. It was music. Gnangarai sang; her hand tapped Evinna’s shoulder in the same rhythm as the voice. No.

The hand didn’t move. She did. Convulsions. A fit.

Not again. She closed her eyes. Let go, slid into the other-where place.


copyright Rose Brimson & Cage Dunn 2016

The First Moment …

This extra post was inspired by this post.


The front door banged, footsteps clumped down the hallway. He came through the common room doorway with no door, ducked under to avoid hitting his head on the lintel. A gush of wind whistled up through the gaps in the timber floor. He smiled.

Other people walked up, introduced themselves, spoke to him. Evinna couldn’t move.

The music of his voice was the first intrigue, the warm tone, such a depth of timbre as he laughed, as it vibrated through the floor, into the walls, rattled the glass in the windows. The way the light bent to highlight his cheekbones, his eyebrows. The laugh-lines in the brown skin that surrounded his molasses brown eyes.

Billy.

One of the students. One of five students, and Evinna made six. A small group. She heard the convenor say ‘all here now’ as if it came through a long and hollow tube.

Her hand reached for his outstretched handshake invitation; big hands, visibly soft skin with little callous marks at the tips and thumb – must play Aussie rules, or guitar, or both. Her eyes lifted to his.

Locked.

The hands continued on their trajectory.

Connected.

Lightning zapped along her arm, fired every hair and nerve end into flame. His fingers clenched on her hand; she tried to fight it; too late, the mirror response. His pupils dilated wide, dark; the deep brown irises pushed into the colour of raw cacao.

Hot raw cacao. Her mouth fell open, eyelids drooped, hips swung in to front his. Kept her grip on his hand.

Noise ceased. Time stopped. The world disappeared. A cavernous sensation as the walls fish-eyed out and away, blurred into distance.

She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t look away. Her mouth watered, she snapped her mouth closed with an audible clack of teeth.

A whirlpool of emotions: desire, hunger for something she was ravenous for, a sizzle and burn over her whole body. A loud, deep growl – her throat vibrated with it – her eyes prowled over every inch of him, disregarded every other occurrence in the environment.

Inconsequential.

Her animal self, some part she’d never known, took control.

Time moved. Stuff happened. Voices intruded like a radio station just off the mark, static nonsense. Movement, actions, flow. Rituals. She moved with it, but it was irrelevant, insignificant. She felt only his words on her eyes, his scent in her nose, on her skin. Tasted him on her tongue when she breathed.

Someone sat her down. Put food in front of her. Cutlery clanked as it dropped onto the white tablecloth that covered the rickety fold-up trestle table.

The food was nothing. She didn’t know who put it on the table or what it was. Evinna shoved it in her mouth, chewed, gulped it down until the plate was empty. Didn’t know how much time was swallowed between one moment and the next.

Her eyes never left Billy, who sat on the other side of the low table. He smiled at her, a lazy movement of his bottom lip as his head lowered, as his eyelids drooped, as his breath sped up. She could see his heartbeat in the pulse on his neck – hers pounded the same rhythm. The pound met in the air between them and bounced back; each thump felt in her neck, in her lungs, in her groin. In the tingle of her toes.

He was so tall his knees knocked against the underside with every movement. She suppressed the laugh that bubbled up with each wobble of glasses and crockery. Giggles escaped whenever his foot touched her be-socked toes – when did she slip her shoes off? Springs of tension wound and unwound in her legs and stomach.


Copyright Rose Brimson & Cage Dunn 2017 (an excerpt)

rodk

That Time of Year, and What it Elicits

Well, it’s TDF! Which means I don’t sleep, forget to eat at the normal times, stay up all night to watch the lycra legs and mountains and pretty landscapes – the Tour de France!

So, in a nutshell, what you get is what there already is – a third scene from the WIP (the Ghost one without a title).


Scene 5

If there was ever going to be a woman stamped with the word ‘sexy’ it was this one. She was beautiful. Auburn hair that fell halfway down her back, a svelte figure that clothes clung to as if their life depended on her, and a sultry lilt to her voice that would have dragged the males in from all directions. In the city.

“I’m absolutely sure he didn’t introduce himself properly,” she purred. “I’m Sylvina Harrihan – call me Sylv – and this is my husband, Robert – but everyone calls him Bud. Don’t know why.” Her fingers danced in the air in front of Anna’s hand, but didn’t touch.

“I’ll go get it happening. You two get to know each other, and I’ll be right back.” Bud disappeared, followed by clanks and clatters and a loud and slightly out of tune whistle.

The front room was warm and bright, even lit only by the fire and candles. Dark hollows muffled and softened the corners and edges, but Sylv had a shine all of her own. Her conversations were intellectual, and concentrated on world issues. Except when it came to hairdressers, masseurs, the things women always wanted to help them look beautiful.

“Why don’t you move to a town?” Anna asked, after Sylv had complained for the third time about the lack of facilities.

“Oh, no, my dear. This is my home. This is where my Bud lives. This is where we met and where we’ll die. It’s home. I love my home.” Her hands flourished to show the room with damask curtains in shades of silver and dusky pink. The complementary colours in the big, soft chairs glowed with warmth from the open fire and the row of candles on the mantle. “This is my home.” The arm dropped.

A chill ran down Anna’s back. Hackles of hair rose to attention on her neck and scalp. Had she imagined a purple tinge to Sylv’s skin? Was that eczema? The scaly, upraised section showed when the sleeve of silk slid up. It was ugly, red and inflamed, and at the same time grey and old. A scar? No, not a scar. It looked like dead skin. Really dead. Like the bodies in the morgue dead. The same colour, the same flaccidity, the same sense.

Anna sniffed. She looked up into Sylve’s eyes. The bright blue had changed to a black glare. Sylv’s eyes glanced at the offending arm, and slid a hand over the pleats in the sleeve. A dark shadow seeped into the air as Sylv stepped up close to Anna.

“We don’t speak of our problems, my dear. We deal with them. In our own way. In our own time.”

The door swished open and Bud waltzed in with the tray. He chatted about the food, the butter beans he’d grown himself, the tiny pea-sized aubergines, the crispy potatoes.

“She doesn’t need a rundown of your farming skills, dear – do you, young lady?” Sylv leaned over the tray he’d placed on the table. “Is there any meat?”

When Bud shook his head, the lines on Sylv’s face deepened, darkened. She turned and stomped out through the swing door towards the kitchen. Bud seemed to ignore her.

“Come and sit, Anna. We’ll get started; we’ll get the best bits. She’ll be sorry when she comes back.” He looked up as Anna came to the table. “She always does that. Doesn’t mean anything. She just doesn’t like to eat in front of people. A thing about her teeth. Something. Doesn’t matter. Let’s just eat, shall we?”

The chat was impersonal. No questions about her past life or where she’d come from. A general outline of the history of the town. Why the trains didn’t run anymore – nothing left to mine, apparently. Nothing about Bud and Sylv. Nothing about people who lived in the region now.

“What were you saying about ghosts on this side of the tracks?” Anna asked.

“Oh, well, maybe this isn’t the time to be speaking of ghosts,” Bud said. “You still have to sleep in the haunted house tonight. Can’t go and give you nightmares, can we?”

“Did I offend Sylv?” Anna asked as she stared at Bud with direct eye contact. What is going on here?

“No. It’s like I said. She’s a bit touchy about what people see. Doesn’t like to looked at.” He shovelled food into his mouth. “Got funny teeth,” he said around the mess in his mouth.

Anna picked at the food. Wondered. What had she seen? Was it scarring? Was it a skin disease? In her gut she knew it wasn’t, but she didn’t want to consider the other options. Whatever it was, it was none of Anna’s business. And nor was Bud. Not this time.

Tomorrow, she’d find someone else to help her with the renovations.


Copyright Rose Brimson & Cage Dunn 2017

A New Story [Perhaps]

An excerpt from a new story in the paranormal field. Copyright Rose Brimson & Cage Dunn 2017 (of course).


Scene 1

“It’s a beautiful old house. Probably best described as original, ’cos it needs a fair amount of work, but I’m sure there’ll be someone to do work in the area – it’s a farming region, so lots of trades in those places.”

The words seemed to ring in Anna’s head as she sat in her car and stared at the house. Yes, it was beautiful. Once. A long time ago. Not now. Original. Yes. Raw timber because the paint had flaked off decades ago. That real estate agent was going to cop it when she found him. And the contract of sale would be withdrawn. She had three days left of the cooling-off period.

How long would it take to get the deposit back?

Hot sun streamed onto her denim-covered legs and she opened the door to get out. At least she could look around, and tell the miserable, low-down, rotten-stinking-lying pretty-boy prick that she’d inspected the place and found it to be not as advertised. That would be enough to ensure she could back out.

One of the windows glinted. A movement? From inside? No. Just a breeze. Were there still curtains? Or was it the casement falling out? She shook her head. Stupid, really, but she felt a need to look. To check. To make sure.

All her savings, all her money, was tied up in this. Her future. Hmmmppphhhh! If she were a bloke, she’d spit on it.

There were no trees to park under, no bushes, no shrubs, no green lawns – no grass at all, just dust and gravel and rocks – and so hot the black asphalt stuck to her sandals as she ticky-tacked across the road to inspect the house that should have been her new home.

One hand grabbed the veranda post as her foot landed on the first step and sank. And sank. She stepped back with a gasp.

Rotten.

Her fingers clawed at the soft timber of the post. Rotten.

She glared at the boards on the wrap-around veranda. Holes, warped boards, the hum of wasps from somewhere below the gaps. Rotten.

Nails stuck up at odd angles, lay on the surface, or produced rusty circles on the timber. Anna raised her eyes to the entrance. The door hung partly open, twisted into a shape that meant that’s probably where it’d been for decades. Rotten. Everything was rotten, rotten, rotten.

Her chest expanded with a gust of breath as she stepped backwards and turned back to the front gate. The long grass to left and right was too tall to walk through with sandals on, but she had to get around the back. She had to see just how bad it was, document it all and compare it to the photos on the web, so she could back out of the deal.

So far, her life hadn’t changed at all.

Puffs of dust followed her footsteps down the rutted driveway. The equally-spaced paths were well-tamped. Nothing would ever grow there, and it gave her a safer place to walk. But she stomped anyway. Just in case of Joe Blakes. That would really be the final straw.

The back door was open, resting against the torn-off flyscreen framed in curlicues of pink-painted wood. That would be worth rescuing. Except not by her. She wouldn’t be here, would she?

No.

Anna stepped up onto the concrete slab that passed for a patio or veranda. The timber that held up the roof was solid, but paint peeled in long scrabbles down to lay at the base. One fingernail pushed as hard as possible and didn’t sink in. She turned toward the back entrance, squealed as a spider web drifted down across her forehead. She swiped and slapped until she was sure it was gone.

Crap!

A grimy bannister brush lay against an old timber fruit-crate. She leaned down and picked it up, held it up in the air as she stepped through the back door, literally, when it crumpled to frothy lumps at the first turn of the old handle.

Crap!

More and more like her life, but with more dust.

The light was dim. The layers of dust and grime didn’t help. Ash and greasy yellow marks slid along the walls of the kitchen. Anna knew it was the kitchen because of the table, the chairs, the trough-sink, and the wood-stove tucked into the wall.

A wood-stove. She’d always wanted a wood stove. A dream, because she remembered the tales of her gran and the time it took to get it started, the time it took each morning to prepare, the time it took to ensure enough wood for the season. But it was beautiful. Solid iron, all the doors and lids, the lid-lifter hook, the green enamel doors, the black sliding grate. Two fingers caressed the cold enamel, ran along the full length of the old lady. Bits of ash drifted to the floor.

Anna smiled and looked around. The small door on the left, between the stove and the trough, showed a pantry. Things were set up on shelves, too dust-covered to see what they were, or had been. She closed the door and turned back to the large kitchen. Sun glowed into the window on the far side. No curtains, just dust and webs. And one or two egg-sacs. It was a good home for spiders and such. But not her.

The double door had to be persuaded to move in the grooves. She’d have to change this to a top slider, and get rid of the bottom bit; that’d make it easier to maintain. The room behind the doors must have been the living room, lounge room. The fireplace was huge, but with a small central grate. Blocks of wood lay in neat piles to either side, and the hearth was swept clean. Except for the dust, the fire was ready to be lit. A small triangle of kindling sat in the grate waiting for the spark.

The two chairs, overstuffed and overworn, sat at an angle to the fire. One had an antimacassar over the back and one on each arm. The other was unadorned, dark and stained, but the rose pattern – red and white and green – was dimly visible. She ran a hand over the arm. This one hadn’t been used. It was just one of a pair. She touched the antimacassar chair. Body grease, a deep indentation on the seat, the shape of a body almost outlined. This chair had been well-used. Maybe there were two for symmetry.

She looked around. An ornate bookcase with glass doors hid objects with shapes that were indiscernible, but she wasn’t going to open it to see what it was. Not with that amount of web to fight through.

Two doors led off the main room. She shoved at the door nearest the front window, but didn’t budge it. The other one slid open to reveal an iron bed-stead, wardrobes that spoke of art-nouveau designs. The rug on the timber floor was a hunters design, an original, probably hand-woven if the tie-offs on the upturned corner were any indication.

Anna didn’t lean down to check. She felt a tickle at the base of her scalp and turned around, expecting to see someone.

Nothing.

She walked back to the lounge room. Empty. Still. She looked out the windows. No one out there, so sign of movement. As she walked up to the front door, she noticed the lack of window coverings. No curtains, no blinds, no mosquito or fly screens.

If she believed in ghosts, now would be the time for her to consider that what she’d seen from outside came from the other realm, but she didn’t.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” the loudness of her voice was shocking in the echo of empty space as she retraced her steps through the kitchen and out the back door.

“I didn’t take any pictures,” she said. The stillness of the air and building remained. Nothing moved except her breath.

The open area to the south of the concrete block outside the back door had a double trough and a hand-pump. It was irresistible. She pushed on the pump. Rusty red water gushed into the concrete trough. Maybe this place had been empty longer than she thought.

She stepped off the veranda and walked the length of the ruts to the back fence to get an overall view of the house.

The double chimneys on the south side were stone and brick, grey and red, in a design she’d never seen before. The roof was square, even if the iron was rusted and lifting like wings in several places. The gutters were gone; the hooks remained and she could see the internals. No rot in the roof that she could see. It was fixable.

Her phone peeped. She pulled it out and checked the message. Deleted it. Skimmed to the website for the house and enlarged the pictures as she compared the real with the e-real. If she put a gauze in front of her face, it looked the same. A dusty, sort-of block-out effect that blocked nothing but the worst of the decay. The house looked just like it was advertised.

She wouldn’t get her money back. Wouldn’t be able to back out of the contact.

The only choice she had was to make the place liveable.


Unedited, so subject to change at no notice at all (until publication). Title: something about a Ghost …. and Gold …. and a Country Town ….

the house

 

The Answer

Why are you doing it? I was asked (topic: the presentation next week). Why, indeed.

The shortest and simplest reason is because I wasted so much time and effort trying to learn something everyone seemed to think every writer knows without thinking about it – structure. After all, there’s the 3 acts, the Aristotle’s incline, the beat sheet, the story board, the chain of events, the snowflake method. What I’ve learned in the last year is that all these methodologies can be exceptionally vague in the way they try to spread the word (or is it that it’s too many things to different people?) about structure but can be vague and don’t make it quite as clear as it needs to be – and because structure is 80% of the work in the first stage of ‘a good story well-told’ I consider it absolutely necessary to share what I’ve learned. And I learned it by doing it, by doing it again and again and again until I understood, quite clearly, what it meant. And how to adapt it to how I work best. If I had known about it before …

It, in this case, is structure. Not that it ever seems to be called story structure. Other things, like Outline, Incline, Snowflake, Journey, Chain of Events, Beat Sheet, Story-board, and the big one – the three Act paradigm.

But it’s both more and less than all of the above – which, by the way, are methodologies, not an end in themselves. They are a beginning, a preparation for story, not a plan.

Worse, when you read up on these methods, the words become more and more vague and less elemental (except recently, and only few). And structure is more, much more, than a few vague words that state the story must move through these stages and blah, blah, blah.

It is more than that. Structure is the defined base-plate that steps a story through what comes first and why; what comes next and why; where the big things are waiting and why; how to use these milestones/points/turns to leverage a story into a gripping and powerful tale that takes a reader through the flow/movement of scenes, into the skin of the main character and how he deals with the problems and conflicts – to the end.

That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s the basic 101 stage that should be taught in all classes for creative writing. And I’m going to spread it thick and fast and far and wide. Why? Because when I get too old to write my own stories, I want to read good stories. I want new writers to understand the simple things easily so they can go on to create mind-bending concepts and premises for their stories. I want it all.


There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft. And structure is as basic as it gets, the ABC of the language of story-telling.

 

I think now I know enough to help others learn it. This is my opportunity to pass on what it’s taken me so long to learn (those 10,000 hours of apprenticeship).

Anyway, short story long (that’s me all over), this is my paying it forward.

And my hope is that every person who attends the presentation next week will take the opportunity to do the practical tasks associated with learning this, and then pass it on to anyone else they meet who needs to know about it.

I want to give them to opportunity to pay it forward.

 

 

A Presentation

Next week I’m going to offer a presentation to a group of young writers. What I want to do is share what I’ve learned on my journey through the apprentice stage of writing – because it shouldn’t have been so hard!

boof-at-work

Looking for something?

I want to share how I learned to understand structure. Maybe I should put that word in capital letters, because it’s important. More important than having a ‘knack’ or a ‘gift’ or a good work ethic.

Why? Because 80% of the work that goes into story is polished and shined and pummeled into shape by using the methodology and options available through structure.

No kidding. I could’ve saved myself from retiring so many novels and stories if I’d understood structure.

Do you understand structure? Know what it is and how to use it to create a good story, well told?

This is the blurb for the presentation:

Structure – From Concept to Storyboard (an introduction)

There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft.

Structure is one of the elements of Craft for the Art of Writing.

Structure is: what comes first, what comes next, what goes where, and why; it is the movement of scenes – the action-reaction, goal-obstacle, who-where – through the story that takes the reader to ‘the end’.

So, if you want your stories to have everything leveraged to a higher level just when it’s most needed, better and more compelling milestones, more effective scenes that draw the reader into turning the next page, and the next … and the next, then you need to understand what structure is, and how it makes a story memorable/powerful/compelling.


And my resources: Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder (should be read first, to get a cool intro and find the categories for your story); Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks (read second to get a deep and thorough understanding). That will do for now, but Syd Field should also be considered an expert.

Why do I think it’s important?

Because whether the story is a cave painting, a greek play, a 3-Act drama, a classic book, a modern novel, a radio-play, a b&W movie, a CGI-chair-shaking epic, or a 4-D, goggles-reqd futurist movie, the story needs to be ‘felt’ by the audience. Do you think a reader, caught up in the moment of high drama in a story, is going to care whether the grammar is perfect? Or if there are no $5 words? Or that the sentences are long and drifty and dreamy?

I don’t, because when I’m in a good story, well told – it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the story and ‘what happens next’ and what compels me to turn the next page.

And that, in a nutshell, is why structure is 80% of the first work effort of a new story, and why you need to know it.

Are you going to be there?

cropped-header1-words

And what it’s based on: here.

Min-Min

A short story, copyright Rose Brimson 2017


“Down; look down – don’ look at the light,” Colly said, as he held Mibba down by the head – it hurt!

“Uncle! Uncle! Leggo – you hurtin’ me!” Mibba scrabbled in the dirt, tried to get purchase. Colly gripped him tighter at the back of his neck; ripped out hair, tore strips of skin with his ragged nails.

“You shut your mouth, boy, an’ keep your head Down.” A thrum in the ground settled in Mibba’s ankles, rattled his bones. “Don’ you let them min-min lights see us.”

“What? Uncle – Colly! Lemme go! You hurtin’ me!” Mibba kicked Colly in the shins – the only thing he could see – and darted forward.

The bright light thrummed through his bones; a skirr of sound spun his ears in the wrong direction; wind with no sense of touch sang words that lifted his heart and burned his soul.

No shadows. Mibba could see no shadows. Only lights – two, no – three lights, that bobbed and danced and held his soul in thrall. Dance. He had to dance. It was what was required. To get inside. To be with the lights. The Min-Min lights. The lights that were the true soul of the Ghost Gums. The souls of all the People who had gone before. For him. They were here for him.

“Come away, boy.” Colly’s voice was a distant star, barely a speck of dust in time.

The lights danced away. Mibba had to go with them, had to follow, had to be one with the spirits.

“Don’ mess with it, boy – is sacred, but not for you. Not this time. Come back, boy – wait a while, make your own song first.”

So slowly, the lights moved on, away – gone.

Mibba opened his eyes. Dirt rubbed at his skin – harsh dry grit. The desert. He was in the desert. Learning. From his uncle. Why? He looked up, pushed himself off the dirt to a sit, then squat. Where was his uncle? Why was he alone? In the desert? He would die.

The lights were gone. The Min-Min lights. A scientist from the other world might call them bits of ball lightning, but Mibba knew better. The lights had touched him, spoken to him, shared their world – for a moment.

“You can’t muck about with country, boy,” his uncle’s voice was close, but Mibba couldn’t see where he was. “It’ll bite ya if you don’ know how to sing back. You gotta learn your own song-story before you mess with Naji.”

Flames flickered in the distance. A fire-pit. Mibba stood. He would walk to the fire. His uncle would be there. Had to be there. No one else was out here, in the middle of dark country; in the middle of traditional dark country.

Had it been only weeks since he had found his blood family? Since he found out he was one of the People? Such a short time; so many things had happened. He was in the middle of the middle of nowhere, and he had a song-line to learn. Or die.

His People, the blood of his People, were the custodians of this place. And its song. The story of the dark country, of the lights of lost souls, of stories and songs to hold the world in a solid piece. He knew none of this before. Did he really want to know? If he learned the stories, would it kill him?

It had killed before. He knew it. Saw it in the lights. The ones who ran from it; ran from shadows of shame and guilt and smoky dreams of honey stolen from children. Mibba could not run. The lights had left him empty of his other life, the life that didn’t have need. Or consequence. Or love. It had stuff that wasn’t real, wasn’t needed, wasn’t necessary to spirit.

Tears burned down his cheeks, touched the slip of leaf held in his lips. Eucalyptus drifted in tiny spirals of pain up his nose, ran out again in more heat, more salt.

The fire-pit loomed up, large flames burst with pops and roars and sizzles. The small stem bits of a grass tree exploded with spirals of colour and life.

“Sit, boy, an’ we’ll talk about it.” His uncle’s voice was hollow; the black skin that glowed in the reflection of flames was striped with white and yellow ochres. The sticks rapped out a rhythm that kept his heart beating. Feet folded under, collapsed Mibba’s legs to the warm ground; his arms flopped. He would die if the sticks stopped. He knew it. Big brown eyes watched him, kept him in this world, but only just – a bare breath of desire, of knowledge, kept him where he was.

Did he desire life? This life, where he had nothing – except the blood family who’d finally found and claimed him? Or the other life? Beyond the lights, part of the lights, part of country. It would take him for Guardian, close his past from him, make of him Other.

Honey mixed with bottlebrush whispered hot fluid onto his tongue, opened his physical body to the surroundings. Huge trees whispered to his ears, asked him to wait, to sing their song back into life. Shrubs that hid ants and crickets and snakes and lizards asked him to speak their story, tell of their lives, bring them back to the world.

Flies and hornets and wasps droned and blitzed, chorused and crackled, asked him to speak the words of life and journey, sing the chants for life and death and significance. Mibba cried for them. He was not what they needed. He was only a boy. A boy without knowledge, without story. He knew nothing of this life, of the words the Naji needed to stay alive. He knew nothing.

“Look into the smoke, boy. See which way the smoke leads you. Watch the trails to see where your story leads. Watch, boy, and learn your words. Learn your country”

Patterns waved in the still air. Smoke curled and drifted and swayed into the night. No moon or stars lit the way, only the smudge of oily smoke showed the path.

Mibba opened his eyes wide, tried to see to the sides of the path. Nothing. Blackness hid everything from him. Darkness was all he saw. Eyes darted back to the smoke, fearful of losing his way without it. Followed it. Found where it led.

The moon opened its face, brought light into the deep hollow in the ground. Water glistened at the bottom, a long way down. Marks in the dirt showed many different tracks.

This was the place of life. This was life. This was the Naji of this place, this moment. The smoke drifted up, coiled into a spring and unwound a new path. Mibba followed, looked up when it went up, looked down when it went down, spun in circles when it spun spirals around him.

The entrance to the cave swallowed the smoke. No light, no smoke. Should he go in? Was this his journey? If it was his journey, was it beginning or end? Did it matter? He would not go in if the spirit of this place didn’t want him to enter. One foot lifted, drifted in the air. Wind swirled and lashed at his head. Mibba turned away, walked back down the path.

Now he knew. This was the end path, the end of story. Life came from water and spirit of country and the lives of the things that came with it, were both from and in country. Death came to all, but the path of life was a circle, and always led to the end.

“Look into the flames, boy, see the whole story.”

Flames lit the deeply lined face on the other side of the fire. An old man; his uncle had become an old man with grey hair and long legs painted with orange and yellow and white stripes of country. Shadows and light danced and swung and moved in the air behind his uncle. Mottles of trunks endured and lived in the spirals of light; spiders and feathers and furs and barks shone for a moment. Their moment.

“Is this my place?” Mibba asked. “My country?”

“Not yet, boy. First, you have to sing it into being. You have to have story of place, story of you, and sing them into you. You sing the words of the sacred place and you become part of country.” Sticks cracked in the fire. “You become People when you sing yourself into the story of people in your country.”

Shadows became long and twisted. Time became short and crippled. Mibba’s eyes became dry and scratchy. His mouth opened. Words came out. Not ordinary words. Words of power, of country, of magic – words of home. He sang; the words became one long word; the place became his place in the world; the story was tomorrow, today, all times before now and all times before time. He sang his whole history as if it were happening now. It was. He became. Whole.

 

Sun shone on the shiffle of grass tree. Kangaroos scratched at dusty fur from the shade of scrubby shrubs. Insects droned and buzzed. Birds called and chattered and sang. Mibba opened his heart to place, opened his eyes to life. His uncle lay asleep on the other side of the cold coals in the fire-pit.

The lights were in him, now. They were part of his journey. If that was not how it was supposed to be, it would not have been. He smiled. It was not the end of his journey. It was not the beginning. It was simply his journey, and he would choose his path with help from the knowledge that came from his song-lines, his story of country. And the Min-Min Spirit-lights that lit up his soul.


tripletrunk

Choices

It could have been this, or that, or something else. I should have applied for ‘real’ jobs, or set up a market stall, or …

But I write. It means I have to make choices about a life of minimal money/cash flow. It’s been a few years now since that decision changed my life. Has it worked? Was it worth it?

Well, the choice to write has worked. I’ve written a lot of words, done a lot of work, a few courses, read hundreds of books, and learned a lot. And I wrote six books last year – that’s a helluva statement. [some have since been ‘retired’ but …]

The choice to write was an easy one – the money thing is a bit tougher. My hair is much longer than it should be; my dentist is a distant memory (I should say: a dark and distant memory, shouldn’t I?); clothes and shoes are re-runs or re-fits. Of course, I still eat, and our bills get paid, and when I start writing well enough for readers to pass along the names of my stories, well, then it all comes good (doesn’t it?). [that will probably be a disappointment, won’t it?]

But the life? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life is tough, sometimes not having ready cash is a pain-in-the-proverbial (like when you need a new printer!) because it slows down the output! And that’s all that matters.

The life of minimalism I chose is the right life for me because I live in a world created for me, by me, to do-see-be the real me. The chameleon, the changeling, the ghost, the monster, the scared-heroic-nasty-helpful-needy-greedy-lovable characters on the page are part of me (and not, but you know – they are for that moment).

The minimalism of my life enables me to ‘put on the skin’ of these characters, to live their life and dramas and achievements – so I have a full life within those pages/stories.

Outside – not so much (shoulder shrug). I do go out, and I garden and walk and do things – talk to neighbours and the postie and strangers who walk past – but the real life is now in the lives I create, in the people and places that are not outside my window or on my street or in my city or country – they’re probably not even in this world or on this planet. And I love that – it’s my world, even if my name and my body are not in there. My people are there, my heart and soul and yearning and learning are in those words where they live. In the pages of my books/stories.

So, is my life minimal? Not at all!


Back to the Main Work now – due for completion 31 March 2017 (or thereabouts! Have to do the editing, don’t we?).

How to go one more week without –

Was it a promise I made? Did I say something to someone about having a break from this daily grind – for a whole month? Surely not! Not this manic, obsessed, driven, etc. words-gotta-get-out person!

But I did. Whether I promised someone else, or the promise was to myself, I need some time to get my mind back together.

And then something really weird happened. Because I’ve already written up dozens of beat sheets, some with accompanying ‘stuff’, it was easier to let it sit there and wait for me to come back. There’s one on the top of the pile, and while I’m doing other stuff, ordinary life stuff, the story comes to me in ways that are ten times more powerful than the original idea. Really.

The bones of the story are the same. The characters are the same. The journey is the same. But how it all comes together, the things that make it zing with power, or move it forward or backward or sideways – are More. More direct where they need to be pointy; more sublime where they need to be subtle; more intriguing where they need a touch of mystery and depth; more unique where they need to diverge from the norm.

One more week – to the day – and I’ll be able to go back to my workstation and put all these potent refreshed moments of the story into the life of It.

True, I’ve snuck in a first draft of the first scene, and it’s been critiqued. Which was good, and it highlighted how I get carried away with ‘what’s in the head’ instead of ‘character in action’ but it hasn’t stopped the forward movement (in my mind) of the plot, of the story, of the moments in the story that needed time to be thought through to make it the a ‘good story, well told.’ Sometimes, I forget about that last bit.

But it’s the most important bit. Why tell a story about a good idea if it’s not told well? Who would be interested in nothing more than a good idea, or something they’ve read (pretty much) before?  Would I?

No.

So giving myself this time, whether it feels like a sentence or a chain or a hindrance, is the best thing I can do for my story right now. While I’m learning the new process, putting it all together in a way that will stay with me and get better and easier and faster, I’ll stick with the ‘break’ and see just how much it works to keep the story in mind after the initial mud-map is created.

I promise you this, it will be good. Stuffed the schedule, though, but who cares? It’s only a month behind the commencement date, so I’ll do what a creative person does: I’ll say that the schedule dates are not the beginning of the month I’ve written, it’s the End. So Feb becomes end Feb, not Begin, Middle, or anywhere else in Feb. End. Fixed.

We’ll see how that works too.


 

How it all comes together …

The last few months I’ve been trying out a new process (yes, yes, yes – a process is the way it’s done [before the procedure of outline], and I’m talking about from Idea to Concept to Premise to Beat to Balance Sheet to [finally] Outline) and it’s proving a little difficult at certain points.

Don’t get me wrong – I love how it works, and I can see how (in the end) it will make my life so much easier (and the novels so much better), but when undertaking a new way of doing things, it is sometimes difficult to retain the focus to the new way. There’s always something that pops up its head and says ‘I’m much more juicy to chew on than that silly thing! Come play with me.’ Or: ‘That’s so hard – come play with me the way you used to.’

But the power and passion that comes from understanding the new process is (well, can be) All-Encompassing. I can feel the bits that lack the full gamut of story; I can stand up and walk around the picture I create with these things; I can feel the life of the characters as they do their thing (always remember: character in action [yes, still a weak point that has to be considered when outlining each scene]). It is power, and once I get my head around how to turn that switch on for each and every idea that compels the passionate embrace of a story unfolding, it will be worth it.

For the moment, I struggle through each section, each scene, each character arc. I put words in the final outline that sound like a good journey – and then I see how it could be made much more dramatic, with much higher stakes, and an outcome that evokes a full-body response in terms of emotion.

Well, that’s me – if by the time it’s finished and the context of that connection is still there, I’ll be the happiest chappie (writerly type) in the world (kitchen).

So, back to work (where’s that cat – he’s supposed to do this editing task?) to discover new things about how to make it betterer, gooderer, and uber-interesting (compelling, in fact).

And that brings me to the apprenticeship of writing. I’m the person who’s been doing the story thing since I was a kid, but when you have a life in the country, when you do country school stuff and have limited access to resources and personnel who could point the way – what is there to do [pre-internet, but even now internet is a variable thing out there]? And when you finish school, life insists you need to earn your way (and writing? who does that? layabouts, that’s who – get a real job!) by enslaving your soul to the multi-national (or worse, government).

But now that’s over, and I’m free (sort of, still have to pay taxes, etc.) to put my words in the proper order to make them into stories that become novels that end up out there in the world. And it’s been a long and hard path, because first I had to learn things:

1. Everything’s changed, and the rules of novel are mucho different;
2. Most of the resources (books and tutors) are as much in the dark as everyone else;
3. The people who do know what they’re doing and talking about don’t talk to plebs (the ones who do are very hard to find – gold dust in the river of muddy life);
4. The words used are vague and wobbly – and big! – to make it harder to break through and in (and hide their vagueness of comprehension);
5. The young writer/s suffer the condescension of published author/s (yes, it happens).
01. One thing hasn’t changed: People still have the passion for putting story together.

BUT …

Now my apprenticeship is over. Last year I wrote several novels (yeah, a bit rough, or even a bit worse than rough) and what I learned through the process of doing that practical work, of keeping my eyes and ears open for what worked and what didn’t, and the act (verb) of continually seeking (see, my own journey) the Way. And I found it.

This year, I will write (and co-write) at least the number of books I wrote last year, but these ones will be not only be good, they will be better, and by the end of the year, I want to have the concept of Best in there.

Next year will be the Best Story I Ever Wrote (unless I get to it this year, of course).


So, back to work … … …