#StartWritingFiction: Observations

Today’s exercise in the Start Writing Fiction course I’m working on had to do with keeping a notebook full of observations. They provided a video of random British people doing random British things and using public transportation, set to elevator music. We were supposed to practice making observations about the “characters” in the video and write them down in our notebooks.

I didn’t find this video to be too terribly inspiring, so I (gasp!) did not follow directions. Instead of using the video, I went with random neighbors I have observed on my walks near the apartment. (The only form of exercise I am allowed to do since having surgery, boooo.) The following is what I came up with.

On my walks, I have seen:

1. A woman down the street who sits on the sofa in the open garage, texting, wearing workout clothes, while her Rottweiler runs on her treadmill for her. He barks fiercely at me as I walk by, but he’s leashed to the treadmill, and can’t chase me. Why doesn’t she take him for a real walk? Who is she texting? I wonder if she has tied a Fitbit to his collar, and is passing off his steps as her own.

2. An old man with a golden retriever who stands in the driveway and glares at me, ignores my hello, and turns his head to follow me with his hate-filled gaze as I walk by. Every time I see him, he is angry. Now, I cross the street before I reach his house. He comes and goes frequently in an old beat-up sedan. Where is he going? And why does he always bring the dog with him? I wonder if he’s going to buy cheap beer and cigarettes, leaving the dog waiting in the passenger seat, and then coming home to drink and ruminate about past wrongs.

3. A little house that I like, mostly hidden from the street by tall pine trees, with a garden dotted with outdoor, solar-powered lights, flowerbeds spilling over, and a patch of incongruent succulents, half of which are dead and gray. The owners hung out orange, twinkling lights on the first of October. In the one picture window that faces the street, I see a frame of curtains, the rounded back of an overstuffed sofa, and, once in a while, a cat. I’ve never seen the people who live there. Maybe it’s just the cat who lives there, and he tends the garden all by himself.

4. A mother pushes her son on a swing, slowly, over and over. He looks to be about six. He is wearing a bicycle helmet and kicking his feet listlessly out in front of him in time with the swing. Neither of them say anything. I wonder if he’s angry at her for making him wear a helmet on a swing. I wonder, is she overly-cautious in all areas of her life? Why?

The next section asked us to reflect on the notes we made and notice what kind of things we had a tendency to observe. It asked if we concentrated mostly on what we saw, while ignoring the other senses, and if we noticed emotions, facial expressions, clothing, or anything else.

Reflection: I think I mostly noticed what people/places looked like and their actions or facial expressions, but I also noticed sounds. I found myself wondering a lot about the narrative – why were they doing what they were doing, what had they done earlier that day, and where were they going next? I also paid attention to their environment and how they felt about it, or interacted with it – and wondered about their relationships.

All in all, a useful exercise. Now if only I could get out of the house and find some more interesting people to observe!

#StartWritingFiction: Fact & Fiction

I signed up for The Open University’s Start Writing Fiction course. So far, I’m enjoying it! The professor has a British accent, so that’s a definite plus. I’m hoping it will get me back in the swing of things so I’ll be ready for National Novel Writing Month next month!

I’m going to throw my practice exercises up here on the blog to keep me honest. The first exercise is to write two paragraphs. First, a paragraph that includes one fact and three fictions, and second, a paragraph that includes three facts and one fiction.

Naturally, I wrote about spiders:

1&3: The venom of the black widow spider is fatal if swallowed. She is brazen, large, and her fangs glisten with venom as she stalks her prey through the grass. Because of her nearsightedness, she has no idea what hapless prey she has come upon until she is already nearly on top of it. The venom of a black widow, if you survive the danger of collecting it, can be used to poison your enemies and leave no trace: the perfect crime.

3&1: I rescued a wolf spider this morning, a male, who had set out on an epic journey in the name of love and instead found himself trapped in another spider’s web. He broke off one of his own legs trying to escape, but he couldn’t get free on his own. I thought he was dead when I saw him, but after a moment, he resumed struggling. Once I cut him free, he headed off in the wrong direction – the mate he was looking for lives only a few feet away, under the fridge, surrounded by the cast-off exoskeletons of her prey. If only he had gone left instead of right, perhaps he could have found true love – but, could she ever love a seven-legged spider? Perhaps it’s better that he went on, heart unbroken, back out into the world alone.

If you’re interested, the only fact in the first paragraph is that Black Widow spiders are nearsighted (and it’s adorable). The only fiction in the second paragraph is that I do not, as far as I know, have a female wolf spider living under my fridge. First practice exercise complete! 🙂

Book Review: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's EyeCat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Most mothers worry when their daughters reach adolescence but I was the opposite. I relaxed, I sighed with relief. Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life sized.” – Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

I don’t know what I could possibly say about this book. It’s amazing. I didn’t want to put it down but didn’t want to finish it so I forced myself to stretch it out so I could savor it.

I loved how it effortlessly covered so much of the main character’s lifetime while still feeling immediate and personal. It’s an amazingly insightful look at childhood and bullying and memories. I really enjoyed how vividly the time (post-WWII) and place (Toronto) were described.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes rich character-focused stories full of details and interpersonal drama.

View all my reviews