“I Live With The People I Create”

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

The session this week involves a worksheet!

the mortgaged heartWell, sort of, but it goes on to give you practise introducing a character in fiction writing. The session also invites you to write some non-fiction in the form of a  review of this aspect of Carson McCullers’ writing.

Below you will find the opening paragraph to four stories by Carson McCullers. In these paragraphs, she introduces the reader to central characters of her stories through brief description and efficient yet compelling suggestion. Her choice of words and focus of attention enable us to create  pictures of her characters in our minds from the very beginning of her stories.

Activity:

In this session’s opening activity, every seventh word has been removed from the texts.

Can you think of a word that would ‘fit’ in each space?

Take a look at these:

Text 1:

When Hans was only a block ­­­­­__________  the hotel a chill rain began __________  fall, draining the colour from the __________  that were just being turned on __________  Broadway. He fastened his pale eyes __________  the sign reading COLTON ARMS, tucked __________  sheet of music under his overcoat __________  hurried on. By the time he __________  inside the dingily marbled lobby his __________  was coming in sharp pants and __________  sheet of music was crumpled.

(From ‘Poldi’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 2:

Her peaked, young face stared for __________  time, unsatisfied, at the softer blue __________  the sky that fringed the horizon. __________  with a quiver of her open __________  she rested her head again on __________  pillow, tilted the panama hat over __________  eyes, and lay motionless in the __________  striped chair. Chequered shade patterns jerked __________  the blanket covering her thin body. __________  drones sounded from the spirea bushes __________ sprayed out their white blossoms nearby.

Constance dozed for a moment. She awoke __________  the smothering smell of hot straw – __________  Miss Whelan’s voice.

(From ‘Breath From The Sky’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 3:

Hugh looked for his mother at __________  corner, but she was not in __________  yard. Sometimes she would be out __________  with the border of spring flowers – __________  candytuft, the sweet William, the lobelias (__________  had taught him the names) – but __________  the green front lawn with the __________  of many-coloured flowers was empty __________  the frail sunshine of the mid-__________  afternoon. Hugh raced up the sidewalk, __________ John followed him. They finished the __________  steps with two bounds, and the __________  slammed after them.

(From ‘The Haunted Boy’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 4:

The young man at the table __________ the station lunch room knew neither __________  name nor the location of the __________ where he was, and he had __________  knowledge of the hour more exact __________ that it was some time between __________  and morning. He realised that he __________  already be in the south, but __________  there were many more hours journeying __________  he would reach home. For a __________  time he had sat at the __________  over a half finished bottle of __________, relaxed to a gangling position – with __________  things fallen loose apart and with __________  foot stepping on the other ankle. __________  hair needed cutting and hung down __________  ragged over his forehead and his __________  as he stared down at the __________  was absorbed, but mobile and quick __________  change with his shifting thoughts. The __________  was lean and suggestive of restlessness __________  a certain innocent, naked questioning. On __________  floor beside the boy were two __________  and a packing box, each tagged __________  with a card on which was __________ -written his name – Andrew Leander, and __________  address in one of the larger __________  in Georgia.

These texts have been turned into cloze tests.

A cloze test is intended to assess a person’s ability to read and understand text and choose words accurately. They can also help to develop vocabulary. As well as these uses, they can become an interesting, and maybe fun (?), activity for practising intensive reading and sentence structure analysis, both of which are useful skills for writing.  Cloze tests are also a good way to practise proof reading for meaning.

Stimulus:

The ‘stimulus’ for this session is the four introductory paragraphs by Carson McCullers.

Here they are:

Text 1:

When Hans was only a block from the hotel a chill rain began to fall, draining the colour from the lights that were just being turned on along Broadway. He fastened his pale eyes on the sign reading COLTON ARMS, tucked a sheet of music under his overcoat and hurried on. By the time he stepped inside the dingily marbled lobby his breath was coming in sharp pants and the sheet of music was crumpled.

(From ‘Poldi’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 2:

Her peaked, young face stared for a time, unsatisfied, at the softer blue of the sky that fringed the horizon. Then with a quiver of her open mouth she rested her head again on the pillow, tilted the panama hat over her eyes, and lay motionless in the canvas striped chair. Chequered shade patterns jerked over the blanket covering her thin body. Bee drones sounded from the spirea bushes that sprayed out their white blossoms nearby.

Constance dozed for a moment. She awoke to the smothering smell of hot straw – and Miss Whelan’s voice.

(From ‘Breath From The Sky’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 3:

Hugh looked for his mother at the corner, but she was not in the yard. Sometimes she would be out fooling with the border of spring flowers – the candytuft, the sweet William, the lobelias (she had taught him the names) – but today the green front lawn with the borders of many-coloured flowers was empty under the frail sunshine of the mid-April afternoon. Hugh raced up the sidewalk, and John followed him. They finished the front steps with two bounds, and the door slammed after them.

(From ‘The Haunted Boy’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 4:

The young man at the table of the station lunch room knew neither the name nor the location of the town where he was, and he had no knowledge of the hour more exact than that it was some time between midnight and morning. He realised that he must already be in the south, but that there were many more hours journeying before he would reach home. For a long time he had sat at the table over a half finished bottle of beer, relaxed to a gangling position – with his things fallen loose apart and with one foot stepping on the other ankle. His hair needed cutting and hung down softly ragged over his forehead and his expression as he stared down at the table was absorbed, but mobile and quick to change with his shifting thoughts. The face was lean and suggestive of restlessness and a certain innocent, naked questioning. On the floor beside the boy were two suitcases and a packing box, each tagged neatly with a card on which was type-written his name – Andrew Leander, and an address in one of the larger towns in Georgia.

(From ‘Untitled Piece’ by Carson McCullers)

Guide:

The cloze tests are exercises in thinking carefully about grammatical accuracy and how it affects sentence structure and meaning.

If a writer chooses a word that doesn’t ‘fit’ grammatically, the text will read badly and may not even make sense.

Unless you are doing it for effect, inaccurate grammar is frustrating for most readers!

Sometimes, it seems, there is only one word that is possible in the cloze tests. More often, though, there is more than one possibility, sometimes perhaps only two, but often there are quite a few different words that could go in each space.

What does it depend on? Why is it that sometimes there is only one possibility and yet other times there are many possibilities?

Word count and process

You can do the first activity on the computer by copying the edited texts onto a word processing document. That way, you could fill the spaces electronically. Instead, you could print the texts onto paper and use a pen or pencil to fill in the spaces.

Either way, the task is to complete the texts with one appropriate word in each space. Simple!

Here is the suggested procedure for the whole session from the beginning:

1. Copy the texts or print them.
2. Fill in the spaces with just one word in each space.
3. Check your answers with the original texts by Carson McCullers.
4. Think about the differences between your words and McCullers’ words.

You could make notes on some of these things:

  • Are some of the differences due to grammatical error?
  • Are some of the differences related to context or mood?
  • What are these differences?
  • Why have they come about?

5. Write a few sentences in response to the questions below:

  • Who are the people McCullers describes?
  • What words or phrases does McCullers use to help us picture these characters?
  • What do the characters look like? How do you know?
  • What aspects of the characters’ personalities does McCullers describe?
  • How do you feel about the characters?

6. Turn your responses into a paragraph.
7. Write a paragraph to introduce a character of your own.

rugged lion

Image by Isabel Ayre-Lynch

If you complete the process described, your paragraph for part 6 might be between 100 and 150 words. You could certainly write more, if you became interested in the analysis.

The shortest of McCullers’ paragraphs is 75 words long, the longest is 190. This seems to be a good range for the word count in part 7.

Completing this whole session might take you quite some time. If you take it on, you will need to take plenty of breaks. Maybe you could do it bit by bit over a period of time – A day? A week?

Have a look at this session for stuff related to routine:

Day By Day – A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House

Of course, you could just do bits of the session and that would be fine.

I Live With The People I CreateWhat next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

Advertisements

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s