Thursday, February 21, 2008

Picture Fiction Challenge #1 - Dianne makes a discovery

REH is hosting a Picture Fiction Challenge. He randomly chose 5 photos and then asked us to write a story around them. I was really excited about this – I have tons of pieces of fiction all over the place and this was going to make me actually complete an entire story.

Well – not so much. BUT – I have made a few important discoveries in this process. I have a very hard time writing dialogue – it doesn’t sound like people talking – it sounds like me telling people what to say. Ahhhh – control – once more you show your face.

I also get way to emotionally involved with my characters. Not in loving them and wanting to tell their story but in becoming them and projecting my issues on to them. And then I get paralyzed. An all too familiar pattern of mine.

The story I started (and may yet finish) has an older sister desperately trying to care for and rescue a younger sibling. It has a storm (parents?) and lots of running and …

I was going to just punk out of the PFC but I decided I wanted to share what I had written and most of all I wanted to share the discovery I made in the process.

Working on it has been like working on me so – thanks REH, I think I needed that.


Jesse found that no amount of running helped now. It had been months since the storm and the destruction had only just begun to sink in. He was lonely all the time – he wasn’t afraid anymore, there isn’t much to be afraid of when you feel you’ve lost everything. He was just lonely. And the more people tried to comfort him, the more alone in the world he felt.

He started the day as always – waking in a crowded room, surrounded by people he barely knew. He washed and dressed and got out of there as fast as possible. He always skipped breakfast, preferring to feel the gnawing hunger for awhile – it made him feel closer to home, closer to things that were familiar. He laughed at himself – thinking of all the times he had wished he could get away from home, away from that washed out, ramshackle of a building. He had always felt that it would fall down upon them. His older sister Mia would mock his worries – “It should fall on our heads”, she would tell him, “then we could sue Mr. Wolfe for lots of money and move to Florida”

Florida was Mia’s dream – fancy hotels on Miami Beach, Disney Land, South Beach nightclubs. The walls of her tiny bedroom were covered in photos torn from magazines and library books – “when we move to Florida, life will be better”. Jesse could hear the fantasy and panic in her voice.

The screaming of the baby next door woke Mia. It was too early to get up, too soon to start another day. It had been months since the storm and nothing had changed. Each day ran into the next – waiting for settlements that didn’t come, waiting for official looking papers to be stuffed into the broken mailbox, just waiting. As always her first waking thought was of Jesse. She would look at the torn bits of her treasured Florida photos and try to picture him there. She liked to imagine he was happy, he had hated living in this house – it was cold and nothing worked – he never ate breakfast because the kitchen stove had been broken for as long as she could remember. She tried to give him cereal, muffins, toast but he only wanted the eggs their Mother had made for him – the same fluffy eggs every morning for 15 years. “She left us” Mia would scream at him in frustration. “You’ll starve waiting for her to come back!”. Their arguing would get so loud that the neighbors would threaten to complain. That silenced Mia – her greatest fear was that her ability to care for Jesse would be questioned. She was just a few years older than him and with their Mother gone and “Father unknown” they were all the family they had.

The day before the storm had been the most perfect day. Cooler than usual for that time of year but the crystal air made the sun seem brighter and the leaves falling from the trees were still moist enough to collect. Jesse was fascinated by nature – tress in particular. He would spend hours researching the type, the origin, the history. His “nature closet” was full of all the odd artifacts he had collected from all their day trips together. “The leaves won’t last, why collect them?” Mia would ask. Jesse just smiled and continued on. As the day warmed, Mia stopped to set out the lunch she always brought with her. By this time Jesse was far ahead of her, he preferred running to walking and Mia was accustomed to him disappearing in the trees, he’d circle around the park and be back in time to eat. Watching Jesse eat the lunch she prepared made Mia happy. She was caring for him, so what if he was always angry, always running – he always came back to her and she fed him and listened to him describe the latest finds for his collection.

As she set out lunch Mia could see the top floor of their house over the trees. It was the tallest building in town, the only home with multiple families living in it. “Multiple families” Mia laughed, “What a joke, it’s just a bunch of broken people living in a broken building” She cleared the leaves from the bent and wobbly picnic table and laid out all of Jesse’s favorite foods. As she worked she noticed a beautiful leaf stuck between the wooden slats of the table. It was large, very large and the veins of color going through it caught the sun and made it glow. Mia gently pulled it out, wrapped it in napkins and tucked it into the bottom of her bag. She’d present it to Jesse the next time he was angry with her or sad about life. Perhaps he would see how much she did listen to him, how much she cared about the things he cared about. Perhaps he’d stay and talk to her instead of running away.

With the leaf safely tucked away and lunch laid out like a feast Mia patiently waited for Jesse to return. She turned again to stare at their home – there was something ominous about the sky around the house but she had to admit that, from a distance, the building looked pretty, weathered and peeling but stately and romantic. Jesse finally returned from his run and they ate lunch together – a comfortable silence between them. Jesse was always happiest after running – Mia pictured the anger inside him blown away by the wind and replaced with the joy of feeling free.

It was early evening when Jesse and Mia returned home. A light rain had started to fall and the wind was getting brisk. Mia hated storms – the roof leaked, the windows rattled and Jesse became even more skittish and moody than usual.

“Are you hungry?” Mia asked. “You’re always trying to feed me” Jesse growled – “You’re just like Mom that way, she thought food fixed everything”. “I’m nothing like her” Mia snapped, “I’m here and I’m trying to take care of you, that’s nothing like her”.
Mia put some music on before Jesse could respond. Arguments often got out of control and raised voices created more neighbor complaints which generated more interest than Mia cared for. Although she was old enough to be on her own the school authorities doubted her ability to care for Jesse and every little misstep put them closer to being separated. Jesse took his cue from the music and disappeared into his room. With the rain beating on the roof and the wind howling Mia felt the need to be busy; she pulled the rescued leaf out of her bag and began to paint it with nail hardener. She was surprised at how well this worked and was sleepy by the time her nature gift for Jesse was done. She decided she would give it to him in the morning; maybe he’d stay and have breakfast with her instead of running out.

It was a miracle that Mia and Jesse slept through the worst of the storm. The loud voices of Mr. Wolfe, the building manager, and workmen woke them. “The building is being evacuated” shouted Mr. Wolfe. Mia scrambled out of bed and literally bumped into Jesse on the way to the front door. “What now?” she asked Wolfe. “The rain and wind damaged the roof, they say no one can live here until it’s fixed” Wolfe explained. “Well just fix it” Mia snarled as she slammed the door in his face. Wolfe was the worst of all her worst nightmares. He hated Jesse, called him trouble waiting to happen, and was always looking for an excuse to report them to the school counselor. The counselor would then call Child Services and well, it was more than Mia or Jesse could stand to think about.

“We can’t just stay here” Jesse told Mia. “I know but let’s see what happens, maybe it won’t take long to fix”. “We still have to go somewhere” Jesse continued. “You can’t just ignore things until they go away you know”. Mia knew this all too well and the sick feeling in her stomach rose up as she looked around and wondered where they could go, what they could possibly do. Her job barely covered their expenses and the little help she got from the state was for Jesse’s school books. “Let’s have breakfast and think about it a bit” Mia suggested. “I’m going out to run” Jesse told her, “food won’t fix the roof Mia and it won’t find us a place to stay”

Jesse moved quickly along the back side of the house as he headed out to do his morning run. The old white house looked the same to him – maybe Mia was right, the roof would be quickly fixed and everything would remain the same.


More to come I hope!

These are the photos I was working with.

check out REH’s blog


Raven said...

Wow... you're off to a good start. REH's site is very intriguing. I'm not sure if I have the courage to try this, but it is oh, so... tempting...

My little writer's group uses an exercise I discovered some years back where you are given a group of about 10 random words and phrases and you have to make a short paragraph from them. I love doing that. I will have to see if I can work up my courage for this photo challenge. Yikes. I think those photos are very difficult. One photo could be a challenge... five such peculiar photos, well.... yikes.

Brava to your story. Look forward to hearing how it ends.

Jo said...

I'm glad you had the courage to post! Your writing held me the whole way...very real, I feel such a depth to the characters, like I've read so much more about them, the pacing is fast but deep--the crisis & fear, a sense of the years of struggle--great contrast. Loved it & I want to read more, well done!

Leighann said...

You're off to a fantastic start! I certainly hope that you'll be able to finish this for us! Ok ok, mostly for yourself, but I won't lie, I'm intruiged to see what's coming!

Dianne said...

thanks Raven! I love your writing and definitely think you should try the next PFC - you get a month to work on it. Your tale today of Tara Grace was so well written.

REH picks the photos at random which can makes it difficult to tie together BUT is also what makes it more fun and interesting.

Jo: did I know you in another life!? your words "like I've read so much more about them, the pacing is fast but deep--the crisis & fear, a sense of the years of struggle ..." is EXACTLY what I was feeling - wow - it came through. I've been talking about some childhood traumas in therapy and they started to come out in the story and I got so (as I said) paralyzed and then I was overwhelmed.

thank you jo! I've been avoiding comments because I thought I failed miserably as well as revealing more than (I thought) I wanted to.

I am absolutely going to finish it leighann - thank you, thank you.

Newt said...

That was a wonderful story. You did an amazing job!

R.E.H. said...

I'm so happy to hear that you got something more out of doing this than just the writing experience itself. That it helps you discover more about yourself. Writing is a great exercise like that!

You strayed a little from the photos of Character and Objective (I think maybe they got reversed, right - the girl being the main character, and the boy the objective?), but that doesn't matter. The inspiration from the pictures is of course evident, and that is really what matters.

I loved the story, and would sure like to read on. The characters were very much alive and "there", so you have that part down.

I didn't think your dialogue was bad either - I certainly believed in what they were saying.

But, if you're unhappy with it yourself - you could try a few "exercises" in dialogue... write it in dialect, for one, or have them excessively use a particular word (i.e. the brute in my story who basically ends every sentence with the word "boy").

Keep writing, and if you feel like posting more from this story, I'll be looking forward to reading it.

Very well played, and thanks for participating. Sure hope you'll be along for the ride next month too!

Dana said...

Great start! I look forward to reading next month's challenge!

Dianne said...

thank you so much newt ;)

REH: yes - the main and the objective got reversed! by the time I realized it had happened I was already in there - so to speak - so first I tried switching gears, then I tried expanding the story, then I came to the epiphany that I was so over involved with Mia and that's when the paralysis set in (LOL at me) and I just got lost and overwhelmed. thank you for the kind words and for the advice - I appreciate it and value it and I'm definitely going to participate again.

thanks dana ;)

Cherie said...

I, like the others, am intrigued by your story. You've left us with a cliffhanger! lol And I don't see anything wrong with hearing your own voice with your characters dialogue. I think that in this case with them being siblings, you can get by with them sounding somewhat similar. But I definitely got a very different vibe from each of them.

I can understand feeling overwhelmed about how real it felt to you. A form of therapy in its own right. But from our perspecitve as the readers, it just looks like a gripping story. And the great part about fiction is that we don't know what parts are from your own life and what parts are made up. You may feel overly exposed, but we only know how much is from your own history from what you tell us. It can go from the general to the very specific.

Well done. Keep up the good work! :D

Anonymous said...

Wow it's cool how deeply you connect with your characters. Definitely a good start, hope to see you finish it. I like that we are the only ones who went with the sibling theme!


Jay said...

I enjoyed this one too. I think you're dialog is way better than you thought it was.

It was really engaging and I'm very curious as to what is going to happen next. This is a story that it would be really easy to get into and get pretty deeply connected to the characters.

Dianne said...

cherie - the problem was becoming that I didn't know which parts were the story and which parts were me - it was the oddest feeling I've had in a long time. Timing is everything, so they say, and my timing was off in my real head and was effecting my fiction head. Yes - I am a two headed monster. Even if I didn't want to finish it before (and I did) - I totally want to finish it now - I need to find out how it comes out ;)

I like that too Em! thank you. I really liked your brother character - he was a subtle hero.

thank you Jay ;) I feel the need to hug ya now.

SnoopMurph said...

So, you're going to post the rest tomorrow, right?? What a great start and you put the pictures to good use. I felt an immediate sense of protection for these two characters, actually. Dialogue was never a strong point for me either, but then I don't really write fiction-wonder if that is why.....

Anyway, I am looking forward to the next chapter and thanks for the link to r.e.h.'s blog-I'll look there next.

I also have a very hard time detaching myself from the story, but I agree that sometimes it is the best way to wrestle with something is to write it all out!


Dianne said...

That was partly why I lost focus snoopmurph - the Mom me was taking charge and the child me was in the story.

There are entirely too many of me ;)


cathy said...


tt said...

More please!!
I'm going to wonder all day what will happen next. I'm facinated by the whole 'leaf' thing in these various stories. The symbolism of it all. Put me out of my misery...I need an ending... :)

Dianne said...

cathy - I know, I know ;)

hey tt: thanks for stopping by. I need to know how it ends too! and I'm working on it.
the leaf was my favorite thread through all the stories too -