Thursday, January 25, 2007

Workshop: Stalemate

Now I loved this. Witty, cleverly constructed, well paced and neatly written, this piece is something the writer can be proud of. I would only make minor corrections.

What I particularly liked was the sense of unhurried unraveling, and the sheer viciousness of the protagonists. Here is man’s hatred for his fellow man in miniature.

I thoroughly commend this and thank high in the sky for submitting it.


Stalemate

The cup had an endless pattern in mid-blue glaze running around the bright white china; hills and lakes and floating clouds, bamboo huts on little rocky isles with solitary trees, soaring birds above curly-ended boats whose occupants wore pointed hats and stood with sticks or sat and let themselves be sculled along. As I turned it in my hand

Comma.

one hill or island would start to vanish but another would appear from the opposite side, first higher and then lower, and in between them the birds and boats bobbed up and down to keep to their respective places.

I used my other hand to turn the cup completely round to see if

Prefer “whether” here.

one hill might be higher than the others, or one boat have

Possibly too much elided, and “might have” might be better. Best of all would be “had”, I think.

a different set of figures. I paused, wondering why it should be important to me.

This doesn’t seem to have become clear to the reader either.


I took a sip from the cup. "This tea's cold!" I exclaimed.
"Mine is too",



The comma precedes the quotemark.

said my companion. He was sitting in a chair to my left, dressed in faded blue pyjamas under a tired brown dressing gown. He held his cup in a shaky hand, leaving the saucer on the tea-trolley in front of him.


Excellent, instant scene-setting. We know exactly what we’re dealing with.

"Why didn't you say so? Now you've made me have to find out for myself".

"I was going to, but you said it first".

Love it. These are the small unkindnesses that “friends” visit on each other.


I put my cup and saucer down on my end of the trolley, and he replaced his cup with a slight tremble that made the saucer chime. They floated languidly upon their reflections in the polished wood like water-lillies on a silent pond.

Only one “l” in “lilies”.

"I suppose one of us will have to go and get some more",

Comma first.

I grumbled, reaching for the walking stick that leant against the trolley. "I'd better do it, you're not properly dressed, are you?"

Semicolon, not a comma, if you want to avoid the run-on sentence.

A sudden snatch of birdsong rippled through the room, and then, almost as an echo of the echo, was repeated note-perfect once again, and died away.

Just “then”, which means “and then”.

"A song-thrush", I exclaimed, but he raised his hand and said "A blackbird".

The comma goes before the quotemark in the first quote, and there should be one after “said”.

"You don't know the one from the other",

Same issue.


I replied, then saw in his face that yes, he did know, and cared deeply about knowing it.

"A song-thrush would not have sung the same tune twice", he answered, "but a blackbird only sings a single song".

Write punctuation inside quote marks in these cases. You don’t when it is a quoted word, but always do with dialogue.

I glanced towards the source of the sound. White lace curtains fluttered quietly, like clouds that would be going if they only had a helping breeze to move them on their way. Behind them, the french windows waited, opened wide to the next sounds that might want to enter.

I like the feeling of tension at this point.

"The doors are still open", I said accusingly, turning back to him. "Don't you know how to close things after you?"

"But I thought it was you who came to see me", he said as he looked around him. "Isn't this my room?"

Brilliant! I love the picture you have painted of two doddery old guys, a bit confused but still sharp enough to batter each other.

"I don't think so. It would be in a terrible state if it were yours. And what makes you think that I would come to see you?"

"I'm not dressed", he sighed, and straightened slowly in his chair. "Alright, I'll close them. Give me my stick".

“All right” should be written as two words.

I picked up the stick that leant against the tea-trolley and felt the smoothness of the light brown wood. "This isn't your stick", I said, 'it's mine".

"But why isn't my stick here?", he said in a puzzled tone. "It must be here somewhere, I couldn't have come in without it". He looked around and then began to fumble in the pockets of his dressing gown as though it had somehow managed to hide itself in them.

I’d prefer “as if” here, because it’s not possible for the stick to be there.

He gave up. "You'll have to close them, I'm afraid. I won't be able to get there and back on my own."

"Oh, very well", I said, handing him the stick, "you can borrow it just this once. But don't you lose it or put it somewhere I can't reach. It is mine, you know".

He accepted it, and looked at the handle with a puzzled frown, as though aware that he should have recognised that it wasn't his. He made a movement to get out of the chair, but found that the trolley would be in his way. Sitting back down, he leant the stick against the trolley.

"Here", he said, picking up his cup and saucer, "You just pick up yours, so we can move this out of the way".

I reached out and picked up the stick. "I'll hold this so that it doesn't fall to the floor, shall I?"

"But you won't be able to pick up your cup and saucer, will you?" he asked, putting down his own and holding out a hand for the stick.

"You're doing this on purpose", I said, handing him the stick.

This section possibly ran a little long, but that’s a minor criticism.


I picked up my cup. A fragrance drifted through the room. I sniffed, and said "Jasmine".

"Isn't that a jasmine tree, there, beside the lake?" he asked, putting down the stick against the trolley.

I looked at him, wondering what he was talking about. He had picked up his cup, and was looking at it. I looked back at my own. I could just see the part of an island where a tree sprang out from a rock and stooped to kiss the surface of the water.

"I don't think so", I said, "I'm almost certain it's a willow". I picked up the cup and studied it carefully.

Ther-wack! Chalk up the draw. Excellent conception and beautifully realised. This is my idea of a good short story. And it stuck to the rules!


The copyright in this story belongs to its author, whose right to be identified as the author I respect by affixing his name, and the story is posted here with the author’s permission, their rights reserved.



Stalemate

The cup had an endless pattern in mid-blue glaze running around the bright white china; hills and lakes and floating clouds, bamboo huts on little rocky isles with solitary trees, soaring birds above curly-ended boats whose occupants wore pointed hats and stood with sticks or sat and let themselves be sculled along. As I turned it in my hand one hill or island would start to vanish but another would appear from the opposite side, first higher and then lower, and in between them the birds and boats bobbed up and down to keep to their respective places.

I used my other hand to turn the cup completely round to see if one hill might be higher than the others, or one boat have a different set of figures. I paused, wondering why it should be important to me. I took a sip from the cup. "This tea's cold!" I exclaimed.

"Mine is too", said my companion. He was sitting in a chair to my left, dressed in faded blue pyjamas under a tired brown dressing gown. He held his cup in a shaky hand, leaving the saucer on the tea-trolley in front of him.

"Why didn't you say so? Now you've made me have to find out for myself".

"I was going to, but you said it first".

I put my cup and saucer down on my end of the trolley, and he replaced his cup with a slight tremble that made the saucer chime. They floated languidly upon their reflections in the polished wood like water-lillies on a silent pond.

"I suppose one of us will have to go and get some more", I grumbled, reaching for the walking stick that leant against the trolley. "I'd better do it, you're not properly dressed, are you?"

A sudden snatch of birdsong rippled through the room, and then, almost as an echo of the echo, was repeated note-perfect once again, and died away.

"A song-thrush", I exclaimed, but he raised his hand and said "A blackbird".

"You don't know the one from the other", I replied, then saw in his face that yes, he did know, and cared deeply about knowing it.

"A song-thrush would not have sung the same tune twice", he answered, "but a blackbird only sings a single song".

I glanced towards the source of the sound. White lace curtains fluttered quietly, like clouds that would be going if they only had a helping breeze to move them on their way. Behind them, the french windows waited, opened wide to the next sounds that might want to enter.

"The doors are still open", I said accusingly, turning back to him. "Don't you know how to close things after you?"

"But I thought it was you who came to see me", he said as he looked around him. "Isn't this my room?"

"I don't think so. It would be in a terrible state if it were yours. And what makes you think that I would come to see you?"

"I'm not dressed", he sighed, and straightened slowly in his chair. "Alright, I'll close them. Give me my stick".

I picked up the stick that leant against the tea-trolley and felt the smoothness of the light brown wood. "This isn't your stick", I said, 'it's mine".

"But why isn't my stick here?", he said in a puzzled tone. "It must be here somewhere, I couldn't have come in without it". He looked around and then began to fumble in the pockets of his dressing gown as though it had somehow managed to hide itself in them.

He gave up. "You'll have to close them, I'm afraid. I won't be able to get there and back on my own."

"Oh, very well", I said, handing him the stick, "you can borrow it just this once. But don't you lose it or put it somewhere I can't reach. It is mine, you know".

He accepted it, and looked at the handle with a puzzled frown, as though aware that he should have recognised that it wasn't his. He made a movement to get out of the chair, but found that the trolley would be in his way. Sitting back down, he leant the stick against the trolley.

"Here", he said, picking up his cup and saucer, "You just pick up yours, so we can move this out of the way".

I reached out and picked up the stick. "I'll hold this so that it doesn't fall to the floor, shall I?"

"But you won't be able to pick up your cup and saucer, will you?" he asked, putting down his own and holding out a hand for the stick.

"You're doing this on purpose", I said, handing him the stick. I picked up my cup. A fragrance drifted through the room. I sniffed, and said "Jasmine".

"Isn't that a jasmine tree, there, beside the lake?" he asked, putting down the stick against the trolley.

I looked at him, wondering what he was talking about. He had picked up his cup, and was looking at it. I looked back at my own. I could just see the part of an island where a tree sprang out from a rock and stooped to kiss the surface of the water.

"I don't think so", I said, "I'm almost certain it's a willow". I picked up the cup and studied it carefully.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Alan Hope said...

I've forgotten exactly what the rules were, it's been so long.

I'd cut a few redundant words here and there in this, to make it tighter. If a fragrance drifts through the room, you don't need to tell us you sniffed to know it's jasmine. Why isn't my stick here is puzzled in itself without having to tell us it's a puzzled tone, and so on. Little things like that.

January 26, 2007 at 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

I've read this before, and I'm trying to think where. Please tell me this was posted in your comments at some point, otherwise, I must be going nuts.

January 26, 2007 at 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

It was posted in my comments at some point.

January 26, 2007 at 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

I remembered it too, and also wondered if Arleen might be going nuts.

January 27, 2007 at 9:08 AM  
Anonymous high-in-the-sky said...

My thanks to you, Dr Zen, for your efforts in setting up and running the workshop, and for the comments. Thanks also to Alan for his points. I shall have to abandon my cavalier attitude towards punctuation and get to grips with what the shrivelled and drunken little characters really mean :)

I found that having to write within the framework of a set of constraints actually helped rather than hindered the process. I had expected the opposite. I suppose this means I still have much to learn.

January 30, 2007 at 5:34 AM  

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