July 5, 2004
Untitled Part II (Is That Catchy Or What??)
Yeah, sorry about the untitled status-- it just hasn't come to me yet! Anyway, you can read part one here if you need to catch up.
The sun settled warmly on Cara’s bent head as she sat cross-legged in the over-grown field. Her hands effortlessly braided long pieces of rye grass into a wreath, knotting wild flowers into the strands as she worked. Her fingers flew deftly in lively rhythm, dancing in the familiar task. When she finished, she walked a few steps to her father’s grave with the offering. The heavy wooden cross bearing his name stood somberly, waiting for her. She sighed as she swept aside a faded and withered wreath, and looped her newest creation in its place. Stretching herself out on the raised ground, she gazed up at the clear sky and began her usual conversation with Pappy.
“Mama said I shouldn’t come see you anymore,” she said in a deflated voice. “She said it’s been long enough, and you would understand.” She paused and watched a little wren hopping in the brush, gathering bits of leaf in its beak. “She thinks I’m crazy. I know I’m not, though.” The bird cocked his head and twittered at her, making her smile. “Somebody has to tell you what happens at the house, Pappy. Like when Jillie fell off the silo and broke her arm, or when Everett set the chicken coop on fire. Who else would tell you?” The wren preened his feathers proudly and fluttered off into a nearby tree. Cara yawned and closed her eyes, listening to his love song. “That’s why I came today, Pappy. I had to tell you about Mama.” Her voice softened and her breathing relaxed as she basked in the afternoon light. “I think Mr. Clayton is sweet on her,” she said drowsily, “and he’ll probably ask her to marry him.” She grew silent, pondering what that would mean in her life.
The sounds of the summer day lulled her to sleep, into dreams of the days when Pappy was still alive. She saw him through the window as he kicked the dirt off his boots, and washed his hands in the bucket outside. He walked in and sat at the kitchen table, taking a glass of water from Mama, and gulped it down. This was Cara’s favorite dream of Pappy, as he came in from a long day of work in the hot sun. His smile was dusty and easy, and endless.
When Cara awoke, the sun was setting and the little wren had flown away. She wished the bird had stayed to watch over her father, so that he wouldn’t be alone when she left. It was a childish thought, and she knew it, but didn’t care. She pressed her fingertips to her lips, and kissed them, then placed her hand to the wooden cross. Leaving the kiss there for Pappy, she followed the well worn trail back home, hoping that Mr. Clayton would be gone by now.
My So Called Writing | By WonderGirl | 11:15 PM
It's a wonderful story... and you're a wonderful writer...
Posted by: Aunt Vickie at July 6, 2004 12:26 PM
Wow! You are an awesome writer! You paint a wonderful picture with words!
Posted by: Deb at July 7, 2004 10:53 AM
First-time visitor. I was over at Sarcasmo and one link led to another. Have you had any critical feedback on the writing? I'll volunteer some, but please remember that it's just one random person's criticism, not judgement.
For what it's worth, I support your urge to write leaner, which I find adds meaning and heft to what ends up on the page. How you do it is up to you, whether you write more slowly or edit more heavily.
Here's what I mean:
The sun settled warmly on Cara’s bent head as she sat cross-legged in the over-grown field.
>>Literally, of course, none of us want the sun settling on our heads. Sunshine, okay. Since the sun's usually warm as a given, are you indicating time of year, time of day? Is it important that her head is bent? That she's cross-legged? Would Cara think of this place as "the over-grown field" or is it a more personally identified location?
Her hands effortlessly braided long pieces of rye grass into a wreath, knotting wild flowers into the strands as she worked. Her fingers flew deftly in lively rhythm, dancing in the familiar task.
>>Here you ask readers to imagine her hands braiding, then follow up with an image of her fingers flying, then dancing. A little repetitious, I think, and I'm not sure what the importance of the underscoring: Is the point that she's good at what she's doing and enjoys it, or that it's familiar practice, and if so, why do I need to know this? (There may be a reason; I'm just saying the author needs to know it.)
So far, here's what I see: "The wreath was made of long rye grass, with wildflowers knotted into the strands. Cara's head was bent over the braiding, her hands quickened by familiarity." (Now, you could say "routine," but I like the echo of family you have in "familiar.")
The heavy wooden cross bearing his name stood somberly, waiting for her.
>>"Heavy wooden" crosses are a dime a dozen in books. You're losing me at the moment you want impact, when this happy, sunlit moment reveals itself to have shadows. If you want me to see this cross, describe it. I want detail. Also, wood (so far as I know) doesn't feel somber or wait on people. You're cheating here, trying to adjust the mood mechanically, instead of inspiring it. Clearly the somberness and the sense of expectation belong to Cara; how would she relate that?
Mama said I shouldn’t come see you anymore,” she said in a deflated voice. “She said it’s been long enough, and you would understand.” She paused and watched a little wren hopping in the brush, gathering bits of leaf in its beak.
>>This spoken part works. I'd just suggest, in the interests of leanness: "...she said, deflated." After all, she isn't usually going to say something without a voice. Or again, here: "She watched a wren hop through the brush, gathering leaf-bits in its beak." You could argue with me over the changes there; it's stylistic, but notice how the rhythm is right up front in this phrasing, and how moving "bits" closer to "beak" gets those two "b"s talking to each other. Notice, too, that because you have a sensitivity for sound that's well developed, you have "brush" in there, too, making up a "b" festival.
So that's a fairly close reading, and I hope it doesn't seem too daunting. The question-asking I think is important, though, because a lot of writing is learning what to put in and what to take out (and seeing that, with the stuff you take out, there's room for more detailed, relevant information). The trick is getting rid of that original in-your-head vision that you have of the scene, and then reading your passage to see if it's recreated. Takes constant practice.
Anyway, it's been a pleasant visit to your blog. I guess if it's compulsive, I don't need to say, Keep writing! But for moral support, I'll say it anyway!
Thanks for putting your stuff out there.
Posted by: Mike at July 10, 2004 5:49 PM
Ahh! That was totally refreshing, Mike. Thank you for an honest and helpful criticism! I appreciate that you took time out to share some insight, and I hope you'll read/comment again.
Posted by: Wondergirl at July 12, 2004 4:47 PM