Retro Post, Fiction: Finish That Thought #2

Originally posted on my writing livejournal site, nanoweylyn.livejournal.com, this is a story I wrote for a flash fiction contest. The Finish That Thought contest happens every Tuesday, and you are given the first line from which to create a story of up to 500 words.

I always like seeing what I can do to twist expectations.

[cryout-pullquote align=”center” textalign=”left” width=”85%”]

Finish That Thought #2 entry

“Watch out for that tree!”

Margot dives into a roll, but not quite fast enough, and the branches scratch her arms, tearing her shirt. She steps back a few paces and flashes me a quick smile before turning to face her new opponent.

The oak only has a few rings beyond sapling, but is a determined fighter – better strategy than I’ve seen on most foliage that size. The young are usually, pardon the pun, greener. But this one seems to have absorbed techniques older trees use, diverting an opponent’s attention while sliding into position for a better attack.

If Margot were a lesser ‘jack then she’d be in trouble, but the extra hours put in after classes, and coveted holiday hours spent in groves has paid off. The other fights have drifted away from hers. The burrowing tortoise has found a softer belly in other contestants, letting her concentrate on the flora.

The oak rains down acorns on her, but Margot is prepared for the move. Her shield scatters most of them, but a few find flesh. Her eyes are bright with adrenaline, but her brow furrows as she glances at the fallen seeds. She nudges one with her steel-toed boot, and frowns. A rustling alerts her, and she jumps back. The oak’s leaves shake as though a tropical storm disturb them, but the day is dry and still.

Margot is treading more carefully now, concentration replacing her reassured smile.

I lean closer, trying to determine what’s wrong, but a holly bush slides in and blocks my view. The kid hacking at the other side is greener than a sapling, his arms covered in small scratches from the sharp leaves, his blood as bright as his opponents’ berries.

A rustle and thump from beyond the bush, and I hear Margot let out a little yelp of surprise. Growling in frustration, I squeeze past the other viewers, and run for the little hill beyond the observation deck. The field is full of motion, flora and fauna paired off against human fighters, a twisting of nature and brutality where our youth prove their worth to become full ‘jacks, sanctioned to go on missions with the adults.

There are always those who try too early – I’m going to wait until I’m sixteen, personally, but Margot, at fourteen she’s better than most who have the full two score most ‘jacks do.

I scan the grounds again, trying to pick out Margot. My eyes finally settle on the one spot in the field where stillness reigns. Splintered branches of the oak are jarring sight, but my heart stops as I see Margot, still as the tree, propped up against its bark. Tears form in my eyes as I realize the leaves that surround do not belong to the oak.

It is as lifeless as she.

The glossy foliage is inherent to an older plant. Craftier. Pulling Margot into a final embrace, waist and throat.

A creeper vine.[/cryout-pullquote]

Writing with 7 point story structure

I am currently working on a short story. I started it at the beginning of June, and have been working on it off and on since then. There were some days that I had what felt like productive writing sessions, even if I did have to literally start with “once upon a time” in order to trick myself into starting on the concept I’d had in my head for weeks.

I say “off and on”, though that mostly means “off”. Granted, I did take some time in there to work at a writing retreat (more on that later), and to edit and polish a separate short story for submission (ditto), but some days when I sat to write on the current fairy-tale based WIP, I only got about 50 words before getting stuck again.

Fortunately, in my life, I have had the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded people, and over a series of conversations with other writers, I identified several problems with my story.

  • the beginning I wrote didn’t match the ending I had envisioned
  • I was hesitant to bring back the narrative POV after diving into a closer 3rd person POV, even though the story called for it
  • I had the power balance between the protagonist and the villain wrong
  • The villain didn’t have motivation beyond “working against the protagonist”

Once the problem areas were identified, I realized I’m going to have to start over. I will probably be able to use some of what I’ve written (about 2000 words on paper so far), but will have to change it to accommodate new idea.

Time is running out if I want to submit this story to the anthology I had my eye on, especially since I want to run it by a critique group first. So I decided to pull out one of the new tools from my writing toolbox, and see if I could figure out how it worked.

The tool is the 7 Point Story Structure, as presented by Dan Wells. (I have added my notes and a link to the video series on my Writing Resources Page.)

I’ve had intense discussions with my critique group around this tool – using it to flesh out the various threads for novels – but I had never tried to apply it to an uncompleted work. Honestly, it took me a bit of time, and I’m not sure what I came up with is perfect, but I can say that by following the steps, I got ideas. I knew the ending, and by looking at the beginning next, I realized that some of the new elements I’d discussed with my writer friends needed to be applied in the very first scene.

I had the most trouble with the pinch points, but in looking at them, I realized that I could call back a character from the first draft, and use this person not only as an aid in the pinch point, but also to make the relationship between the protagonist and the villain more dynamic.

Overall, I am pleased with the results, even if what I came up with doesn’t exactly match the 7 point story structure as it was taught (I think I’ve got one or two subthreads, that maybe deserve their own 7 points, mixed in), it helped me to come up with an outline for a story that has been broken for several weeks. The 7 point structure is providing support for the story I wanted to tell, making it whole. And even if the results from the exercise aren’t what I expected/ hoped – I have a story I can move ahead with, and that’s what really matters.

Article on Low Mood cycle, and Aqua And

Had lunch today with my sibling, and we were discussing my earlier post about Habits and Depression. After lunch, my sibling sent me a link to an article Breaking The Low Mood Cycle [strong language warning]. It is definitely applicable to me today. Particularly applicable was the part under the header But I Can’t Because of Thing that dealt with what breaking the Low Mood Cycle is, and is not about.

Also, my sibling has just started a blog, called Aqua And, as a place to “share musings, observations, pop culture rants, gender and sexuality thoughts and personal experiences of life as an aromantic non-binary person moving through a heavily gendered and relationship focused society.” Check it out if you are interested.

Habits as a Safety Net

For as long as I can remember, I have been on the path to establish good habits in my life. The habits on my list have shifted over time, but among ones I have tried to establish are:

  • floss daily
  • go to bed and rise the same time each day
  • write something every day
  • complete “Morning Pages” everyday before work
  • drink a cup of tea in the morning
  • drink a cup of green tea in the afternoon
  • pack my bag, my lunch, and pick out clothes for work the night before
  • cook dinner at home at least 3 times a week
  • dedicate one evening a week to hanging out with friends
  • reach out to distant friends once a week
  • walk on my breaks at work
  • go to the gym 3 times a week
  • set 3 goals at the beginning of the work day that take priority

And so on, and so on.

I have always looked at these goals, these habits I was trying to establish, as a way to improve my life. Yes, I took some of them straight of of magazine articles. And Yes, I realize that simply having a routine, that establishing good habits, does not automatically mean that my life will be better.

I understand that there is no perfect combination of actions that will unlock happiness for a given day. Yet still, I wanted to set myself up for success as much as possible, and these habits seemed the way to go.

The Points System is simply a new iteration of this same idea. A way to reward myself for achieving something I hope to establish as a habit.

It was the routine, those habits, that got me to work today. Wake up after 3 snoozes. Take my medications. Sit and watch the day’s weather. Stretch. Set the kettle on. While the kettle warms, medicate and feed the cats. Make tea, and put it in a travel mug. It’s Monday, so take out the trash and recycling. Grab my bag (which is sitting in the newly designated spot by the door), and go to work.

I did not want to go to work today. I wanted to curl up in bed. I wanted to sit on the couch, with a cat in my lap, and just sit, feeling the warmth on my legs, and revel in the purring. I wanted to drop everything and cry.

I didn’t. I followed my routine, my habits. And by mid-morning, things weren’t so bad. My anti-depressant had kicked in, and while I’m still not terribly motivated to do work, it is easier. And the routines and habits I’ve put in place at work are also catching me from just staring at the screen, feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

I was diagnosed with depression earlier this year. Before this, I attributed my lack of motivation and my moods to stress. To my own inability to handle life. It wasn’t until I talked with friends and family who were also being treated for depression that I realized that I may not be failing at life – that something may be chemically wrong in my brain.

With their support, and the support I felt from other public figures I respect talking openly and honestly with their own experiences with depression*, that I talked to my doctor. I am still in the phase where we are trying to get the medication right. Some days are harder than others, but I find that the habits and routine that I’ve been trying to build over the years are really a safety net of sorts.

For the days when I don’t feel like doing anything, if I can do the habits I’ve set, I will have accomplished something. It will be the minimum, sure, but I will have accomplished something. And looking back at myself over the years, over all my attempts to set these good habits, I wonder how long I have been in the grips of depression, and have been fighting it in the only way I could see, without knowing what I was fighting.


 

*Mur Lafferty talks honestly about depression on her blog and in her podcast; Howard Taylor does likewise on his Facebook page (like February of this year), and his wife, Sandra Taylor did a wonderful post on being married to someone with depression.