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Nigel Gordon

Creative Writing Course - Discussion Group

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Arnold Knox laughed. Tanner was like most teenage boys, a bottomless pit into which food simply disappeared. “Yes, we’re still going out to dinner for your mom’s birthday tonight."

Colin, the image of Tanner covering himself as he trotted up the stairs, Naked, was wonderful. The only niggle I had with the piece was with the last line. His father's answer was repetitive as Tanner gave us the same information the para before. I'd offer:

Arnold Knox laughed. "Yes, we are." Tanner, like most teenage boys, was a bottomless pit into which food simply disappeared.

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I didn't get all the way to Novakovich. I dropped out several weeks ago. There were several reasons, but basically I was putting time in and getting nothing out of it, I didn't agree with some of the advice I was being given, didn't like the way the setup worked, and so I asked myself why I was continuing the course, didn't have a good answer, and quit.

C

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I didn't get all the way to Novakovich.

Well all I can say is that you are probably lucky. Novakovich position is that the character is everything and the plot is secondary, that the plot will come out of the character. This is something I disagree with as I believe that a strong plot is essential and your characters come from the plot.

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Here again, this is an example of what I've found through all the reading I've done. There are no rules. Great stories have been written that are basically all plot. Others are almost entirely character studies. There can be emphasis on character, emphasis on plot, or a complete mixing of the two. The character can be defined by his response to the actions of the plot, or the plot can turn based on the actions of the character.

I really feel if we try to follow rules, we limit ourselves. Pec doesn't agree, and he's a fine writer. This is an art form. Ask Picasso about rules.

C

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I must admit that I found the early part of the course useful, have kept a notebook for years but have never used it in the way they discussed. That is going back to it regularly and looking through it for ideas. What I tended to do was have an idea jot it down and some time later wonder what the idea I had was about the boat builder, then I would go back and look it up. Now I have started to get into the habit to look through it regularly and must admit that I am finding that productive.

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Like Camy said, if you disagree with something that's offered, post your disagreement on the Future Learn site. Then ignore it and go to the next topic. That's what I do. There's no single approach to writing.

I don't see what all the fuss is about what Novakovich says. In fact, The most important thing he says is to see what works best for you when creating characters. His position that characters drive a story is, I think, valid for me. I first come up with a plot then I populate it with the characters that I can see in my imagination that fit that plot. My plots are always derived from one or more characters:

"At the dinner table a teen tells his family that he's gay. Everyone is supportive except his mother. Can she overcome her religious objections and accept him?"

"A woman is having nightmares. Her husband has been totally fixated on his job and has been cold and aloof. What can she do about it?"

"A man riding his prized motorcycle is run off the road and his leg is broken. His apartment is above a coffee shop and he goes down for coffee every day. There he finds out who ran him off the road."

"Two girls are having a sleepover. A man breaks into the house. How can they escape?"

I don't know everything about writing. I've learned some things in this course that can be useful. I'm going to stick with it.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Here's my wordage for 5.8. Challenging expectations.

The challenge now is to write a stereotype in a more complicated fashion. Write a brief scene, around 300–500 words, in which you portray a character in a complex way, going against the usual expectations for such a character.

***

“Oh dear. Oh dear me, no,” the professor said, and as always, none paid the slightest attention; the only reason I heard was because John had missed the class and I was sitting on my own, by the door at the back: thank god.

“Apollo?” The professor spoke quietly; conversations continued unabated. Someone chuckled and I thank my lucky stars it wasn’t me – as it might well have been had John attended. In hindsight, maybe there was something in the professor’s tone that could have warned us, or maybe the warning was in the way he seemed to grow taller, and somehow more significant.

“Ronnie Barr, do you know where Apollo is?” The professor said. He was louder this time, but still his tone seemed mild.

Typically, Ronnie Barr and Brian Marchant were surrounded by their coterie of fluffettes – as they liked to call the girls they seemed to attract with their mystical magnetism. A fluffette giggled. She shouldn’t have. The professor put the file carefully down on his desk, and then the screams began.

Before you ask, no, I don’t have any idea where he got the katana from. The giggling fluffette’s head sailed across the room hitting the wall beside me with a dull thwup, then falling to the floor. Blood spattered my shoes and jeans.

“One,” the professor said, neatly marking it on the white board.

He’d got to five by the time I found the classroom door had been locked.

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This is my chapter 5 assignment from 5.16 after I got feedback and made changes to what I'd written in 5.13.

Colleen

Colleen drove by the gym several times, not ready to expose herself to a roomful of buff, mostly male, bodies. She took a deep breath, and said out loud, to no one in particular, "Screw it, if they don't like what they see they can turn away."

The gym was huge, one of those 'SuperSport' places. She chose it because of the facilities and that it was open 24 hours a day.

A rather perky girl greeted her when she walked up to the counter. She handed over the membership card she'd received in the mail. The girl swiped her card and handed it back and looked at her computer screen.

"Hi, Colleen. Since this is your first time here, I suggest you take advantage of our three day personal trainer session. You'll be introduced to all of the options here and the trainer will develop an exercise plan tailored to what you want. This is a benefit included with your membership."

Colleen shrugged her shoulders. "Okay, that sounds good."

"Would you prefer a guy or a girl to be your trainer?"

"Oh, a girl, please."

After the tour, which took over half an hour, her personal trainer Lora took her to one of the offices and they sat down.

"What are your objectives, Colleen?"

"Lose weight, which should be obvious. I'm on a diet now, and sticking to it. I've lost almost fifteen pounds. But it's not coming off where I want to lose the weight. That's my hips, my behind, and my thighs."

They went through the options that Lora recommended, and Lora handed her the printout of the exercise sequence, time, and reps.

"I recommend that you plan on three days a week. Will that work with your schedule?"

"Yes, I work from home so my schedule is very flexible."

"Okay, let's start our two additional sessions tomorrow. I'm available at eleven o'clock, does that work for you?"

"Yes, it does."

The story about working from home was a stretch. Colleen had lost her job at the Perfect Fit dress shop "because she no longer fit their image." She'd loved that job, but she understood their need to have saleswomen who had the right image. So her work at home consisted of filling out online employment applications.

At first her gym sessions were excruciating. Even worse, she didn't see any improvement, and she'd be famished and would cheat on her diet. By the third week she had less pain after each session and she'd thrown out all of the junk food and sweets at home and got back on her diet. She lost weight, but hadn't achieved any of the lower body sculpting she'd hoped.

By her fourth week one of her job applications resulted in a real job working from home, as an editor and fact checker for an online magazine.

By the seventh week she could see real results. She weighed 176, down from 192, her waist size had gone down five inches, and her clothes felt very loose. She decided to put off buying anything new until she achieved her goals of reducing her weight to 115 and losing all of the flab.

At the start of her sixteenth week she signed up for a review session with Lora. While there were big improvements she couldn't seem to get her weight below 135, far from her 115 pound goal.

"Colleen, you're body isn't a 115 pound body anymore," Lora told her.

"But that's what I weighed when I graduated from high school. I'm the same height, five foot seven, so I don't see why you say I don't have a 115 pound body."

"Come with me, and I'll show you." Lora walked her to the weight training area, a part of the gym she'd avoided. She handed Colleen a 25 pound dumbbell.

"That's pretty heavy!" Colleen said.

"I don't think you could have held it with one hand when you first came here. The upper body exercises you've been doing have improved your strength. And not just upper body, your entire body, shoulders, arms, back, glutes, thighs, and calves. Muscle mass weighs more than fat. As you've lost fat you've gained muscle mass. You've changed your 115 pound high school girl's body to a 135 pound adult woman's body. Remember that set of pictures that I insisted on taking when you started?"

Colleen laughed. "Yes. I also remember that made me think about walking right out of here and never coming back."

"Well, I want to take another set today, right now."

Lora showed her the pictures on her tablet.

"Look at your improvement!" she enthused.

"Yeah, I look good. But what about my goal?"

"Your goal has to change. At five foot seven and 135 pounds have a BMI of 21.1. That's perfect for you."

"What's a BMI?"

"That your body mass index. It's a rough gauge of body mass versus height. It's imprecise but still gives us a good idea about your fitness. You're fit, Colleen. Be proud of what you've accomplished. And be sure to continue coming here to keep yourself fit."

"So you don't think I'll lose any more weight? My body size won't change?"

"No, you're where you should be. From now on you'll do maintenance exercises, including the treadmill and the pool."

Colleen smiled. "Okay. Then I guess it's time to go out on a shopping spree."

"You deserve it, girl. Go for it!"

Coleen knew exactly where her first stop in the mall would be. The store manager saw her come in.

"Colleen? Is that you?"

"Yes, Rebecca, this is me."

"Oh my god, you look great! What did you do?"

"I went to the gym three times a week and exercised and I stuck to a healthy diet."

Rebecca surprised Colleen by hugging her. "Can I steal you away from wherever you're working?"

"You know, I loved working here. I've been working from home, so I'd say yes, you can steal me away. When can I start?"

"Tell you what, how about right now?"

"That works for me. Now that I'm an employee, can I buy some clothes and get my employee discount?"

"First, welcome back. Second, let's go select some outfits for you. Third, you will get your employee discount. That way you can tell customers that what you're wearing is a Perfect Fit."

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I've just written this as part of the OU course.

It's my account of a real event and yet it's fiction. Like all fiction it is grounded in fact.

Kulvinder had been hanging around in the motorway services for over an hour before he plucked up courage to make his move. He had been browsing magazines in the shop, trying to look like all the other men who came in, picked up a magazine, usually about cars, or motorcycles, or sport, flicked through it before replacing it in the rack and moving on.

Trying to look absorbed in the magazine in his hand, which he'd hardly registered was called Newsweek, out of the corner of his eye he was closely following the actions of another man. He marked him down as older than himself, greying and receding hair giving the lie to the smooth unwrinkled complexion. His own grey was limited to his temples where he flattered himself it looked distinguished.

He watched the man stride purposefully up to the magazine rack, scan along the top shelf until his eye settled on Attitude magazine, next to GT magazine the only two gay lifestyle magazines on display. Kulvinder willed him to take a copy, plucked up courage and himself took down a copy of GT, but after staring at it for a moment the other man walked away and out of the shop. Another false hope. Kulvinder slid the GT magazine under the other in his hands and went back to staring at the close-typed text of the current affairs magazine, unseeing.

Ten minutes later he was still at his post. There had been one or two men – it was always men – who came, browsed a magazine and then left. No-one had touched Attitude or GT all morning although occasionally someone carried one of the wrapped magazines off to the paypoint. Kulvinder took no interest in the wrapped magazines, had no curiosity about the contents, hidden behind the semi-opaque polythene. You could just make out the image on the front cover which in most cases consisted of a pair of breasts. He did wonder about the men who were able brazenly to carry such material to the girl at the checkout and meet her eye as they paid for their purchase. He had never yet plucked up courage to take a copy of GT and pay for it. Once he had shop-lifted one but the guilt that wracked him afterwards prevented him from repeating the experiment. It didn't stop him from reading the magazine cover to cover and re-reading most of it before putting it in the car park waste bin, though.

He tried to convince himself, re-assure himself, that GT magazine was not pornography, but a lifestyle magazine and that it was legitimately on display so that homosexuals, who were now respectable members of society here in the UK, could purchase it and read it to inform themselves of issues relevant to themselves and their lifestyle. He knew what his wife would say, though, and what his mother would say too. He could not do it, despite the anonymity offered by this shop many miles from his home.

To his surprise, the man who'd looked as though he might be about to purchase Attitude returned, just as purposefully as before, and without hesitation reached for and took down a copy of Attitude magazine. He glanced for no more than an instant at Kulvinder and at the two magazines in his hand before striding off to the checkout.

Kulvinder stood frozen to the spot for several long moments before shaking himself and, galvanized into action he began walking after the other man. Glancing down he realised he was still carrying Newsweek as well as GT. He hesitated, intending to turn back and replace Newsweek on the rack, but then thought better of it. He could use Newsweek to hide the cover of GT from prying eyes. He would be paying for a magazine whose only use to him was as disguise, but he thought that money well spent.

There was a queue. Two checkouts were in use, but there were two customers between him and the purchaser of Attitude. The other man was making no attempt to hide his magazine and even held a light conversation with the shop assistant while he paid. “Would you like a bag for that?” “No, thanks, the car's just outside.” “Well it would have to be, otherwise you'd have had difficulty getting here!” “Well, yes...” Grins exchanged, Attitude man walked off towards the exit door.

Panicking, Kulvinder called out to him. “Show me your magazine!”

At first the other man did not react, perhaps assuming the call was not addressed to him. Kulvinder called out again. “Show me your magazine!”

Attitude man turned, puzzled, but his face cleared when he recognized Kulvinder. He must have been more observant at the magazine rack than he had appeared. Kulvinder, boldened, showed his GT magazine. Pointing at the cover he tried to ensure the other man registered what it was he had purchased. He made the point clearer: “I prefer this one.”

The other man grinned tolerantly. “Well, I prefer this one. I'll fight you over it!” - and he smiled engagingly to clarify that he was speaking lightly. But then he walked off and Kulvinder couldn't think of any way to keep him. It was his turn at the checkout and the cashier was waiting impatiently. Defeated, he walked up and paid for his purchases. He didn't even think about being embarrassed to hand GT magazine over to be scanned.

One day, somehow, he would find a way to make a gay friend. He'd just have to keep trying.

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Colin I must apologise. I just posted a piece of my own here, before noticing that the previous post in this thread is a piece from you - which I read when you posted it but failed to make any comment on. I can only think I must have been in a big rush when I read it.

I do remember that I was vastly impressed that you wrote a very complete story with a satisfactory ending as well as a convincing beginning and middle, in so few words. There's a lot of technical stuff about exercise routines, I'm thinking you perhaps have a gym membership yourself?

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Colin, It's a good and complete story, though I have to say I prefer the name Collen to Carolyn. :icon_thumright:

Bruin, I enjoyed this, especially when Kulvinder panics and calls after Attitude man - though I was expecting some reaction from others in the queue. But, in these days of CCTV, would you get away with loitering anywhere in a motorway services?

Here's mine. It's short, and maybe overly weird.

As usual, Ravid polished his monocle, primped himself in the librarian's bathroom, and left through the revolving door on the dot of noon. He walked to the cafe in the street beside the mall, absently paid and thanked the counterman who handed him his pre-prepared tray - a cheese and pickle sandwich on rye, an apple, a yogurt, and a carton of milk. It was then, as he arrived at his table - the same table he used everyday for the last six years - and found a plump rouged woman and many shopping bags already situated there, that his carefully planned day went awry.

Ravid froze in indecision; not because he didn't know how to sort the situation out, he did: but apparently ripping the throat out of a human during daylight wasn't the done thing. Besides, even if he did dispose of the creature's corpse, clean up the mess and apologise to the counterman and the other lunchtime patrons, he still might not be welcomed back to the cafe.

With a huff he turned on his heel and walked back to the counter. "So sorry to bother you, but might I have this to go?"

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There's no such thing as overly weird, Camy! Weird is good...

This is certainly weird - just who is Ravid?! Is he delusional, too much reading of Sci-Fi horror in his library? Or is he really a creature from another planet, a sleeper on planet Earth, waiting to be activated to some destructive purpose? Methinks there's scope for further development of this character! As it is it's a brilliantly written intriguing snippet.

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In response to Camy's comments on my piece above, here are the notes I made in my journal immediately after I encountered the man I've called Kulvinder:

Motorway services – heavy-set asian man in blue baseball cap standing at newsagent magazine rack reading TIME magazine. I walk up, scan top shelf, spot Attitude, stare at it a moment before deciding to visit the toilets before buying it. Noticed by blue cap man, who reaches pointedly for GT magazine next to Attitude.

I walk off, go to loo, return, he's still there, again avidly reading TIME although I notice one or more other magazines under it in his hand. I take a copy of Attitude and walk towards cashtills wondering if he'll follow. At first he doesn't but by the time I get to the end of the queue and walk up to be served he's behind me.

I exchange banter with the girl behind the till: “Do you want a bag for that?” “No, thanks, the car's just outside.” “Well, yes, it would have to be otherwise you couldn't have got here!”

As I walk off, blue cap man calls to me “Show me your magazine!”

I show him the cover of Attitude, he reciprocates by showing me GT in his hand, points very deliberately at one of the article titles on the cover. I am slightly taken aback by this exchange and fail to read the text he's pointing to. He speaks again. “I prefer this one.”

I smile, I hope encouragingly. “I prefer this one. I'll fight you over it!” I walk off, and he approaches the checkout girl to pay for his purchase.

I decide not to be in a hurry to return to my car in case he wants to strike up a conversation again. So I dawdle, and on the spur of the moment decide to buy a bottle of lemonade from the M&S shop. As I queue to pay I see him walking past in the corridor outside. Drat, he didn't notice me. After paying, I follow him out to the car park, scan the enormous area looking for a blue cap, but there's no sign of it or him. I return to the car, drive slowly towards the exit, scanning parked cars as I do. Still no sign of him, I get back on the motorway and continue my journey.

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Here's my piece for a stereotype with a surprising twist:

With tired fingers he fumbled with the key to unlock the door to his little flat above the launderette. He struggled inside with supermarket carrier bags bulging with the week's shopping, kicked the door closed and carried his burden straight through to the one main room, which functioned as kitchen, dining room, lounge and bedroom. He loaded the little fridge and the cupboard above the sink with his purchases and then dropped into the threadbare armchair and bent to untie the laces of his black regulation trainers before toeing them off and flexing his toes in relief. After a minute's rest he got up again, threw the switch to boil the kettle and wriggled out of his Postal Service uniform jacket, which he hung on the hook on the back of the door. He noticed for the first time an envelope on the mat below the letterbox and stooped to pick it up. He stood at the kitchen counter and opened the envelope, then threw a teabag into a mug and poured boiling water over it while he began reading the glossy brochure that he found in the envelope.

He read: You are cordially invited to the annual reunion dinner of the Old Stortfordians' Society, to be held at the Dorchester Hotel this year on Saturday August 13th at 7:00pm.

Just as well I'm not superstitious, he thought, otherwise I might have been put off going by the date. And then he chuckled to himself at his own humour. He did wonder if others might boycott the event because the Dorchester hotel was owned by a man who enacted legislation to have gays stoned to death. But he knew very well that even without the objectionable date, or the objectionable location, nothing would have persuaded him to attend. He was trying to forget his school years, not memorialise them.

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Yes! I love the way the topical subjects are woven into the story. I was afraid they would be by-passed in order to praise the memories of the old school days. I needn't have worried.

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That's very good, Bruin. Excellent.

As for Camy, well... No, it's great, but not long enough to evoke much critical review. As Bruin stated, it needs fleshing out. Like maybe adding, oh, I don't know, let's say, 10,000 more words!

I do like 'Ravid'. Like a combination of rabid and avid. Draws a picture in our minds.

C

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I've often wondered, Camy, if the librarians in my town's library were from another planet. Perhaps they, and Ravid, all come from the same place. Might I suggest a title? "A Creature of Habit" might do you, and you could spend some time developing that locale.

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Colin, It's a good and complete story, though I have to say I prefer the name Collen to Carolyn. :icon_thumright:

Bruin, I enjoyed this, especially when Kulvinder panics and calls after Attitude man - though I was expecting some reaction from others in the queue. But, in these days of CCTV, would you get away with loitering anywhere in a motorway services?

Here's mine. It's short, and maybe overly weird.

As usual, Ravid polished his monocle, primped himself in the librarian's bathroom, and left through the revolving door on the dot of noon. He walked to the cafe in the street beside the mall, absently paid and thanked the counterman who handed him his pre-prepared tray - a cheese and pickle sandwich on rye, an apple, a yogurt, and a carton of milk. It was then, as he arrived at his table - the same table he used everyday for the last six years - and found a plump rouged woman and many shopping bags already situated there, that his carefully planned day went awry.

Ravid froze in indecision; not because he didn't know how to sort the situation out, he did: but apparently ripping the throat out of a human during daylight wasn't the done thing. Besides, even if he did dispose of the creature's corpse, clean up the mess and apologise to the counterman and the other lunchtime patrons, he still might not be welcomed back to the cafe.

With a huff he turned on his heel and walked back to the counter. "So sorry to bother you, but might I have this to go?"

This isn't weird, this is science fiction. To write a piece of flash fiction with a science fiction theme in 197 words that has a beginning, a protagonist, an antagonist, a crisis for the protagonist to deal with, action, and a resolution, is amazing. Great job, Camy!

Colin :icon_geek:

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Colin, the image of Tanner covering himself as he trotted up the stairs, Naked, was wonderful. The only niggle I had with the piece was with the last line. His father's answer was repetitive as Tanner gave us the same information the para before. I'd offer:

Arnold Knox laughed. "Yes, we are." Tanner, like most teenage boys, was a bottomless pit into which food simply disappeared.

What I wrote will be in a novel I plan to write. the repetition of going out to dinner for his mother's birthday is there because the family has been in dire financial straits because Arnold Knox has been out of work for an extended period of time. His wife has been working an extra half-shift as a nurse to make enough to meet basic needs. The idea that they would be going out for dinner, to a restaurant, is such an anomaly that Arnold responds to Tanner by repeating, in full, what he asked. I wrote this knowing how it would fit in the story.

I'm trying to take advantage of the writing course by writing material I can use elsewhere. Thus the story Carolyn which I'll comment on in another post.

Colin:icon_geek:

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