Indifferent Ribbon, Butterfly Ribbon
This is gonna be the very first time that I share my fiction writings in my blog. I practiced that when I was learning this Creative Writing on Coursera last winter. I was completely new to this “make something up” style of writing, it took me quite a while to work on my mind as well as the writing skill, but in the end I enjoyed it. It’s like it stretched my imaginary creative muscles 💪that otherwise I’d never even noticed its existence.
I’ll just show you one of the homework I did last December, unmodified. The requirement was to practice the technique of revealing thoughts and feelings indirectly - through the environment, behavior, and other details. For example, instead of a plain “he’s sad,” you can say something like this to reveal the person’s internal state: “sitting in the dark, he gulped down the bottle and hoped it’ll do the trick and take the edge off. It usually works, but not tonight…”
Creative Writing, Style, Week 4: Concrete Style Infused with Thought and Feeling
The aim here is not to practice withholding ideas or feeling, but to practice revealing them through the surfaces of physical experience.
Writing in the third person, describe a house from the point of view of a mother or father whose daughter has just left home and married a man the mother or father despises. Don’t refer to the wedding itself, or to the mother or father’s hatred of the son-in-law. Focus on the house as she or he experiences it in the wake of the daughter’s departure.
Then describe the same house from the point of view of the same mother or father—except this time the daughter has left home to marry someone the mother or father genuinely loves and approves of. Again, don’t refer to the wedding itself, or to the mother or father’s affection for the son-in-law but on the house as she experiences it in the wake of the daughter’s departure.
The two pieces combined should total 600-750 words.
He had a hard time getting off the bed. It was not chilly outside, but this morning, he wanted to give in to the duvet, just a little more, at least that was one thing in his control.
When was the last time he did that? He lost the sense of time. Dreams and reality were woven together. Eventually, he left the bed behind, gently and carefully, tried not to wake up his wife.
He walked straight to the kitchen in his pajamas, leaving the lights and curtains shut. While boiling a bottle of water in the kettle, he unwrapped the indifferent ribbon and opened the gift box he got from his daughter Maggie and his new son-in-law David. Coffee beans, Ethiopia, his favorites. One-size-fits-all, he thought, you drink it when you are in a good mood of catching up or getting ready, and you drink it when you’re tired of the reality and want to get away from it. Which way shall he interpret it? He felt it irony.
The kettle whistled and clicked. He measured the beans and ground them, placed the filter in the dripper, pre-wet it, preheated the server… and finally poured himself a cup of coffee. All on autopilot, the morning ritual. He was aware that there shall be a get-to-know-each-other session for every new beans to establish the relationship. He got the solid knowledge and technique over the years. The taste was ok, the beans were of great quality, yet the flavor felt familiar and at the same time, distant, unsettling.
Holding the mug cup, he headed out and walked towards the garage where laid the growth chart of Maggie. He slid through it, paused at each mark and let the memory flow back. No matter how many times he reminded himself, it still shocked him how fast his little girl grew up. He had devoted his life-savings and life-lessons to her, yet out of numerous options, she picked up this David guy.
He gulped down the rest of the coffee. It was cooled and bitter.
Headache. Hangover. But why not, he thought, you only get to drink like that few times in a lifetime. He rolled over, adjusted the duvet for his wife and got off the bed without making a sound.
He opened the curtains in the living room, let in the sunshine. Looking at the reflection of himself in the window, finger tapped his white beard, he smiled, felt lightweight.
He recalled something and rushed to the kitchen. Unwrapping the beautiful butterfly ribbon, he opened the gift box he got from his daughter Maggie and his new son-in-law Dave. The aroma flew over. Coffee beans! He shouted silently. He held it to his nose and smelled it out, Ethiopia, his favorite. Well done, well done, he clapped to the new married couple.
Time for the morning ritual. He had a second thought when reaching the electric grinder and turned to look out the lower drawer. Got it! The hand grinder. Got to enjoy it at a leisurely pace. He had been rushing for his whole life, now when everything was finally settled, he liked to take the time he couldn’t spare before. He also liked to devote more labor if possible, as a way of respecting the gift—the representation of the kindness from Maggie.
Every turn-around of the hand grinder reminded him of the old days when they went out for the merry-go-round. Truly amazing how kid grew up this fast! And more than anything, he is very proud of her. All the things he had done for the family, she understood.
When he was wandering in the nostalgia world, his hands ran autopilot and poured the coffee. He held the mug cup and smelled, “well done, well done.”
That was it!
I still remember I rushed the ending of the second version, and after read it again, it does show that the it was too weak.
I’ll also paste the review questions below, so you can have a feeling of what’s it like of attending the course 😉. It’s similar to what we software engineers do everyday - peer review others’ code on Github. In this creative writing course, we also review others and answer the questions to help the writer improve his/her writing.
If you feel like it, please leave your review in the comments section 💁🏻♂️
Q: How successful is the writer at sticking to concrete language, describing the things of the world as opposed to explicit judgments or feelings? Please explain.
Q: Has the writer nonetheless managed to imply the character’s state of mind in her choice of descriptive language? Please explain.
Q: Which of the two pieces seems most promising to you as part of a longer story? Please explain your selection.