Story Snips! and RIP Binyavanga Wainaina

Two snips!

I have an ongoing scene I'm slowly drafting for a different challenge (instead of focusing on edits of The Handful of Time, like I'm supposed to be doing), but besides that, the only substantial writing work I've done lately is the scenes for the April and May exercises on The Lit Forum.


April's exercise was as follows:

"For this challenge, the goal is to compose a complete short story (500 words or less) over the course of 5 weeks (we’ll slop into May a little bit). Each week you’ll be given six, randomly-generated prompt words, five of which are to be incorporated into that week’s submission of your story. (There will be a separate thread which will only be for the prompt words.) For each week’s submission, you can only add a maximum of 100 words, which includes the prompt words. The story structure of what to generate each week is as follows:
Week 1: Intro of setting/characters/inciting incident
Week 2: Act I - Rising action, development of conflict
Week 3: Act II - Twists and reversals
Week 4: Act III - Climax and resolution
Week 5: Denouement
As you can see, this challenge incorporates tight word-count editing, bare-bones storytelling, and dealing with the unexpected"


And here's the story I wrote (read only the yellow for just the story):

Week 1: Intro of setting/characters/inciting incident

Week 1 prompts: amber, doctor, evacuation, killjoy, daisy, proof (used all but killjoy)
Note: 110 words. This leaves me 90 for next week.
***
Christianne came out of her doctor’s office to find Rory waiting. The place had a sad assortment of mismatched furniture, amber leather and blue plastic; he was perched on a red stool, scanning the proof copy of a medical journal.
"Let's get out of here," she muttered the instant he caught her eye.
They fled down the corridors as quickly as though given an evacuation order.
The exit was covered in fundraising posters. She slapped a hand on a stylised daisy and flung the door open, but wasn't shot of the hospital yet. She had to be back through those doors and past those hideous chairs in just two days.
***
Week 2: Act I - Rising action, development of conflict
Week 2 prompts: constant, movement, captive, infinite, common, flaming (used all)
Note: 100 words. Still owe myself 10.
***
The desire was a constant; not even infinite movement kept it at bay.
Over lunch, she reviewed all the evidence that would turn her suspect into a captive. When her chief ordered drinks, it was easy to acquiesce. An entire week without a drop. What did a glass of wine -- or two -- matter with the operation looming?
"This cancer is common," her doctor'd said. As if sharing her plight with countless others gave better odds on survival.
Her phone lit up. Rory's photo on screen was a flaming brand. Accusing. He'd no right.
She poured a third glass.

***
Week 3: Act II - Twists and reversals
Week 3 prompts: weird, blonde, amazement, elbow, gritty, diplomacy (used all)
Note: 99 words. Still owe myself 9.
***
She staggered outside. Weird, it'd been daylight when she'd entered the pub.
One last clue to find. The Chief'd stare in amazement.
Here came the tram. Slowing down.
She wove around a blonde-haired woman. Her elbow hit the tram, and down she crumpled.
The sidewalk was gritty. Blood on her palm. The blonde helped her up, panicky.
She exuded diplomacy, thanked her, stumbled off before a crowd could gather.
Deja-vu. She’d been this far gone before. Too often.
The tram clanged its bell, moved on. An ad for croissants on its side. Homey. Safe.
It was time to stop.

***
Week 4: Act III - Climax and resolution
Week 4 prompts: invitation, lantern, twisted, grainy, falls, greedy (used all)
Note: 99 words. Still owe myself 8.
***
She called Rory. He left work, and tried to coax her home, but she must get that clue.
She'd just gained access to the storage locker, when her suspect entered.
He was too greedy. She trapped him with words, and he sang. When he realised his mistake, he assaulted her. Backup arrived in the nick of time.
'Til today, she would've recovered with a drink, grainy
and strong -- but enough with falls and twisted excuses.
Now she had Rory. Instead of drowning solo, she celebrated as a twosome. A lantern-lit table, laughter, and brief touches -- each one an invitation.

***
Week 5: Denouement
Week 5 prompts: sabotage, even, cryptic, blow, imprint, project (used all)
Note: 91 words; all caught up (with 1 spare)!
***
133 days, and she'd managed not to sabotage her sobriety.
Good news helped.
"I'll project it on-screen." Her oncologist pointed. "The area remains clear. Follow-ups can now be annual."
She'd expected a blow, but it'd been deflected.
After fighting so long, reprieve put her off-kilter. "Do I even deserve this?" she asked Rory that night. "And don't be cryptic."
His fingertips grazed her arm, feather-light, leaving no imprint, save for the thrills coursing in their wake. "Of course you deserve hope, lovey. But maybe I can better prove it without words..."



May's exercise was as follows:

"One man’s morals are another man’s conflict.
Write a scene in which the moral code of a character is tested. This can be by any means relevant to your story, either by events, by inner conflict, or by another character. It can be as simple as a character resisting the call of pastries in the break room, or as deep as saving the world, or not.
We don’t necessarily need to see your character weighing the pros and cons of her decision, although you can include them. But we need to see the line in the sand that they’re facing and how they handle it.
As you read and comment, keep in mind the following (but you’re not limited to just these):
A. Was the character’s moral code apparent in the scene?
B. Was the code tested in some way? Did it create conflict/tension within the character?
C. Did the conflict raise the stakes for the protagonist or the antagonist? Both?"

And here's the scene I wrote:

This is from the point of view of Rory, who owns a garage/auto body shop; Melis is the receptionist/secretary; Henry is his former boss/mentor (580 words). I hope it's clear from the context, because if I start explaining things, I'll end up rehashing the whole thing.

***
By the time he left for work the next morning, he still hadn’t told Christianne about his plans for lunch. The impending meeting with his ex had occurred to him on and off all weekend, but he hadn’t wanted to tip over Christianne in her fragile state, not after the decision she’d made on Sunday.

Besides, there was nothing to make a stramash over. He’d find out what’d gotten Mercedes in such a state and tell her whatever she wanted to hear. Same way he’d done it all those years before the divorce. And that would be the end of it.

He felt another qualm when Melis bustled in, wondering what, if anything, Mercedes might have told her sister. He didn’t know how often they spoke, if they spoke at all. But Melis chattered up a storm with him and the guys about all she and her brand-new husband had done over the weekend, rock climbing at some nature park and all that, then bounded upstairs to her desk.

He could still cancel. Not even call, just send a quick message to say he couldn’t make it. But Mercedes wouldn’t accept a no. She’d call back, hound him until they settled on a new date and time.

Then there was that note of fear, the odd pitch to her voice that’d made him agree to meet in the first place. This wasn’t one of her usual games; something might truly be bothering her this time.

He was distracted then by a new client, who brought in a Bentley and turned out to be someone who’d known Henry. They went round the old car, discussing the jobs Henry had done over the years, the suppliers he’d preferred. The client complained of water on the drum brake and they discussed options, then went up to the office to have Melis set up the preliminary file.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, between the job at hand and memories of Henry, he kept thinking, I could call Christianne.

There was still time to tell her. But he wanted to support her, not add to the weight on her back. The realisation was sudden: he simply didn’t know how she would react. Easier to keep quiet about it all, rather than cause a fuss.

He promised a quote first thing the next morning, which meant he’d be working on the Bentley all afternoon, and after the client had left, he juggled the roster around with his team.

Lunch time.

He shook off his coveralls, changed into a clean shirt, shrugged on his coat.

All the time waiting for someone to ask where he was going and, when he lied about it, wondering how easily they’d be able to tell.

But everyone else had their own plans, same as every other weekday, and he trudged off up the cold streets alone. The fogs had dissipated but the bise was back, rattling the shutters on all the old apartment buildings, blowing alpine frosts straight down his neck and up his sleeves.

He dug his hands deeper into his pockets as he turned onto the road leading to the restaurant. Lies, evasions, not wanting to face anyone’s reactions. Had Mercedes felt muddled up like this when she’d snuck off to meet her sleazebag? She might have justified it all in her head somehow, lessened her guilt at cheating on him.

He couldn’t remember now why he’d agreed to this at all, but it was too late.


One of the authors that I read when I was reading stories by Kenyan authors before a trip to Nairobi, Binyavanga Wainaina, has passed away at a too-young age. I can't quite articulate what his writing meant to me, but this memorial essay by Norbert Odero captures much of my feelings. I also read and enjoyed (if that's the right word) the other book he refers to, Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.

Here are the two main books:

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina



"Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him.This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colourful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother's beauty parlour, black mamba bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the music of Michael Jackson -- all punctuated by the infectious laughter of his brother and sister. He could fall in with their patterns, but it would take him a while to carve out his own. In this vivid and compelling debut, Wainaina takes us through his school days, his failed attempt to study in South Africa, a moving family reunion in Uganda, and his travels around Kenya.The landscape in front of him always claims his main attention, but he also evokes the shifting political scene that unsettles his views on family, tribe, and nationhood. Throughout, reading is his refuge and his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing prize comes through, the door is opened for him to pursue the career that perhaps had been beckoning all along. Resolutely avoiding stereotype and cliche, Wainaina paints every scene in One Day I Will Write About This Place with a highly distinctive and hugely memorable brush."


Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor



"When a young man is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi, his grief-stricken father and sister bring his body back to their crumbling home in the Kenyan drylands. But the murder has stirred up memories long since buried, precipitating a series of events no one could have foreseen. As the truth unfolds, we come to learn the secrets held by this parched landscape, hidden deep within the shared past of a family and their conflicted nation. Spanning Kenya’s turbulent 1950s and 1960s, Dust is spellbinding debut from a breathtaking new voice in literature."


What sorts of scenes have you been writing lately?

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