Introduction

In this assignment you will learn important principles in effective story design that makes story memorable and significant and therefore enjoyable.  How beginning, middle, and end principle brings momentum and energy to story.  How, for literary stories, character-based storytelling with dramatic plot changes are at least partially caused by character thoughts and action, and careful consideration of plot progression.

What to do.

Write a modern version of the classic, sustained, fairytale–Little Red Riding Hood.  Make your story as different and fantasized as you wish but don’t lose the major purposeful meaning of this story: don’t disobey your parents, don’t be naive about the world, and do not trust strange men.  (For review and ideas, I’ve copied a segment of a previous recommendation for reading.  Note how the story discussion before writing develops effective structure before writing is started by knowing what will happen in the story and for determining a purpose for telling the story (meaning).

Recommended reference:  Narration in Literary Fiction: Making the Right Choices

Submit your work for comment if desired.

___________________________________

For reference (from essay: What Exactly Is a Character-Based Plot?)

Stories with significance have theme and meaning. A character-based story, where coincidental happenings and fatalistic plot progression is secondary to character strengths and weaknesses, is one way, if not the best way, to achieve this. For most writers, the meaning of a character-based story is vague. A genre writer, dependent on plot twists and surprises that characters live and react to rather than effect, would believe characters in a mystery, suspense or thriller story, especially superheroes, would qualify as “character-based.” Batman saved Gotham City. What can be more character-based than that? But the emphasis is different when trying to achieve meaning, theme, and enlightenment with a story. In this type of story, the plot actions are driven, or at least affected, by the character’s human characteristics . . . the foibles, flaws, or special gifts, usually related to goodness. Of course, Batman is a good guy with special (superhuman) gifts. But his humanity has little to do with saving the city. Instead, evil threatens the city and he happens to be in the right place at the right time to prevent destruction. He is a creature of the plot rather than the heartbeat.

Here is a story that has lasted for hundreds of years. It will serve as an example to clarify the meaning of character-based story.

Once upon a time, in a village near the deep dark woods, Little Red Riding Hood wanted to take Grandma, who was very ill, a basket of goodies. She would have to walk through the woods for half an hour to get to Grandma’s house, which was in another village. ‘Be careful,’ her mother said. ‘Go straight on the path and do not talk to strangers.’ So Little Red goes into the woods and meets a wolf who wants to eat her but can’t because there is a woodsman nearby. The wolf asks her where she’s going, whom she will visit, and where. Red tells all. The wolf runs off and Red continues her journey, leaving the path to chase butterflies, and pick bluebells, and dip her toe in a cold refreshing stream. When she gets to Grandma’s house, the wolf has already arrived because she failed to heed her mother’s warning about staying on the path. He imitated Red’s voice to gain entrance, and he devoured Grandma. Then he dressed in her night clothes and crawled in bed under the covers. Little Red arrives. He tells Little Red to come in. As the wolf exposes himself little by little, Red listens to his smooth talk when she asks him about his big eyes, hairy arms and big teeth. Unsuspecting, she gets in bed and he devours her.

What has held this story in the collective consciousness of humans for centuries? First, it carries three significant messages. Listen to your parents. Innocence and naïveté can cause irreversible harm. Don’t trust a wolf in grandma’s clothing . . . you can get devoured. There is also the effective metaphor of the wolf for a child predator. But the significance of the story is mainly carried by the narrative story structure. Little Red is a character-based story. The plot moves forward because of Red’s human characteristics — especially her human foibles: she holds onto her childhood innocence, and she disobeys her mother.

This story could be framed as genre fiction. It could still be interesting, but it might not be as lasting because of the structure. Here is a possibility.

Red Riding Hood is kidnapped from the woods near her house. A few hours later some bones and scraps of skin are found at her grandmother’s house a mile away. The police are called and discover from the gray hairs trapped in grandma’s hand-woven throw rug that the wolf did it. The wolf escapes. Red’s mother grieves.

This version is a statement of happenings. Red is a part of the plot, but she is not driving the plot with her disobeying her mother and her wallowing in her innocence . . . and also the author would lose the effectiveness of the wolf metaphor when the story moves from fantasy to a more reality-based police procedural.

Here is another genre framework for the story. An action-adventure genre story. Something like this.

Red decides to go to Grandma’s house for a visit. In the deep dark forest she meets a woodsman. The woodsman is tracking a wolf that has eaten two children in the last two weeks. Red wants to help find the culprit. The woodsman agrees and sends her out as a decoy. The wolf tries to attack Red, but she stabs him with a knife the woodsman has given her. The wolf runs away, but the woodsman is able to follow the trail of blood. He finds the wolf near Grandma’s house, and after a life-threatening duel, the wolf is killed. Red falls in love.

In this story, again, all that happens in the plot is circumstantial. Who Red really is makes little difference. What she says, thinks, or wants would be irrelevant to the story. The same story could be written with Pinocchio as the major character.

To drive home the point, an author could restructure so that Red’s decisions do drive the plot to become more character-based again, but in another way. And the story gains meaning.

Red Riding Hood’s grandma, who lives in another village, is very rich and has a new dress, a box of Swiss chocolates, and bath oil waiting for Red Riding Hood for her birthday party the following week. But Red wants her presents now, even though her mother tells her to wait until her father can go with Red through the woods, which can be very dangerous. But Red goes anyway to get her presents early, meets the wolf in the forest, and is devoured.

Red is back driving the plot again, and there is significant meaning related to Red’s human attributes. Greed and impatience can be disastrous. The writer seeking to write great literary fiction can take two important points from Red Riding Hood story: Structure the story to display what it means to be human through character-based plot, and make the story significant. In Red’s case, the significance is partially related to the dire consequences of getting eaten by a wolf after Red’s seemingly almost innocuous actions.

From: What Exactly Is a Character-Based Plot?

 


   Work submissions for Assignment 16: Rewriting a famous story

They Didn’t Live Happily Ever After-A Fairy Tale

Cathryn D’Aldi

 

Gretel placed her double latte and a box of fresh, honey-glazed donuts on the executive assistant’s desk. “Listen, Miss, ah—you’re new here—well, whatever your name is—”

“Ms. Christian Potter. And I repeat, you haven’t made an appointment,” said the recently hired assistant to the editor of Mother Goose’s World publishing house.

“Someone should have informed you, Miss Potter. I have unrestricted access to your boss.” Gretel put both plump hands on her thick waist. Her azure-blue eyes, bloodshot from a binge-drinking weekend, wandered over the executive assistant’s firm bust, toned arms, trim waist.

“If you like, I’ll check his schedule. Let’s see. Mr. Lewis will be free next Wednesday around—”

“Wednesday!? I can’t wait until it’s convenient for Mr. Bigshot.” Gretel’s shrill, angry voice carried into the editor’s office.

Mr. Carroll Lewis, seated at his rosewood desk, frowned. “Your sister’s giving my new assistance a difficult time, Hansel,” he said to the publishing company’s most famous (and most lucrative) author.

The two men had spent the last hour discussing Hansel’s proposal for the third book in his series of fairy tales for children.

What the hell is Gretel doing here? The young man seated across from his editor fiddled with the square, yellow sapphire cufflink in the French cuff of his white shirt sleeve.

The sapphire was part of the treasure stolen from the evil witch who, once upon a time, had lured Hansel and his sister Gretel into her house. Hansel’s first book relating their capture and harrowing escape received the prestigious Jacob Ludwig Karl and Wilhelm Carl award.

“My sister. She’s delusional.” Hansel rubbed the old, silvery-pink scar circling his wrist–the result of being handcuffed to a metal bar of a cage where he was being held–fatten for the cannibalistic witch’s All Hollow’s Eve feast. “Does she come to your office often?”

“Yes, repeatedly, I’m afraid. Since publication of your latest book, Hansel.”

“Protesting my version of the fairy tales, no doubt.” Hansel reached for the copy of his best-selling book, Retold Fairy Tales for Modern Children, resting on the edge of the CEO’s rosewood desk. “

‘’ ‘Pack of lies,’ is what Gretel calls your stories.”

“Lies?” Hansel ruffled the pages of the book with his thumb. The truth would incriminate my sister. Gretel had pushed the witch into the fiery oven. He shuddered at the memory. The witch’s shrieks. The smell of burning flesh.

The office door opened.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr. Lewis.” Ms. Potter’s cheeks were tinged with color.

‘Perfectly all right, Ms. Potter.”

“This woman insists–.” Ms. Potter’s hand fluttered towards the  pump woman in  the doorway with her hands on her hips.

“Thank you, Mr. Potter. I will speak with Gretel.”

“The sister of a world-famous author doesn’t require an appointment.” Gretel wiped a sticky smudge of icing from her cheek. “Remember that, Miss Potter.”

“If there isn’t anything else, Mr. Lewis.” Ms. Potter glided towards the doorway.

Gretel smirked. Old witch! Bet I know how she got the job. “Excuse me, Miss Potter. Bring in my latte and the box of donuts.”

Ms. Potter sniffed. I don’t think so.

“Help yourself to a donut,” Gretel said. “I love sweets. But I guess with your figure—”

Ms. Potter quietly closed the door.

Hansel stood and grasped his sister’s hand. He detected a whiff of alcohol on her breath. Drinking again. Or worse. “If you are as broke as you claim, how are supporting your habit?” he asked.

Gretel sat in Hansel’s vacated chair, crossed her legs, and adjusted the low, curved neckline of her blouse exposing plump breasts resembling two yeast buns rising in a pan. “A girl has to make a living somehow.”

“What happened to your share of the treasure?” Hansel asked.

After Gretel had unlocked the handcuff around Hansel’s wrist, the two rushed from the stable into the house and hunted for the witch’s hidden treasure.

Hansel had stuffed pearls and precious jewels into the pockets of his lederhosen, and Gretel filled her apron and returned home—to the chagrin of their parents.

Their father, overjoyed at seeing Hansel and Gretel, had wept and begged his children’s forgiveness. Their mother managed a weak, forced smile; her eyes, cold and calculating, had examined the precious stones spread on the kitchen table glittering from the light of a burning candle.

Gretel giggled. “Expensive living in this city,” she said.

Hansel gazed out the window at the towering sky scrapers, the bustling thoroughfares. The city’s electric atmosphere, its energy was intoxicating. Gretel never adjusted. “You could get a legitimate job,” he said.

“You mean like waitressing? Making peanuts? Or a mere glorified secretary?”   Gretel looked at the closed office door. Where the hell is that Potter woman with my donuts? “Don’t be a silly goose, Hansel.” She swung her foot. “I’m thinking of writing my memoirs.”

Hansel gasped. “Are you insane, Gretel?”

“Quite sane, Brother. Mr. Lewis, would you be willing to offer me a substantial advance?”

“Lucrative contracts require exceptional writing skills.” Mr. Carroll Lewis cleared his throat and fumbled with his gold tie clasp. “You’d be in direct competition with your brother.”

“My tales are, ah salacious. Targets a mature audience. Three Pigs Literary House’s agent has shown an interest.”

“You haven’t been offered a contract?”

Gretel sighed. She pressed her hands on the arms of the chair for support and stood up. “Guess Miss Potter isn’t bringing my coffee. Too cold to drink now, anyway. Mr. Lewis, thank you for your time. Hansel, nice seeing you. I have friends who are willing to help.”

“Where are you going?” Hansel asked.

“The Tinderbox Pub. Blackie still tends bar there.”

Hansel bit his lip. “You’re not thinking–?”

“Of returning to Fairy Land? Of course. That’s where the witch’s remaining treasure is located.”

“The Tinderbox?” Mr. Lewis asked. “Know this district like the back of my hand. Never heard of the place.”   He flipped a button on his desk. “Let me call my limousine service.”

“Don’t put yourself out on my account, Mr. Lewis. The Tinderbox Pub is only three blocks from here–if one knows where to look.”

Hansel put a hand on his sister’s shoulder. His face puckered with worry. “You really shouldn’t, Gretel. Go back, I mean.”

“I’m a big girl, now, Hansel. Your protection’s no longer necessary.” Gretel brushed off her brother’s hand and opened the door to the outer office.

“Keep the donuts, Miss Potter,” she said on her way to the elevator.

#

The house loomed ahead.

A white dove perched on the crooked chimney.

The witch’s house! Made of bread with clear, spun-sugar windows and a roof of frosted cake, and not, as her brother, Hansel, best-selling author of retold fairy tales, claimed, a gingerbread cottage covered with sweets and sugarplums.

Finding the house again wasn’t a piece of cake. Gretel kicked a dense layer of moldering leaves blanketing the primeval forest floor. So much for childhood memories.

A gray mouse scurried across the young woman’s sturdy hiking boot.

Nibble, nibble, little mouse. Gretel recalled with a shudder the evil witch, who, years ago, had opened the door and invited her into the house made of bread. Hansel had been so hungry he’d climbed on the roof and sat eating a huge chunk of cake.

Gretel unzipped the small pouch fastened around her waist, unwrapped a granola energy bar, and leaned against a massive oak tree. She was famoushed, but nibbled—like that mouse; she hadn’t packed enough food. She ate half the bar and wrapped the remainder for later.

A chill autumn wind blew through the primeval forest.

Gretel shivered, tucked her long, blond braid inside the fleece-lined jacket, and turned up the collar. Damn, it’s cold. Night’s approaching. I’ve got to find shelter. Her azure-blue eyes scoured the woods.

Shaken by the wind, ancient oak trees, etched against the sunset’s fading yellows and golds, swayed, and the, low-hanging branches trembled. Witches work!

A sound in the oak tree’s canopy startled Gretel.

What’s that?!

Fear pounced like a ravenous beast.

“No, no.” She remembered that sound—like wood being sawed–and her father’s betrayal many years ago.

 

Their father had abandoned Hansel and her in a small clearing beside a flickering fire.

“Listen, brother,” Gretel had said. “Father is nearby. Cutting firewood. I hear the sound of his saw.”

Two branches whipped by the wind rubbed together produced the sound of a handsaw cutting wood. Their father had lashed two tree limbs together—to fool his children.

“I’m frightened, Hansel. And hungry.” Gretel had searched in her apron pocket for a crumb of bread. “When is father coming for us?”

Young Hansel tossed a few twigs on the flickering flames. He had overheard his parent’s plans to leave them in the woods.” Should all four of us starve?” his Mother had asked.

Hansel wrapped a thin arm around his little sister’s trembling shoulders. “Don’t worry, Gretel. If father doesn’t come for us, we can follow the pebbles I’ve dropped along the path. When the moon rises, we’ll return home.”

 

Gretel ran blindly through the shadowy forest, tripped over a mossy, half-rotted log, and twisted her ankle. “Damn!”

She hobbled on one foot to a nearby oak tree.

Pressing her back against the tree, she slid down the rough trunk landing with a thud on the damp, leaf-littered ground.

Gingerly, she felt the injured ankle. Ouch! I’ll have to spend the night.

#

Sunlight filtered through the trees. Gretel opened her eyes, yawned, and checked her ankle. Swelling’s nearly gone. Gretel washed down the second half of the energy bar with bottled water.

She found a fallen limb suitable for a walking stick. Which way? Gotta find a short cut.

A white dove, cooing loudly, flew through the trees and landed on a tree branch. Bright eyes stared at Gretel. “This way,” the bird said. “This way.”

Using the walking stick, Gretel followed the dove. The bird circled back several times.

Twenty minutes later, the dove dipped its wings and glided to a landing on the cake-topped roof of the witch’s house.

The witch was dead; she wouldn’t poke her head out the door with a snaggle-toothed smile and an invitation to come inside for breakfast, yet Gretel hesitated at the foot of the sagging front steps. I’m not ready to go inside.

She limped around to the back of the house.

The stable where Hansel had been held prisoner leaned to the left. The windows were broken, and the faded green door hung precariously by one rusted hinge. 

Chiseled stones from the large outdoor oven lay in a ring like remains of a collapsed monolithic idol on the overgrown lawn, and the rusted iron oven door poked through a tangle of weeds and dried, twisted vines.

A blazing wood fire burned bright the morning Gretel had pushed the witch into the stone oven, and bolted the iron door.

Got her. My first murder.

Gretel had waited until the screams died before freeing Hansel from the cage. Together they had searched for the witch’s hidden cache of precious gems.

“I wonder if I’ ll find the casket hidden under the floor boards?” she muttered and hobbled around to the front of the witch’s house. She propped the walking stick beside the door and peeked through a transparent, spun-sugar windowpane.

“House’s safe,” said the dove from his perch on the roof. “Few visitors since the old witch’s death.”

Gretel opened the door.

The house, dark, dank, and draped with grey cobwebs, smelled of rat droppings, decay, and mold.

The dove followed Gretel into the witch’s bedroom and perched on the fireplace mantel. Dust scattered.

Gretel opened the closet door and lifted a floorboard. “Gone.”

The bird stroked a wing feather with his bill. “The Nightingale Catcher stole the jewels.”

“Nightingale Catcher?” Gretel frowned.

The dove looked at Gretel unblinkingly. “She’s a witch. Not as well-known as others in Fairy Land. But wicked. Extremely wicked. Many a fair maiden lured into the Nightingale Catcher’s enchanted garden are never seen again.”

“How many?”

“According to rumors, the witch prised the gems from the pins, earrings, necklaces and bracelets her victims were wearing. Possibly thousands—

“Thousands? Ridiculous.”

“You asked Blackie, the bartender, at the Tinderbox Pub to open the secret passageway to Fairy Land, didn’t you?” The dove’s white feathers ruffled. “You aren’t in the real world, Gretel. Anything is possible here.”

“What happens to those women who trespassed? In the Nightingale Catcher’s garden?”

“Transformed. Into nightingales.”

Gretel scratched her nose. Others had suffered a worse fate at the hands of witches. “Show me the way to the Nightingale Catcher’s castle,” she said. “I’m going after the treasure.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said the dove and flew out the door.

#

The hunch-backed old woman leaned against the castle turret overlooking her enchanted garden and fondled her long, curved nose which grazed her pointed chin. The wind whipped her dark, flowing gown, and the wicker birdcage she held in one hand swayed. Beneath black, thick eyebrows, her beady eyes sparkled as the gate in the stone wall opened, and a young woman, limping slightly, entered and walked along the winding path bordered with red asters and yellow chrysanthemums.

The Nightingale Catcher cackled. Another pretty birdie. For my collection.

Hanging in the many cavernous room in the Nightingale Catcher’s castle were hundreds and hundreds of wicker bird cages. Each cage held a nightingale.

Every morning, and at dusk, seven thousand nightingales twittered, chirped, and warbled. The forest and surrounding countryside rang with their melodies.

Gretel sat on a stone bench and watched Koi swimming in a small oval pool. The setting sun reflected in the rippling water.

Shrill, soprano chirps and tenor warblings floated from the castle windows. Gretel listened, enthralled by the nightingale’s hypnotic evening choir; she didn’t hear the rustling of the Nightingale Catcher’s robe as the witch crept behind the stone bench and opened the wicker birdcage.

Instructor Response

Cathyrn,
Great. I’d consider this finished. (Don’t fall into the trap of over revising.) Only one suggestion: maybe change the title; relate it more to characters or plot than outcome. You’ve picked up many techniques that you use very effectively. If you’re going to submit, consider waiting a few weeks or months and do a final revision. Time gives you interesting, often surprising, perspectives.
Thanks for opportunity to read.
All the best,
WHC

  1. Dear Dr. Coles,
    Thank you very much for your review; I will certaiinly let this piece “rest” as a cook does with a ball of yeasty dough.

    Very best to you,too,

    Cathryn

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Assignment 16

Refusing Hansel’s offer of a map. Not smart. Gretel kicked a dense layer of moldering leaves blanketing the primeval forest floor. Finding the witch’s house again should have been easy, she thought.

A gray mouse scurried across the young woman’s sturdy hiking boot.

“Nibble, nibble, little mouse,” Gretel said and smiled– her usual good humor restored.

A chill autumn wind blew. Gretel shivered. She tucked her long, blond braid inside the fleece-lined jacket and turned up the collar. She had to find shelter before nightfall. Her azure-blue eyes searched the shadowy, unfamiliar landscape.

Shaken by the wind, ancient oak trees, etched against the sunset’s fading yellows and golds, swayed, and the trembling, low-hanging branches reminded Gretel of grotesque witches stirring a bubbling cauldron.

Fear pounced like a ravenous beast, and Gretel’s heart pounded. She ran blindly, and tripped over a mossy, half-rotted log. “Damn!”

Gretel’s ankle twisted. She hobbled on one foot to a nearby oak tree.

Pressing her back against the tree, she slid down the rough trunk landing with a thud on the damp, leaf-littered ground.

Gretel rolled up her pant leg and gingerly felt the injured ankle. Swollen–not badly, but here’s where I’ll spend the night.

Gretel unzipped the small pouch fastened around her waist, unwrapped an granola energy bar, and leaned against the tree. She was hungry, but nibbled—-like that mouse, she thought.

She’d packed light.

Finding the house again, should have been a… a piece of cake. Gretel wrinkled her nose at her jest, rewrapped the remainder of the bar, and unscrewed the cap on a plastic bottle of water.

Her brother, Hansel, best-selling author of retold fairy tales claimed the witch’s house was made of gingerbread covered with sweets and sugarplums. Gretel leaned her head against the tree trunk and tipped the bottle of water to her lips. So much for childhood memories.

The witch’s house had been made of bread with clear, spun-sugar windows and a roof of cake. A white dove perched on the cake roof cooed as Hansel and she, hand in hand, had walked up the path.

Gretel took another sip of water from the plastic bottle. She heard a strange sound overhead in the tree’s canopy–like a hand-saw cutting wood. Her nerves tingled. That sound!

She had heard that sound before.

Once upon a time…

In a small clearing two young children huddled by a dying fire. The setting sun cast long shadows.

“Listen, brother,” the young girl said. “Father is nearby. Cutting firewood. I hear the sound of his saw.”

The sound they heard was made by two tree limbs rubbing together.

Out of sight, deep in the woods, Hansel and Gretel’s father had lashed two tree limbs together—-he hoped his children, left in a small clearing by a small fire, would think their father nearby cutting firewood, and wouldn’t realize until nightfall he had abandoned them.

Hansel eyes searched the darkening forest. What creatures were watching them? Waiting? The boy put the few remaining twigs on the flickering flames.

“I’m frightened, Hansel. And hungry.” The little girl searched in her apron pocket for a crumb of bread. “When is father coming for us?”

Hansel had overheard his father agree to their mother’s evil scheme. “Don’t worry, Gretel.” He wrapped a thin arm around his sister’s shoulders. “If father doesn’t come for us, we can follow the pebbles I’ve dropped along the path. When the moon rises, we’ll return home.”

Home. Where they they all lived happily ever after. Gretel laughed and chocked on a mouthful of bottled water.

The sputtering noise disturbed a flock of birds roosting in the swaying oak trees. Flapping their wings, they soared into the darkening sky.

#

Sunlight filtered through the trees. Gretel opened her eyes and checked her ankle. The swelling had gone down.

She finished eating the second half of the energy bar, washed it down with water, and found a fallen tree limb for use as a walking stick.

Which way? She gazed at the unfamiliar setting.

A white dove, cooing loudly, landed on a tree branch. Bright eyes stared at Gretel. “This way,” the bird said.

Gretel, leaning on the walking stick, followed the dove. The bird circled back several times.

An hour later, Gretel pushed through a thicket of yew trees. The dove dipped its wings and glided to a landing on the cake-topped roof of the witch’s house.

That’s it! Gretel hesitated, blood pounding in her ears. Unpleasant memories surfaced. I’m not ready to go inside. She limped around to the side of the house.

The stable door hung crookedly by the top hinge. Chiseled stones from the large outdoor oven lay in a ring on the weedy lawn like remains of a collapsed monolithic idol, and the rusted iron oven door poked through a tangle of weeds and dried,twisted vines.

The wood fire had been blazing in the stone oven the morning Gretel pushed the witch into the hot oven, and bolted the iron door.

My first murder, Gretel thought. She recalled the stench of burning flesh.

The witch’s screams had subsided before Gretel raced to the stable. Locked inside, in a small cage, her brother had been force-fed for the cannibalistic witch’s All Hollow’s Eve feast.

Gretel had unlocked the cage. Hansel and she rushed from the stable into the house searching for the witch’s treasure.

Hansel stuffed pearls and precious jewels into the pockets of his lederhosen, and Gretel filled her apron.

Their father, overjoyed to see Hansel and Gretel, wept and begged forgiveness. Their mother, dark eyes examining the witch’s treasure, had managed a weak, forced smile.

Gretel propped the walking stick beside the door, and peeked through a transparent, spun-sugar windowpane into the witch’s house.

“House’s safe,” said the dove from his perch on the roof. “No one has entered since the old witch’s death.”

Gretel lifted the latch, and limped into the living room. The dove flew in and perched on the fireplace mantel.

The house, dark, dank, and draped with grey cobwebs, smelled of rat droppings and mold.

“You’re after the treasure?”

Gretel sighed. Obtaining the treasure was her last chance.

“Get a real job, sister,” her brother had said. “Go to college. Earn a degree. I refuse to support your frivolous life style any longer.”

“The Nightingale Catcher. She stole the jewels.” The bird stroked a wing feather with his bill.

“Nightingale Catcher?” Gretel frowned.

The dove looked at Gretel unblinkingly. “She’s an evil witch. Many a fair maiden lured into the Nightingale Catcher’s enchanted garden are never seen again.”

“How many?”

“According to rumors? Possibly thousands—-

“Thousands? Ridiculous.”

“You asked Blackie, the bartender, at the Tinderbox Pub to show you the secret passageway to Fairy Land, didn’t you?” The dove’s white feathers ruffled. “You aren’t in the real world, Gretel. Anything is possible here.”

“What happens to those who trespass?”

“Transformed. Into nightingales.”

Gretel opened to the door. “No matter,” she said. “If the treasure’s there, I’m going. Show me the way to the Nightingale Catcher’s castle.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said the dove and flew out the door.

#

The hunch-backed old woman leaned against the castle turret overlooking her enchanted garden and fondled her long, curved nose that grazed her pointed chin. The wind whipped her dark, flowing gown, and the wicker birdcage she held in one hand swayed. Beneath black, thick eyebrows, her beady eyes sparkled as the gate in the stone wall opened, and a young woman, limping slightly, entered and walked along the winding path bordered with red asters and yellow chrysanthemums.

The Nightingale Catcher cackled. Another pretty birdie. For my collection.

Hanging in each cavernous room of the Nightingale Catcher’s castle were hundreds of wicker bird cages. Each cage held a nightingale.

Every morning, and at dusk, seven thousand nightingales twittered, chirped, and warbled. The forest and surrounding countryside rang with their melodies.

Gretel sat on a stone bench and watched the Koi swimming in a small oval pool. The setting sun reflected in the rippling water.

Shrill, high chirps and tweets and tenor warblings floated from the castle windows. Gretel listened, enthralled by the hypnotic nightingale’s chorus; she didn’t hear the rustling of the Nightingale Catcher’s robe as the witch crept behind the stone bench and opened the wicker birdcage.

Instructor Response

Assignment 16

Cathryn. Just great. I’ll highlight some italics and make suggestions. Use of italics for character thoughts seems to becoming more common. I like it a lot. With carefully selected italics, I think it’s a whiz-bang, and most effective when these principles are followed. 1) When using italics for character thought with or without attribution, be sure the content is like what the character would think–succinct and in the moment. (Many examples coming up.) With this, attribution is usually not needed or effective. If indeed you need expository material or more words to creep into the thought description, don’t use italics, just what you need with attribution–“he” or “she thought.”  The practice will make italics effective and the non-italics more informative; the reader quickly accepts it, from my experience. See if you agree.

Refusing Hansel’s offer of a map. Not smart. This is the narrator thinking. Gretel might think I don’t want that. Italics work, I think; it’s what would be in her head.

To get the idea of not smart, you could let the narrator say it (no italics or attribution) or you might even change POV to Hansel, without italics: Not smart, Hansel thought. This is an example of dipping into Gretel’s brain and finding what is logical and credible. Once you get the hang of it, I think you’ll find it useful.  Gretel kicked a dense layer of moldering leaves blanketing the primeval forest floor. Finding the witch’s house again should have been easy, she thought. How about this construction: The house appeared up ahead. That was easy. (I think this is what Gretel would think in the moment.)

A gray mouse scurried across the young woman’s sturdy hiking boot.

“Nibble, nibble, little mouse,” Gretel said and smiled– her usual good humor restored.

A chill autumn wind blew. Gretel shivered. She tucked her long, blond braid inside the fleece-lined jacket and turned up the collar. She had to find shelter before nightfall.  Maybe: It’s dang cold. Nightfall was eminent. She had to find shelter. (I’m not sure “dang” is Greta’s in-brain word; your choice would be better.) Her azure-blue eyes searched the shadowy, unfamiliar landscape.

Shaken by the wind, ancient oak trees, etched against the sunset’s fading yellows and golds, swayed, and the trembling, low-hanging branches reminded Gretel of grotesque witches stirring a bubbling cauldron. See what you think of this: Shaken by the wind, ancient oak trees, etched against the sunset’s fading yellows and golds, swayed, and the, low-hanging branches trembled. Witches work!

Fear pounced like a ravenous beast, and Gretel’s heart pounded. She ran blindly, and tripped over a mossy, half-rotted log. “Damn!” Your imagery is great.

Gretel’s ankle twisted. She hobbled on one foot to a nearby oak tree.

Pressing her back against the tree, she slid down the rough trunk landing with a thud on the damp, leaf-littered ground.

Gretel rolled up her pant leg and gingerly felt the injured ankle. Swollen–not badly, but here’s where I’ll spend the night.  Ouch! I’ll have to spend the night, she thought.

Gretel unzipped the small pouch fastened around her waist, unwrapped an granola energy bar, and leaned against the tree. She was hungry, but nibbled—-like that mouse, she thought. . . .like that mouse. (I’d let the narrator speak here. My reason is that “like that mouse” is a narrator thought that probably wouldn’t form in Gretel’s brain.)

She’d packed light.

Finding the house again, should have been a. . . a piece of cake. Maybe: Finding that house should be a piece of cake. (Essential information for story, but probably not what Gretel would be thinking in the moment. I’d use the narrator here.) Gretel wrinkled her nose at her jest, rewrapped the remainder of the bar, and unscrewed the cap on a plastic bottle of water.

Her brother, Hansel, best-selling author of retold fairy tales claimed the witch’s house was made of gingerbread covered with sweets and sugarplums. Gretel leaned her head against the tree trunk and tipped the bottle of water to her lips. So much for childhood memories. So much for childhood memories. (Keep to what would be in her brain for the italics. Perfectly all right to use the narrator.)

The witch’s house had been was made of bread with clear, spun-sugar windows and a roof of cake. A white dove perched on the cake roof cooed as Hansel and she, hand in hand, had walked up the path.

Gretel took another sip of water from the plastic bottle. She heard a strange sound overhead in the tree’s canopy–like a hand-saw cutting wood. Her nerves tingled. That sound! What’s that?!

(Opportunity to be in her brain and bring immediacy to the writing.)

She had heard that sound before.

Once upon a time. . .

In a small clearing two young children huddled by a dying fire. The setting sun cast long shadows.

“Listen, brother,” the young girl said. “Father is nearby. Cutting firewood. I hear the sound of his saw.”

Try: “Listen, brother,” the young girl said. “Father is nearby.”  Cutting firewood. I hear She heard the sound of his saw.” (This is to manage exposition.)

The sound they heard was made by two tree limbs rubbing together. (Revise and take out of passive construction.)

Out of sight, deep in the woods, Hansel and Gretel’s father had lashed two tree limbs together—-he hoped his children, left in a small clearing by a small fire, would think their father nearby cutting firewood, and wouldn’t realize until nightfall he had abandoned them.

Hansel eyes searched the darkening forest. What creatures were watching them? Waiting? The boy put the few remaining twigs on the flickering flames.

“I’m frightened, Hansel. And hungry.” The little girl Gretel searched in her apron pocket for a crumb of bread. “When is father coming for us?”

Hansel had overheard his father agree to their mother’s evil scheme. “Don’t worry, Gretel.” He wrapped a thin arm around his sister’s shoulders. “If father doesn’t come for us, we can follow the pebbles I’ve dropped along the path. When the moon rises, we’ll return home.”

Home. Where they they all lived happily ever after. Gretel laughed and chocked on a mouthful of bottled water. :–)

The sputtering noise disturbed a flock of birds roosting in the swaying oak trees. Flapping their wings, they soared into the darkening sky.

I’d put this backstory into front story. Transitions are needed that would be awkward.

#

Sunlight filtered through the trees. Gretel opened her eyes and checked her ankle. The swelling had gone down.

She finished eating the second half of the energy bar, washed it down with water, and found a fallen tree limb for use as a walking stick.

Which way? She gazed at the unfamiliar setting. Try: Which way? She gazed at the unfamiliarsetting.

A white dove, cooing loudly, landed on a tree branch. Bright eyes stared at Gretel. “This way,” the bird said.

Gretel, leaning on the walking stick, followed the dove. The bird circled back several times.

An hour later, Gretel pushed through a thicket of yew trees. The dove dipped its wings and glided to a landing on the cake-topped roof of the witch’s house.

That’s it! Gretel hesitated, blood pounding in her ears. Unpleasant memories surfaced. I’m not ready to go inside. I’m not She wasn’t ready to go inside. She limped around to the side of the house.

The stable door hung crookedly by the top hinge. Chiseled stones from the large outdoor oven lay in a ring on the weedy lawn like remains of a collapsed monolithic idol, and the rusted iron oven door poked through a tangle of weeds and dried,twisted vines.

The wood fire had been blazing blazed (Avoid past participles when possible) in the stone oven the morning Gretel pushed the witch into the hot oven, and bolted the iron door.

My first murder, Gretel thought. Try: Got her. My first murder, she thought.

(new paragraph.) She recalled the stench of burning flesh.

The witch’s screams had subsided before Gretel raced to the stable. Locked inside, in a small cage, her brother had been force-fed for the cannibalistic witch’s All Hollow’s Eve feast.

Gretel had unlocked the cage. Hansel and she rushed from the stable into the house searching for the witch’s treasure.

Hansel stuffed pearls and precious jewels into the pockets of his lederhosen, and Gretel filled her apron. :–)

Their father, overjoyed to see Hansel and Gretel, wept and begged forgiveness. Their mother, dark eyes examining the witch’s treasure, had managed a weak, forced smile.

Gretel propped the walking stick beside the door, and peeked through a transparent, spun-sugar windowpane into the witch’s house. (You need to make ckear the timeline and where each section fits in. It’s needed.)

“House’s safe,” said the dove from his perch on the roof. “No one has entered since the old witch’s death.”

Gretel lifted the latch, and limped into the living room. The dove flew in and perched on the fireplace mantel.

The house, dark, dank, and draped with grey cobwebs, smelled of rat droppings and mold.

“You’re after the treasure?”

Gretel sighed. Obtaining the treasure was her last chance. Obtaining the treasure was her last chance. (I wouldn’t use expository material in italics here. Our narrator is telling this.)

“Get a real job, sister,” her brother had said. “Go to college. Earn a degree. I refuse to support your frivolous life style any longer.”

“The Nightingale Catcher. She stole the jewels.” The bird stroked a wing feather with his bill.

“Nightingale Catcher?” Gretel frowned.

The dove looked at Gretel unblinkingly. “She’s an evil witch. Many a fair maiden lured into the Nightingale Catcher’s enchanted garden are never seen again.” This dove is a great choice!

“How many?”

“According to rumors? Possibly thousands—-

“Thousands? Ridiculous.”

“You asked Blackie, the bartender, at the Tinderbox Pub to show you the secret passageway to Fairy Land, didn’t you?” The dove’s white feathers ruffled. “You aren’t in the real world, Gretel. Anything is possible here.”

“What happens to those who trespass?”

“Transformed. Into nightingales.”

Gretel opened to the door. “No matter,” she said. “If the treasure’s there, I’m going. Show me the way to the Nightingale Catcher’s castle.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said the dove and flew out the door.

#

The hunch-backed old woman leaned against the castle turret overlooking her enchanted garden and fondled her long, curved nose that grazed her pointed chin. The wind whipped her dark, flowing gown, and the wicker birdcage she held in one hand swayed. Beneath black, thick eyebrows, her beady eyes sparkled as the gate in the stone wall opened, and a young woman, limping slightly, entered and walked along the winding path bordered with red asters and yellow chrysanthemums. (You’re in the witch’s POV; stay with it in last paragraph, i.e., don’t go into Gretel’s–but keep the imagery and action the same.)

The Nightingale Catcher cackled. Another pretty birdie. For my collection. (This works for me.)

Hanging in each cavernous room of the Nightingale Catcher’s castle were hundreds of wicker bird cages. Each cage held a nightingale.

Every morning, and at dusk, seven thousand nightingales twittered, chirped, and warbled. The forest and surrounding countryside rang with their melodies. :–)

Gretel sat on a stone bench and watched the Koi swimming in a small oval pool. The setting sun reflected in the rippling water.

Shrill, high chirps and tweets and tenor warblings floated from the castle windows. Gretel listened, enthralled by the hypnotic nightingale’s chorus; she didn’t hear the rustling of the Nightingale Catcher’s robe as the witch crept behind the stone bench and opened the wicker birdcage. Yes!

Really enjoyed this. All the best and thanks for the submission. WHC

  1. Dear Dr. Coles,
    Your suggestions sparked the dialogue-making it aive and vibrant. Thank you so very much.
    Some clairifcation, please, would be helpful as to how I would include the fairy tale episode(back story) into the front story. What are your thoughts on use of prologues?
    Thanks for your time and thoughtfulness,
    Cathryn

    P.S.McDowell is truely an intriguing character!

    • Cathryn–
      Let me expound on prologue for a beginning, and then a little about maintraining the momentum of a story . . . as you are capable of doing so well.
      My attitude for prologue is use it when you are trying to express something that is not directly in the the the story timeline, has a purpose that needs a style or technique that is different than the bulk of story, or is exposition that would be awkward to disperse into story. From a different perspective, try not to use a proplogue as simply as a story beginning (that usually is a result to avoid a needed transition). But most importantly, use a prologue anytime it works for you; ignore these or any rules. That’s what a writer’s preogative should be.
      In your present work, you’ve got story momentum. You grab the reader, they’re interested in the characters and their outcomes, and readers are in the story as if it’s their story. That momentum is precious when it occurs and it should not be interrupted by misplaced or extraneous information. In other words, information crucial to the story but out of order on the story timeline progressoin should be restructured so that if fits into the timeline and doesn’t break the momentum. (Here again, every author is who he or she is, a unique creative human, and no rules should be sacrosanct.) If you see a break in the progression (after putting a story aside for a while and then, in revisipn, having a section considered or rejected) as an import feature in what you want to create, just do it your way. For me. I always prefer unity, logic, momentum, continuity, engagement, and no distration from story purpose and entertainment value.
      It’s not exactly a directive answer, but more of a suggestion to reevaluate your initial judgement.
      All the best, and congratulations on your ever-improving control of your writing and storytelling. WHC

  2. Dear Dr. Coles,
    Thank you so very much for your splendid response! My new mantra will be: “unity, logic, momentum, continuity, engagement, and no distration from story purpose and entertainment value”.
    I am rewriting the story using an argument between Hansel and Gretel to incorporate the necessary “back story”. Would it be an imposition if I send it to you for a critique?
    I have so enjoyed and benefited from this unique tutorial experience; sad that it is coming to a close, but will be signing up for your next class .
    If all I do is write for the sheer pleasue I derive, it is enough.
    Sincerely,
    Cathryn

    • Thanks, Cathryn. And you’re welcome to send story for another critique.

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The Magic Stick

By Nazib Wadood

The full moon looks like a big gold coin in between the two date trees. A few night clouds lay asleep leaning against the sky. They, like angels of light, shed no shadow on the ground. Moonlight of Aswin is shimmering white.

The five children are sitting together on the neat and tidy courtyard. Thin films of moonlight spark on their tender lively cheeks and black hair. Soothing breezes, like flocks of little naughty birds, fly over to, and play for a while with them, then again blow away in their own way.

This is the time they gossip everyday before going to bed. Little white flowers blossom in the lemon tree at the south-east corner of the courtyard. The children feel their hearts filled with sweet smell of lemon flowers. Their faces are charming, tender and lively like petals of flower.

The youngest of them is aged about four. Her name is Jannatul Firdaus, but she is not mature enough yet to be called by that name. Everyone affectionately calls her Buri, that means older woman, for her precocity. Akbar, the oldest among them, is about to cross eight. Others are older than Buri.

They gossip sitting on a mat of date leaves. Most time they tell fairy tales and fables. But this time they try to tell a true story. Everything they desire to tell is so real that these are duped by sorcery to be full of dreams. They cannot complete any story, as if it has no ending. It has no beginning too.  

So they try to start from the beginning.  

But all get dismantled and scattered. Naughty playing winds carry away both the beginning and the ending of the story. Each and every story they try to tell fly above to the sky with fragrance of lemon flowers. Pieces of the stories begin to twinkle on the sky like shining bluish stars. They are nothing but their dreams. The dreams first fly away, then return. It happens again and again.

“What’s next?” one asks when the story fails to proceed forward.

They do not know why their attempts lose way just after the beginning. Perhaps it is not a real beginning, they think. They move and rearrange themselves. They sit more closely and turn their eyes to the sky with steadfast look. Then they try to start. But fail. Then retry. Thus they repeat their attempts to recall and rearrange the story.

Moonlights pour down to the ground like flocks of thousands of white pigeons. The trees standing here and there look like black hillocks. Crickets begin to drone behind the fence of jute-stalks.

“Then why aren’t you telling an old story?”

“Oh, I have never heard of such type of impasse before.”

Akbar moves his lips but cannot utter any sound. He stares at the sky. The dream-stars twinkle without giving him any clue to the mystery of the scattering tales.

“Then try with a new one.”

“Yes, this might work. Thank you.”

But the older stories seem so unforgettable that no new story can evolve out of them. Nobody can give any reference or clue. The stories are transformed into air molecules and mixed up with particles of moonlight.

Akbar’s younger sister is six months senior to Buri. Her eyes turn piteous. Her core of heart begins to boil in excitement. Seeing Akbar opening his lips she cannot but move further close to him and sits leaning forward. “Let’s tell a new story today,” she says and then maintains a definite pause to let her brother start.

But their imaginations do not function. They cannot guess things accurately. A secret unexplainable matter destroys their minds and brains and eyes. May be that it is nothing but Darkness. An immensely large black stone of concrete darkness. It stands before them like a huge mountain, or a large statue of darkness. It hinders their eyesight from seeing what they want to see. It cannot see; so it does not allow others to see. It cannot touch; and no one can touch it. One can feel its existence only by imagination. The young children feel crude presence of the giant Darkness but can guess neither its largeness nor its strength. In fact, gush of down-pouring moonlight destabilizes everything. The night does not seem okay as it is everyday. White moon-rays blow like breeze.

“Actually that news has foiled everything,” says Akbar’s younger sister and pout her lips in displeasure. Her eyes get full of perturbation.

That statue of darkness makes them dumb for sometime. They do not find any reason behind it.

“Won’t dad come ever?” says Buri’s only brother. He is one years’ senior to her.

“How fool! Can a dead man come back home?”

“Yes. He can’t; because he is dead. Rather I should say he has been killed,” says Akbar in such a usual tone as if he informs them of ordinary news.

Akbar’s immediate younger brother speaks less; and when speaks he looks somewhat fool and embarrassed. Everyone hearing him cannot but laugh.

“Dad has gone to take him back,” he says. Nobody laughs this time. It inspires him to talk further. “Our uncle has become a Shahid,” he says after a pause.

“What happens when a man becomes a Shahid?” says Buri very curiously.

“He goes to Heaven.”

“There is huge happiness in the Heaven. One gets everything there what he desires to have.” Akbar explains a little.

“Everything?”

“Yes.”

“Big sweetmeats?”

“Mango?”

“Everything… everything is available at once you want to have,” says Akbar without expressing any annoyance.

Buri moves a little forward to him and says, “I too want to go to the Heaven.” She looks around with hesitating eyes, as if she is doubtful of others’ approval.

“Then you should have also become a Shahid.”

“How can a person become a Shahid?”

“He is to fight… he is to die for truth like our uncle. It is called Jihad.”

“Then I’ll go for Jihad. Dad wanted to teach me it,” says Buri’s brother. His voice seems firm.

“Before that you should have to become an adult like dad,” Buri says to protest.

A quarrel is apprehended to be raised between them. Buri hurriedly says, “It is the time to go to bed. Now let’s go to sleep.” She dusts off her frock. Her indifferent attitude proves to be of a real old woman.

Moonlights pour down more heavily like fog. Fragrance of lemon flowers turns dense to be sensible like breeze. Nobody is there to look after them. They lie down there crouching on the mat.

Then an old man comes out of light darkness on the verandah. He is the grandfather of the children. He wears a blue lungi that turns black in moonlight. A fair guernsey shines on his dark body. His hair and beard are as white as fragrant autumnal flowers. He walks slowly to the children and sits down there among them. He touches everybody one by one with his hands as if he counts them. Yes, all his five grandsons and daughters are there– nobody is missing. All they are sleeping. The old man looks at the sky. After a while he turns down his eyes and casts his look to each and every objects of his house around him– the fence of jute-sticks, clay-made walls of the house, tin-shade roofs, the two date trees, lemon flowers, and so on. Everything is okay, he sees. Then he lies down among the children. He does not seemingly have such leisure before in his long way of life. Naughty winds blow over them and playfully roll about on their heads and faces, trunks and legs.

Everything dips into silence. Then a sound of weeping comes out from inside a room of the house. The two wives of the family recite from the Holy Quran. The younger one bursts into cry every now and then. The other weeps in deep sorrow trying to console her.

After a while, the grandfather wakes up in a sudden terror and gets panic-stricken. He looks around bewilderedly. Then he starts to push the children to awake them up.

“Come on, my sons! Get up!”

He is so impatient as if his successors are attacked by dacoits.

“Wake up my sons…! Please rise up…! Wake…! Rise…!”

 

He continues to repeat his call…    

Instructor Response

Your story is moving and very well presented.  The story is effective as is, and rather than continue to work it, I encourage you to move on and create other stories.  For me your strength is setting and mood for the story.  The pacing is right, especially in regards to information release.  You capture the emotions and the responses of childhood innocence and aged wisdom.  And you present thought provoking reactions of the characters to Jihad and on becoming a Shahid.  The thoughts stimulated about heaven, I think, will vary from reader to reader, but always be provocative—ironic to some, inspirational to others.  It is an admirable aspect of your story for me.

All the best in your writing.

WHC

 

The Magic Stick

By Nazib Wadood

The full moon looks like a big gold coin in between the two date trees. A few night clouds lay asleep leaning against the sky. They, like angels of light, shed no shadow on the ground. Moonlight of Aswin is shimmering white.  Effective setting of time, place and mood.  Good.

The five children are sitting together on the neat and tidy courtyard. Thin films of moonlight spark on their tender lively cheeks and black hair. Soothing breezes, like flocks of little naughty birds, fly over to, and play for a while with them, then again blow away in their own way.

This is the time they gossip everyday before going to bed. Little white flowers blossom in the lemon tree at the south-east corner of the courtyard. The children feel their hearts filled with sweet smell of lemon flowers. Their faces are charming, tender and lively like petals of flower.

The youngest of them is aged about four. Her name is Jannatul Firdaus, but she is not mature enough yet to be called by that name. Everyone affectionately calls her Buri, that means older woman, for her precocity. Akbar, the oldest among them, is about to cross eight. Others are older than Buri.

They gossip sitting on a mat of date leaves. Most time they tell fairy tales and fables. But this time they try to tell a true story. Everything they desire to tell is so real that these are duped by sorcery to be full of dreams. They cannot complete any story, as if it has no ending. It has no beginning too.  

So they try to start from the beginning.  But all get dismantled and scattered. Naughty playing winds carry away both the beginning and the ending of the story. Each and every story they try to tell fly above to the sky with fragrance of lemon flowers. Pieces of the stories begin to twinkle on the sky like shining bluish stars. They are nothing but their dreams. The dreams first fly away, then return. It happens again and again.

“What’s next?” one asks when the story fails to proceed forward.

They do not know why their attempts lose way just after the beginning. Perhaps it is not a real beginning, they think. They move and rearrange themselves. They sit more closely and turn their eyes to the sky with steadfast look. Then they try to start. But fail. Then retry. Thus they repeat their attempts to recall and rearrange the story.

Moonlights pours down to the ground like flocks of thousands of white pigeons. The trees standing here and there look like black hillocks. Crickets begin to drone behind the fence of jute-stalks.

“Then why aren’t you telling an old story?”

“Oh, I have never heard of such type of impasse before.”

Akbar moves his lips but cannot utter any sound. He stares at the sky. The dream-stars twinkle without giving him any clue to the mystery of the scattering tales.

“Then try with a new one.”

“Yes, this might work. Thank you.”

But the older stories seem so unforgettable that no new story can evolve out of them. Nobody can give any reference or clue. The stories are transformed into air molecules and mixed up with particles of moonlight.

Akbar’s younger sister is six months senior to Buri. Her eyes turn piteous. Her core of heart begins to boil in excitement. Seeing Akbar opening his lips she cannot but move further close to him and sits leaning forward. “Let’s tell a new story today,” she says and then maintains a definite pause to let her brother start.

But their imaginations do not function. They cannot guess things accurately. A secret unexplainable matter destroys their minds and brains and eyes. May be that it is nothing but Darkness. An immensely large black stone of concrete darkness. It stands before them like a huge mountain, or a large statue of darkness. It hinders their eyesight from seeing what they want to see. It cannot see; so it does not allow others to see. It cannot touch; and no one can touch it. One can feel its existence only by imagination. The young children feel crude presence of the giant Darkness but can guess neither its largeness nor its strength. In fact, gush of down-pouring moonlight destabilizes everything. The night does not seem okay as it is everyday. White moon-rays blow like breeze.  Your metaphors have been effective, and story specific, throughout.

“Actually that news has foiled everything,” says Akbar’s younger sister and pout her lips in displeasure. Her eyes get full of perturbation.

That statue of darkness makes them dumb for sometime. They do not find any reason behind it.

“Won’t dad come ever?” says Buri’s only brother. He is one years’ senior to her.

“How fool! Can a dead man come back home?”

“Yes. He can’t; because he is dead. Rather I should say he has been killed,” says Akbar in such a usual tone as if he informs them of ordinary news.

Akbar’s immediate younger brother speaks less; and when speaks he looks somewhat fool and embarrassed. Everyone hearing him cannot but laugh.

“Dad has gone to take him back,” he says. Nobody laughs this time. It inspires him to talk further. “Our uncle has become a Shahid,” he says after a pause.

“What happens when a man becomes a Shahid?” says Buri very curiously.

“He goes to Heaven.”

“There is huge happiness in the Heaven. One gets everything there what he desires to have.” Akbar explains a little.

“Everything?”

“Yes.”

“Big sweetmeats?”

“Mango?”

“Everything… everything is available at once you want to have,” says Akbar without expressing any annoyance.

Buri moves a little forward to him and says, “I too want to go to the Heaven.” She looks around with hesitating eyes, as if she is doubtful of others’ approval.

“Then you should have also become a Shahid.”

“How can a person become a Shahid?”

“He is to fight… he is to die for truth like our uncle. It is called Jihad.”

“Then I’ll go for Jihad. Dad wanted to teach me it,” says Buri’s brother. His voice seems firm.

“Before that you should have to become an adult like dad,” Buri says to protest.

A quarrel is apprehended to be raised between them. Buri hurriedly says, “It is the time to go to bed. Now let’s go to sleep.” She dusts off her frock. Her indifferent attitude proves to be of a real old woman.  I find the metaphysical quandaries stimulate touching emotional reactions.  Admirable work in storytelling!

Moonlights pour down more heavily like fog. Fragrance of lemon flowers turns dense to be sensible like breeze. Nobody is there to look after them. They lie down there crouching on the mat.

Then an old man comes out of light darkness on the verandah. He is the grandfather of the children. He wears a blue lungi that turns black in moonlight. A fair guernsey shines on his dark body. His hair and beard are as white as fragrant autumnal flowers. He walks slowly to the children and sits down there among them. He touches everybody one by one with his hands as if he counts them. Yes, all his five grandsons and daughters are there– nobody is missing. All they are sleeping. The old man looks at the sky. After a while he turns down his eyes and casts his look to each and every objects of his house around him– the fence of jute-sticks, clay-made walls of the house, tin-shade roofs, the two date trees, lemon flowers, and so on. Everything is okay, he sees. Then he lies down among the children. He does not seemingly have such leisure before in his long way of life. Naughty winds blow over them and playfully roll about on their heads and faces, trunks and legs.

Everything dips into silence. Then a sound of weeping comes out from inside a room of the house. The two wives of the family recite from the Holy Quran. The younger one bursts into cry every now and then. The other weeps in deep sorrow trying to console her.

After a while, the grandfather wakes up in a sudden terror and gets panic-stricken. He looks around bewilderedly. Then he starts to push the children to awake them up.

“Come on, my sons! Get up!”

He is so impatient as if his successors are attacked by dacoits.

“Wake up my sons…! Please rise up…! Wake…! Rise…!”

 

He continues to repeat his call… 

  1. Dear Sir
    Thank you very much for your kind response, valuable comments and advice. Would you please say something about my language, especially about use of verbs, adjectives and adverbs?

    • The five children are sitting together . . . In general, especially in short works, avoidance of passive constructions (use of a verb form of “to be”) is avoided. What you have is progressive present construction that is often improved by using the active verb form, The five children sit together . . . But for your story and with English as a second language, I think you should not change this.
      -is aged about four: Use “is four” OR “is four years old”
      -But all get dismantled and scattered These are perfect verbs for the situation. Have confidence in your choices, which are good.
      -Moonlights pour down. (disruptive because “moonlight” is not used in the plural often, and then the noun/verb agreement is not correct. That is “Moonlight pours”). Use: “Moonlight pours down.” Although more acceptable, this particular phrase will be considered a cliche by some readers.
      -But their imaginations do not function. This is awkward English, but I think serves you very well and I would not change it.
      -younger sister and pout her lips in displeasure. Use “pouts.”
      -He is one years’ senior to her. “years’ senior” is incorrect; it is not a possessive or a contraction. For idiomatic English you might use “He is one year older than she.” But to use this would change the mystery and mood you’ve created for many of the contemporary American readers. So consider staying with the error.
      -The younger one bursts into cry every now and then. This is awkward English but is just right for my enjoyment of the story. An American might write: “The younger one bursts out crying.” OR “The younger one cries.” Not improvements in your story in my opinion.
      Your adjective and adverbs are fine. Again, I think you established the perfect style for this story. Have confidence in your choices and what you achieve.
      All the best,
      WHC

      • Ok, thanks, sir. I learned a lot from you. Thank you again.

  2. I learnt a lot. Thank you sir.

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A Story about Elephants

by Russ Lydzinski

 

 

            Once upon a time, a family of elephants lived in the sky, mama elephant, papa elephant, and two, nearly full grown boys. The calves had no names other than the first elephant and the second elephant, for the order in which they had been born. The second was the cautious one, but the first always wanted to explore.

            Mama and Papa had two rules for their calves. Don’t walk on the clouds and beware of witches. Since most of their days were sunny, and because the calves had never seen a witch, they easily obeyed their parents.

            The second elephant played happily inside the sky house, but the first elephant spent his time looking out the window, wondering what was out there. One day, while mama and papa were knee-deep, squashing grapes in the basement for their wine, a white puffy cloud floated right up to the front door.
            This was an invitation the first elephant could not ignore. He stepped on the cloud and tested his footing. The cloud held him firmly. Afraid to be alone, the second elephant followed.

            “Hold on to my tail,” said the first elephant.

            The second elephant left his toys lay, scattered about the floor and latched onto his brother’s tail with his trunk.

            At first, the clouds were thick and puffy, but after a long walk, they began to thin.

             “Watch out, or we’ll fall through,” the second elephant said.

            And, just then, they did, breaking through a thin cloud as if it were a rotted floorboard. Their massive legs flailed helplessly as they fell.

            They hit the ground with a thud, and squashed a worm that was reading a book.

            “Oh you poor little worm, are you okay,” asked the first elephant?

            “I’m a flatworm now. Millions of years of evolution, down the drain. At least my spectacles aren’t damaged. I can still read.”

            “Come on, we’ll take you to a hospital. Is there one nearby,” asked the first elephant?

            “I don’t know; but there’s a good witch who lives in a haunted house, down this road. Maybe she can help,” answered the now flat worm. “If we make it before nightfall,” we won’t have to worry about her evil stepsisters.”

            “No. Mama said we can’t go near witches,” said the second elephant. 

            “Is it far?” asked the first. 

            “Two miles as the cow flies,” answered the worm.

            “That’s not far,” said the first elephant.

            “It is if you’re little like me,” answered the worm, “especially if you’ve recently been flattened.”

            “Let’s get started then,” trumpeted the first elephant.

            The second elephant sighed but agreed to tag along.

            Midway to the witch’s house, the elephants’ stomachs began to growl.

            “Let’s stop for lunch,” said the second elephant.

            This sounded like a good idea to the worm, who was tired from carrying a book that was one hundred and fifty times bigger than he was. “A picnic,” he squealed. His voice sounded as flat as his body.

            So they stopped for a picnic. A picnic basket appeared, and out flew a red and white checkered tablecloth. They each had a cup, a saucer, a knife, a fork, a spoon, and a napkin. But there was a problem. The sandwiches and vegetables refused to come out of the basket.

            “What’s wrong, food,” asked the first elephant, “Why won’t you come out?”

            “Because,” answered a sandwich from inside the basket, “The dishes have gone to Birmingham and they aren’t coming back.”

            No sooner had the sandwich spoken than a spoon ran away, presumably to join the dish. Then a second spoon followed, and then a third.

            “Well!” exclaimed the worm, that’s not quite the way I read of it happening. Please, sandwiches; come out. We’re hungry.”

            Finally, the sandwiches agreed and they sat down for a happy meal, but before the first bite was taken, they heard singing.

            “Yo Ho Ho, and a bottle of rum,” rang out voices from the road. They kept their rhythm with loud synchronized footsteps, like marching.

            “Pirates!” exclaimed the worm, and he hid between pages 118 and 119. The resourceful worm had found an advantage to being flat.

            The elephants, being large, were not frightened.

            “Come join us for lunch,” elephant number one, called out.

            The pirates agreed because pirates are almost always hungry. They shared turkey sandwiches, vegetables, and Kool-Aid. The pirates brought peanut butter sandwiches and rum. Even the worm came out and joined them. He stayed very close to the elephants, but was careful not to be squashed again.

            After lunch, they walked together until the pirates took a separate road to the sea. 

            “Bye-bye,” called the elephants and the worm as they watched the pirates disappear down the road.

            “They were nice,” said the first elephant.

            “Yes they were,” said the worm, and the second elephant flapped his ears in agreement.

            The sun was getting low in the sky when they approached the haunted house. They had lingered too long with the pirates. 

            “This is not good,” said the worm. “The bad witches come out at night.”

            “Then we better hurry,” said the second elephant. We could get turned into prickly porcupines or worse.”

            The house was scary, with two floors and a pointy old roof. Pieces of slate lay broken in the yard. They climbed the rickety stairs onto a large wooden porch. Several slats were missing.

            The good witch came to the door, hoping to see her friends, the dwarfs, who had promised to help fix the house. The elephants explained what happened, while the worm looked on with a forlorn face.

            “I can help, but we must be quick. My stepsisters will be here soon. Watch for the moon. When it rises, you will see them in the sky. They must not find you here.”

            The elephants and the worm looked up to see the last of the evening sun falling off to the west. The good witch went inside but soon returned with a glass of smoky liquid.

            “Here. Quick. Drink this,” she said. The tips of her golden blonde hair fell into the glass, and turned a murky brown. 

            The worm made a face but gulped it down. He had no desire to meet up with the evil stepsister witches. As soon as he finished, a puff of smoke engulfed him. When it cleared, he was his old self again, all round and squiggly. 

            A gust of wind caused them to look up. A full moon lit the sky. A cow leaped awkwardly over it. Then, suddenly they saw the silhouettes of three witches, flying on brooms, straight toward them. They landed on the porch. Thud… Thud…Thud.

            “What are these creatures, stepsister, doing on our porch?” Cackled the eldest witch.

            “Just two elephants and a friendly worm, seeking assistance.”

            “Assistance, hey,” cackled the eldest. “I’ll give them assistance.” She raised her wand and started a curse. The worm tried to get between the pages of his book, but now he was too round and fat.

            Just then, the pirates charged up the porch steps, with swords drawn. One pirate, old greybeard, cut the wand of the eldest witch with his sword, down to the wart-filled skin of her hand. She was left holding a useless twig. The pirates cut all the witches’ wands, leaving them like toothpicks on the porch floor. The witches, in a panic, took to their brooms, but the pirates were too quick for them. They cut the broom heads off in mid takeoff, leaving the witches with useless shafts in their wart-covered hands, and their feet still squarely on the porch floor. They dropped the broom shafts and hastily ran into the forest. 

            The pirates laughed a hearty laugh, and the leader said, “Is everybody all right? Sorry if we scared you mam,” he said to the good witch.

            “Not at all,” she said. “Would you all like to come in for refreshments?”

            “No,” exclaimed the second elephant. Thankfully, his brother had the wisdom to agree. The worm thanked her once again for restoring him to his former self. Then the pirates, the elephants, and the worm, still carrying his heavy book, walked back the way they came. The pirates took the road to the sea, and the elephants escorted the worm back to his home.

            Home at last, the worm crawled into his hole. He left the book under a tree and covered it with leaves for safekeeping. The elephants sat down in the grassy field, near the craters where they had fallen. The second elephant asked the first, “How do you suppose we are going to get back up to the sky?”

            “I don’t know,” replied the first. “I don’t know how we got up there to begin with.”

            They were tired from all the days’ excitement and so they fell asleep.

            They awoke the next morning, surprised to find themselves on the clouds again, but they were very happy to be there. They tiptoed home, as lightly as elephants can, and decided always to obey their parents.

            Down below, the worm, with his spectacles, read his book. The good witch was happy because she didn’t have to live with her evil step-witches were gone and her friends, the dwarfs returned. She spent her time fixing up the old house while her dwarf friends painted. She laughed at the sight of them, little people on tall ladders.

            They all lived happily ever after, except for the evil witches, who spent the rest of their lives hiding behind trees.

Instructor Response

Russ—

Sorry for a delay in response.  Our system somehow hid this from us in the clouds of cyberspace for a while.  Well, done.  I know little about fantasy and children’s literature and this seemed so well done to me that I’m at a loss for giving help you don’t need.  But I’ll dribble on anyway.

A good illustrator is hard to find, but I anticipate your looking.  It would be a great collaboration.  I’ve recently run a contest for illustrators–trying to support them and discover talent –hat ends NOV 16, but there have been very few submissions.  I don’t think I found a way to promote it well.  So no help there.  Still, there are some real talents out there. 

If you’re of the mind to not to illustrate, you might consider augmenting the imagery, balancing the use of concrete images that enhance the imaginative fantasy.  For example, the living in the sky may have more impact with some additional flushing out.  I got confused with the house and making wine in the basement by elephants.  Difficult for me to see in the mind.  And the cloud that comes I imagined as about the size of the house but it turns out #1 and #2 take a long walk on it before they fall through.  I also was a little fuzzy on the witch’s house too.

Two things I found amazing in the story were humor and theme.  A lot of smile-out-loud moments that seem unique and a compliment to your abilities.   And the messages echoed historical tales of learning.  “Obey your parents” is the one that stands out with the impact of Little Red Riding Hood.  I like too what I saw as a reflection of Dorothy on the yellow brick road.  I also liked the kindness of elephants and worms, and how they dealt with strangers.

I don’t think you need necessarily to take this advice, but I point it out for possible future use.  To enhance the imagery, especially when fantasy is a major feature, you can storyboard the scenes.  Doesn’t have to be artistic.  You could go through and sketch a panel for each scene.  It would give you relative proportions of elephants and worms and clouds and flying witches.  It could also anchor positions in the scene.  It could help in the writing to be sure the worm could see a flying witch when he might be blocked by a book 150 times larger than he is.  You used the warts twice.  In storyboarding you might imagined gnarled and or black nails (don’t use that ever) or a missing finger that would enhance the potential of the reader to form their own images.  Story boarding in general is often helpful when you’re writing a short story or novel, and in revision things seem flat and uninteresting.  It helps to focus on the imagined story world and generated ideas and images to aid the reader to climb into the story rather than observe the story from a distance.

All that said, I don’t think you actually need to change anything.  A really enjoyable read.  And memorable too.  You’re good!  Keep producing.  You seem to be achieving quality storytelling that few writers can achieve today.

All the best,
Bill    

 

Once upon a time, a family of elephants lived in the sky, mama elephant, papa elephant, and two, nearly full grown boys. The calves had no names other than the first elephant and the second elephant, for the order in which they had been born. The second was the cautious one, but the first always wanted to explore.

Mama and Papa had two rules for their calves. Don’t walk on the clouds and beware of witches. Since most of their days were sunny, and because the calves had never seen a witch, they easily obeyed their parents.

The second elephant played happily inside the sky house, but the first elephant spent his time looking out the window, wondering what was out there. One day, while mama and papa were knee-deep, squashing grapes in the basement for their wine, a white puffy cloud floated right up to the front door.
            This was an invitation the first elephant could not ignore. He stepped on the cloud and tested his footing. The cloud held him firmly. Afraid to be alone, the second elephant followed.

“Hold on to my tail,” said the first elephant.

The second elephant left his toys lay, scattered about the floor and latched onto his brother’s tail with his trunk.

At first, the clouds were thick and puffy, but after a long walk, they began to thin.

 “Watch out, or we’ll fall through,” the second elephant said.

And, just then, they did, breaking through a thin cloud as if it were a rotted floorboard. Their massive legs flailed helplessly as they fell.

They hit the ground with a thud, and squashed a worm that was reading a book.

“Oh you poor little worm, are you okay,” asked the first elephant?

“I’m a flatworm now. Millions of years of evolution, down the drain. At least my spectacles aren’t damaged. I can still read.”

“Come on, we’ll take you to a hospital. Is there one nearby,” asked the first elephant?

“I don’t know; but there’s a good witch who lives in a haunted house, down this road. Maybe she can help,” answered the now flat worm. “If we make it before nightfall,” we won’t have to worry about her evil stepsisters.”

“No. Mama said we can’t go near witches,” said the second elephant. 

“Is it far?” asked the first. 

“Two miles as the cow flies,” answered the worm.

“That’s not far,” said the first elephant.

“It is if you’re little like me,” answered the worm, “especially if you’ve recently been flattened.”

“Let’s get started then,” trumpeted the first elephant.

The second elephant sighed but agreed to tag along.

Midway to the witch’s house, the elephants’ stomachs began to growl.

“Let’s stop for lunch,” said the second elephant.

This sounded like a good idea to the worm, who was tired from carrying a book that was one hundred and fifty times bigger than he was. “A picnic,” he squealed. His voice sounded as flat as his body.

So they stopped for a picnic. A picnic basket appeared, and out flew a red and white checkered tablecloth. They each had a cup, a saucer, a knife, a fork, a spoon, and a napkin. But there was a problem. The sandwiches and vegetables refused to come out of the basket.

“What’s wrong, food,” asked the first elephant, “Why won’t you come out?”

“Because,” answered a sandwich from inside the basket, “The dishes have gone to Birmingham and they aren’t coming back.”

No sooner had the sandwich spoken than a spoon ran away, presumably to join the dish. Then a second spoon followed, and then a third.

“Well!” exclaimed the worm, that’s not quite the way I read of it happening. Please, sandwiches; come out. We’re hungry.”

Finally, the sandwiches agreed and they sat down for a happy meal, but before the first bite was taken, they heard singing.

“Yo Ho Ho, and a bottle of rum,” rang out voices from the road. They kept their rhythm with loud synchronized footsteps, like marching.

“Pirates!” exclaimed the worm, and he hid between pages 118 and 119. The resourceful worm had found an advantage to being flat.

The elephants, being large, were not frightened.

“Come join us for lunch,” elephant number one, called out.

The pirates agreed because pirates are almost always hungry. They shared turkey sandwiches, vegetables, and Kool-Aid. The pirates brought peanut butter sandwiches and rum. Even the worm came out and joined them. He stayed very close to the elephants, but was careful not to be squashed again.

After lunch, they walked together until the pirates took a separate road to the sea. 

“Bye-bye,” called the elephants and the worm as they watched the pirates disappear down the road.

“They were nice,” said the first elephant.

“Yes they were,” said the worm, and the second elephant flapped his ears in agreement.

The sun was getting low in the sky when they approached the haunted house. They had lingered too long with the pirates. 

“This is not good,” said the worm. “The bad witches come out at night.”

“Then we better hurry,” said the second elephant. We could get turned into prickly porcupines or worse.”

The house was scary, with two floors and a pointy old roof. Pieces of slate lay broken in the yard. They climbed the rickety stairs onto a large wooden porch. Several slats were missing.

The good witch came to the door, hoping to see her friends, the dwarfs, who had promised to help fix the house. The elephants explained what happened, while the worm looked on with a forlorn face.

“I can help, but we must be quick. My stepsisters will be here soon. Watch for the moon. When it rises, you will see them in the sky. They must not find you here.”

The elephants and the worm looked up to see the last of the evening sun falling off to the west. The good witch went inside but soon returned with a glass of smoky liquid.

“Here. Quick. Drink this,” she said. The tips of her golden blonde hair fell into the glass, and turned a murky brown. 

The worm made a face but gulped it down. He had no desire to meet up with the evil stepsister witches. As soon as he finished, a puff of smoke engulfed him. When it cleared, he was his old self again, all round and squiggly. 

A gust of wind caused them to look up. A full moon lit the sky. A cow leaped awkwardly over it. Then, suddenly they saw the silhouettes of three witches, flying on brooms, straight toward them. They landed on the porch. Thud… Thud…Thud.

“What are these creatures, stepsister, doing on our porch?” Cackled the eldest witch.

“Just two elephants and a friendly worm, seeking assistance.”

“Assistance, hey,” cackled the eldest. “I’ll give them assistance.” She raised her wand and started a curse. The worm tried to get between the pages of his book, but now he was too round and fat.

Just then, the pirates charged up the porch steps, with swords drawn. One pirate, old greybeard, cut the wand of the eldest witch with his sword, down to the wart-filled skin of her hand. She was left holding a useless twig. The pirates cut all the witches’ wands, leaving them like toothpicks on the porch floor. The witches, in a panic, took to their brooms, but the pirates were too quick for them. They cut the broom heads off in mid takeoff, leaving the witches with useless shafts in their wart-covered hands (Used this already.  Maybe find something else.), and their feet still squarely on the porch floor. They dropped the broom shafts and hastily ran into the forest. 

The pirates laughed a hearty laugh, and the leader said, “Is everybody all right? Sorry if we scared you mam,” he said to the good witch.

“Not at all,” she said. “Would you all like to come in for refreshments?”

“No,” exclaimed the second elephant. Thankfully, his brother had the wisdom to agree. The worm thanked her once again for restoring him to his former self. Then the pirates, the elephants, and the worm, still carrying his heavy book, walked back the way they came. The pirates took the road to the sea, and the elephants escorted the worm back to his home.

Home at last, the worm crawled into his hole. He left the book under a tree and covered it with leaves for safekeeping. The elephants sat down in the grassy field, near the craters where they had fallen. The second elephant asked the first, “How do you suppose we are going to get back up to the sky?”

“I don’t know,” replied the first. “I don’t know how we got up there to begin with.”

They were tired from all the days’ excitement and so they fell asleep.

They awoke the next morning, surprised to find themselves on the clouds again, but they were very happy to be there. They tiptoed home, as lightly as elephants can, and decided always to obey their parents.

Down below, the worm, with his spectacles, read his book. The good witch was happy because she didn’t have to live with her evil step-witches were gone and her friends, the dwarfs returned. She spent her time fixing up the old house while her dwarf friends painted (What?  A chance to enhance imagery.). She laughed at the sight of them, little people on tall ladders.

They all lived happily ever after, except for the evil witches, who spent the rest of their lives hiding behind trees.

 

  1. Thanks Bill,

    Your assignments and responses have helped me become a better writer.

    Russ

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