Alone Again … Naturally

Day after day, week after week, month after month … This is where I sit, where I work, where I place all my values and dreams and … write. It would be a solitary business, but the people I create and speak to each day are much better than the real thing.


I tell stories. Usually in long form, a novel or epic. Sometimes, little ideas pop up and I play with them for a bit, work on the structure of it before it gets put to bed in the Wheel of Fortune. These are my friends, the people in the middle of a story who want me to speak for them. I am their orator.

My legs don’t work so well, and walking or running or swimming or sailing are things I can only dream about. But my characters can do those things for me. I can experience their lives for a short time each day. I can live their lives with them.

Rain pours over the window in sheets so heavy it’s impossible to see the garden edge less than a metre away, but as I enter into the world of story, I am back where I want to be – somewhere warm and dry, where the eagles soar and insects scritch their sounds into the stillness of the air.

I don’t hear the voices of other people, but I can have long and meaningful conversations with my peeps on the page. Their conversations are more real than the meaningless drivel spoken at me by the softer, more carbon-based entities.

Is it abandonment that has led me here, to this lonely tower in a castle of my own making? Am I rejecting the world before it rejects me – again?

Is it fear of total abandonment that led me into the pages of story?

No. The stories were always there, the characters were always there. I was one child in a family of eight. But in the midst of the chaos, I was alone. Except in my mind.

I didn’t see a book until we left the country and moved to a town. The school had a library. It became my safe place. I couldn’t take books home, though, because someone would chuck them out, call the books names. Maybe she knew the influence they had on me; maybe not.

On opening a page, I recognised the story-mind. I was home, at peace. A mindful creature who wasn’t alone in the crowd anymore. Free to be me.

Copyright Cage Dunn 2017

  • and now I can get back to the serious work of story-telling …




Primary Source

Two events, it would seem from the post-event interviews – but no, it’s one event seen through many eyes. One side of the team saw the A story, the other team saw the B story.

Perception: it’s how the past creates and shapes what we see and feel and understand today. Discourse [how we communicate, learn, share, be] creates and shapes perception. It’s the same thing as saying: we learn from our history/community; we are what we came from, etc.

Or not.

Two people from the same family, the same school, the same community. One follows the Way of the Past, one steps Away and becomes Other. Different. The Black Sheep.

That person has organised their life, their history, to an outcome that is more purposeful than the norm. A choice has been made, and once made, must be forged. It takes courage and determination to step away from what is expected.

And it takes an expectation of being alone and separate from the norm of their history.

I speak from experience.

Where I come from, education isn’t necessary because ‘Who needs to know that?’ is how it was spoken of. To marry and produce children was essential – I didn’t want that [I did take on a few foster kids – 32 in all] because I don’t think a person should just because they can [nor do I climb mountains ‘because it’s there’]. I moved out of the family ‘location’ as soon as I could use my thumb [not that I had much choice, really, considering the mater kicked me out onto the streets at a young age anyway – ‘trouble-makers aren’t welcome here!].

I went out into the world.

It was scary. Living alone with the perceptions I had now to create for myself. The needs I had to learn I had to meet. The knowledge required to be more than I was. To be what I wanted to be, what I dreamed I could be.

It was hard. How can an underage [and scruffy] kid get anything?

What was the first lesson?

How to survive – yes, that was first and toughest. But then it came down to how to ‘read’ people.

Why? Because it’s only through community that we survive. Knowing who is going to hurt you or take things from you is critical. And so is recognising the people who are willing to share their knowledge, their paths, their food. [Not going to share how to ‘read’ – another lesson: we learn only through the doing of the thing.]

There are people in the world who are saints but are never recognised as such. There are people who rise to the top of hundreds of people’s hearts and they never know it.

And there are people who – we’ve all met them – think they are beyond the scrap-heap of the humans who litter the streets. These are the people who believe that if the street is swept often enough, the world will be fine. Closed eyes, closed mind. The people who impose their will on others and say ‘be like me’ to be ‘right’.

Well, you know what? My life lessons, though hard, are worth what I went through. My run-in with ‘discourses’ of life have made me a better person, a person who can share and feel and be – and that’s exactly what I wanted when I left that place so long ago.

Free to make choices that matter.


Look in the Mirror …

And what do you see? Is it the real you, or a stranger?

I look in the mirror, and what do I see? A person I know, but a face I don’t. I mean, that person wears glasses, has that growly look, humps one shoulder more forward than the other – and shorter in reality than …

In my dreams, I don’t need glasses to see – I see it all; in my dreams I can run, I can dance, I can swim, I can fly.

In my dreams the person I am is more real than that person in the mirror.

I walk past again, and the carousel of mirrors shows a different aspect each time; is it still the same me?

This one, with the chin jutted forward, aggressive, the eyes furtive, cautious, the mind swirling with fears and antagonism.

The next one, the half-smile, the glasses on the end of the nose – reading? Oh, that’s why the smile.

Turn the corner, pluck at that vision – is it me? Or a stranger?

What is it that I recognise about this face?

The shape, although it has changed over the years, less defined, less sell-able; what about the shape of the brows? They too have changed over the years – shaped and managed until the question mark of the right brow has been diminished, and people don’t look so shocked when they look into those eyes.

The skin colour, not a true reflection of self, and it too has changed over the years. Once, it was used to make pretty pictures that other people liked, smiled at, appreciated. It was smoother, with no scars or ridges or patchy bits or raggedy butterfly shapes across the nose and cheeks – once the skin was a honey-brown colour.

The hair, once so lovely and thick, a lush deep colour of browns with highlights of sun-bleached blondes and a touch of fire. Now, it doesn’t quite cover the scalp, growing it long only makes the gaps on said scalp wider and more noticeable, and every day the brushing or combing leaves more on the tool than on the head. The crowning glory is no more.

But, in my dreams, I am the real me. I can run and jump, dance and sing (and not sound like a caterwauling cat in a fight with a donkey), fly and dive. I am free of the constraints of bad eyes, bad skin, bad hair – I am me.

Copyright Cage Dunn 2017 – me

Don’t Do It!

Suffer the consequences of the lurgy alone in your room – don’t be a martyr; don’t get up and work on your words. You will be sorry. You will delete every little bit you did. You will destroy the confidence you had in the story line.

You will be sick longer.

When the words become too casual, too ‘not quite right’ – slide the chair out, take the drugs appropriate to the condition, and Go Back To Bed!

‘Cos that’s what happened. I got sick. Not good. But I was so close to finishing off the serious bit of that particular play up to the major turning point. I suffered through a whole day of writing ‘stuff’ – and then, this morning, I read it.

The scream is still playing in my ears. The voice of the story is gone. It is as dull and thick headed as a ‘flu head can be. It is wrong. It is bad. It is not ‘the’ story.

What do you think I had to do? Yep. Back to the scene outline, back to the place where I began those stupidly moronic attempt at words that came from a head that didn’t have a sensible thought in it – and deleted it.

Well, not really.

After I’d read a few para’s of what I’d written, I went back to the previous version.

That’s why versioning is so critical.

Because if you do something silly (like trying to think you can think when you have ‘flu), you can hide the version you did it in, and go back to the one from the day before.

And start again.

Presuming the head is still solid in the way it can deal with the needs of the story.

And I can tell, even now, that this is not the case. Words fly by – they should mean something, but they don’t – what was I talking about? Oh, yes.

A clear head, a defined pattern of thoughts, a clarity in the direction of the story and the characters within it – that’s what’s needed. And if that’s what I don’t have, I should just have that hot drink, take that drug – if I can remember which one is appropriate – and go back to bed.

Will I do that? It is raining; there is a storm outside; it would be nice to snuggle up under a warm doona with a dog to keep me warm …. but the dog doesn’t like to sleep on the bed (very strange for a dog, I can tell you!), the sheets on the bed need changing because of all the fever sweats, and there might be a good show on telly, or a vid I haven’t seen for a while. Oh, yes, Strassman – that’s what I’ll watch.

Later, the other stuff can happen later.

And the words can happen tomorrow … maybe.

Slim in sunroom chair


The Tingle …

In what would normally be the throes of a new passion, I sit at the desk and dream of a fragrance. It is the new love, the promise of the new affair, but it’s not here yet. I can’t start until the last one is completely finished. But, oh, how I long to meet the new one.

She sits with her father and the RSM (not what you think – this is from the BS: Father Holy is led around the Garden of Joy by the Reasoner of Soul Magic (although the King calls him Royal Sergeant Master)) in the Garden of Joy, waiting for the next volunteer (to be husband to Agoness (not many, ‘cos they ‘feel’ the cost of the role).

The man who does volunteer, he isn’t a good man, and she says no. That’s when the trouble starts, isn’t it?

I want to tell this story now; I would be a good lover for her, at least until her story is told, and I watch her face, I hear the words her father says, I see the protective stance of the RSM as he waits patiently for me/us to complete the task already in play.

The story of Agoness will take my full heart and soul, she will condone no stray thoughts of others, she will be a demanding mistress – and I adore her already!

Why are we here, at her gate?

Because the first draft of the Ghost Story (still without a proper name – how can that be?) is complete. Not edited, not finalised finished, but all the words are in the pages, all the scenes are complete and in their final places – all that’s missing is the last few steps. The hardest steps, for me.

To step away, move away from my current love. To leave her to sit alone while I almost forget who she is, and then step back through that door with arms open, only to slash and burn and re-shape the words yet again. For the last time.

And it breaks my heart to treat her like that, and to then let her go as if she meant nothing.

And yet, and yet … My new lover awaits. She slowly lowers her eyelids over the glint of blue in her eyes, and smiles. And I am lost. My heart belongs to her. I will be loyal and generous and caring.

Until …

The stage where I am now, with Ghost, is the end of a relationship. Because if I don’t force the issue and send her out into the world on her own, how could I possibly start another relationship?

These stories take my heart and soul, take me away from the real world and into their own, they are my breath and my bane – because it’s all or nothing, passion or distance, joy or pain.

It is my world – for a moment – and as in the real world, things move on, they change, they adapt. Children grow up and move on. Books and stories spend time with other lovers and friends, and I have to allow them to do that.

And it’s almost goodbye to Ghost [I know, I think it will be: The Valki of Three Salt Springs!].




Fortune, fortunate

A Wheel of Fortune spins and spins, clickety clacks until the leather flap holds firm. It has stopped. There is a winner. The Writer leans in and reads the Title and Number.

Title is ‘Agoness’ and number is 15. This will be the next story she works on. This is her way of deciding what comes next, who gets to be created on the page, who gets to live out their story for the next project.

Agoness is not a new story. It sat in the darkness as an idea for a long time, then it became a pattern of recognition, otherwise known as a beat sheet. From that beat sheet came the characters who’d share the journey, who they were and what their relationships were to the main character (MC). The setting, the world, was clearly outlined on a separate stage, with pictures and maps and money systems, with political news and disputes, with the ways of learning and judging – the world, the hidden background that influences without having to be explained except through MC’s actions and reactions, through her journey in this story.

And 15? The numbers are used until a story is complete and its number becomes vacant, until it’s time for another story to show its head, to pop up from the unknown and start wagging the tail. When Agoness is completed and published, the number will become associated with a different Title.

Because, well, the Wheel of Story Fortunes has a limited number of spaces – and please don’t ask how many there are on the real thing. This is the world of a writer, and it is made up as required, as needed, and as desired. In the current Wheel of Stories, there are 32 numbers, and therefore 32 stories waiting for their turn at the keyboard.

Some of these stories will be written up and finished at this stage, but mostly what happens is that they go through another stage, either a planning and development stage, or an Act or two will be written up or plumped out or plotted and staged, or a dimensional understanding of ‘what the hell happened’ stage. If the Writer doesn’t understand why or how things happen, it’s not finished. And sometimes, these things take time to bubble up from deep wells of Writerly Thinking before they can be added to, or finish, the story.

Today is one of those days. Rather than thinking too hard on the current WIP(s), pick up another gauntlet and let the brain wander in a new world until it meets up with the bubbles of treasure it wasn’t searching for in the front-brain activity. Then stack it away, back in the slot for that number, and get cracking.

C’est la vie!wheels


A Mirage

It shines on the horizon, a shimmer of something that seems glorious, something to be followed with wide eyes and avid heart. It is an illusion. It will trap you in its simple beauty and lead you far and away beyond the ken of life.

The desert does that. It spells the wanderer into thinking it has life, but just carry on, go a bit further, over that next ridge, and all will be revealed. It won’t. There will be another and another and another. On and on and on.

In the desert, to move is to die. To stay still, to wait, is the only option. Once the wanderer leaves the trail, or the vehicle, it may as well be all over.

Out here, out there, nothing will find the body but ants and sand. Years may pass before the bones rise again to the surface, brown and white and cleaned of flesh. It is the way of things.

The glowing message on the horizon? The trap for the unwary? It gives hope, and hope – out here – is not something to chase, but something to give.

Hope will come when the next vehicle along the tracks sees the broken down fellow traveler. Hope will be lost when it’s found to be abandoned. No one will go beyond the border of the track, not without air support, ground support, water trucks, radio support. Out here, out there, there is no hope, no chance, and that mirage is the only thing of substance.

A short one today, but that’s how it goes sometimes. And yes, I do miss the desert; the smell as the sun rises, the sounds that show just how much life is there if you know where to look, the washes of colour and movement that don’t seem quite real. The big, big open spaces where I can stand on one hummock and sense the rest of the world, where I can see the ‘roos digging in for the day, where the rocks glow with the heat or crackle with the change in humidity – night to day. I miss it, and even when I lived in it, drove through it every day, worked on it, and loved it, there was always the fear, because out here, out there, you are the only person who can offer hope to yourself. And that may be the biggest lesson of all.


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.



Is it Real?

The lives that come to life from the mind, that play games with every action undertaken until they get to live that life on the pages – are they real? Really real, or simply an imaginary expansion of a real-life event or person?

This is an easy one to answer because I’ve seen, and researched, the bubbles of interest in specific themes and motifs in stories written during a specific time-frame. I may have mentioned in past posts how I wrote a story in 1998 that I then read (not word for word, but theme and concept and premise too close to dismiss) the full-novel version by a famous author. It set up an automatic action in me (numbers geek thing) to seek out specific patterns in themes from publicly available writing, and guess what?

It happens all the time! A particular element of a story will be ‘shared’ by a glut of stories undertaken about the same time. Fact.

What does it mean? Are we all thinking and planning things from the same source? You know, news and cable and other forms of media? Or is there a bigger thing, an over-mind, we all hook into to use as our ‘muse’? I have to say, my idea02grey of a muse may not match what other people think, because I call it the ‘word-world-on-my-shoulder’ muse, and not a single entity, but a flow of hundreds or thousands of them, throwing out ideas and ‘what-if’ scenarios, digging at a chain of thought until I see the light of that fleeting flight of fancy.

It’s not the muse, it’s not the common media, it’s not imagination – so what is it? Is there really such a thing as an over-mind? Or a planetary being who watches over us and shares information? Is it how we learn? Is it something ‘other’?

An answer: who cares, as long as we get the stories, the lessons, the vicarious gift of living something [safely] through the stories told. What does it matter if someone labels the writer as ‘peculiar’ or ‘eccentric’ or ‘mad’? Living with multiple person/alities, who all want to put their piece into the story is fun, it’s interesting, it’s compelling.

Other people chase money or fame or family – I love, crave, and burn to find the new minds, the new creatures, the new way of thinking about a particular subject, idea, concept – until it becomes a story, which is always something to be shared.

[when it gets cleaned up a little, that is]


That [swear-word] schedule!

Earlier in the year – it might have been about the time people make resolutions – I made up a schedule. And I stuck to it. For a while. Things happened, and I tried to incorporate those things, and sometimes it worked. Sometimes not.

The qualms set in – how can I do this? that? keep up? keep going?

After the first issue of timeline slip, I let it go. After all, these things happen, and even if I don’t catch up at the very least I can slog on.

Then the second thing happened – more serious. An injury that kept me off the chair for [they said 3 months; I tried coming back after 2, and now it’s 4 months] a considerable part of the year.

The schedule is shot, blasted out to galaxy M31 to drift in the waves of space debris, wandering further and further from my grasp.

I think I’m starting to understand that nothing is ever truly within our control. Nothing. Ever. The more we try to control things, the easier they slip away, disappear.

But …

The Equine story isn’t finished, and I have to wait for feedback before going back in there. In the meantime, I put together two anthologies and published them. I’ve completed two pieces for a competition (worth money, so worth pursuing). I’ve worked on ways to improve the through-rate of beast-sheets (no error in my word there – they can be monstrous things if you want to get it fully complete and ready to roll in a story sense before the fingers hit the keys), and finally, I’ve created a short-cut, cheat-sheet to share with a group of young writers at the local library (next month – already?).

And the other things? Family in distress when the ol’ Pa gets crook (91yo) and ol’ Ma (90) stresses out about him. Takes a lot of time away from work when you have to babysit the oldies (not me, fortunately; the other half does that, but it means our time is severely constrained because I have to do the things he would normally do as well as the things I normally do). Two new babies – no, three! – and now there’s (how many?) so many new names and birthdays and reasons to celebrate (spend money) that it takes a [what do you call those things to put all the important personal details and reminders into?] personal planner (and not electronic, because we know what happens when they fail and you forget a birthday and no one speaks to you for months/years because, I mean, that excuse about technology?) just to keep up with obligations.

It’s all too much. Too much. And the most important thing in the world – those stories – have to wait their turn for my attention. Do you think it’s the stories suffering?

No, me neither. I need my sanity back. Now, thank you very much!

In case you don’t know, I use these moments to ‘warm up’ into my writing day, and it’s all of the cuff, so take the mistakes and guff with a pinch of salt (or sugar) and let it all go in a deep breath. Now all I need to do is listen to my own advice – and act on it!