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.

  3. Dear Dr. Coles,
    Thank you! I feel a bit nervous like a beauty pagent contestant who has made it thorugh the first round-judges are stricter in the succeeding rounds.

    Cathryn

    T

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