Creative Writing Course Exercise #1; By Issa Dioume

For my Creative writing course at the University of Edinburgh, I have had to do a lot of interesting exercises. I thought I could share one with the online community, for all who may be interested in trying things out in prose.
The exercise consisted of imitating the structure of Fibonnaci Spirals, to come up with a short-story. I did so in class. It brought about an interesting piece and had an interesting effect on my writing. I think it is one to try out. The basic structure of a Fibonnaci Spirals goes like this: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 for the first paragraph and 34, 21,13,8,5,3,2,1,1 for the second. (Numbers above indicate amount of words per sentence). Writing with constraints can bring about some very good pieces, I would advice all other writers to have a go at this exercise and see what comes of it. Furthermore, once you have respected the structure, you can tweak the prose and break away from the constraints in the editing phase, as you will notice I have done in some instances of my story below. Enjoy! Have fun trying this out! Let’s learn!

                                                            Fibonacci Spirals

Boiling. Sun. Clammy hands. Perspiring human frames. Ice cream evaporating off cones. The summer season has sunk its teeth in. A cigarette burgeons out an onlookers vibrant lips, drawing a red sun at its tip. Plumes of smoke escape from his lungs with every exhaled breath, they are welcomed with open arms by the quivering air.

Stephenson sits leaned back against the small bus stand box encircling him like a precious pearl in an oyster shell, eyes shut, breath wheezy, hands clasped into clumps of pink flesh, head drooping downwardly. He’d been running outside all day with his friends Tammy and Tommy, they’d never taken a break, not once. He wondered what would happen to them once the year drew its curtains. He would go far away, no longer be nearby. His parents’ jobs required it. Would they still be friends? Not solely today. He sighed. Tomorrow. After.

 

#1 Short-story by Issa Dioume

             A Game of Mouse and Cats

Victor Verdun is fifty years old. He sits at his desk. Thinking and looking despondent. The picture of a grizzled man with an ungroomed beard and tired eyes. Carrying a face which spoke of the pain and trauma he’d endured. A man in the grip of an obsession.
These last couple of months had done him no good. He’d let himself go. What was once clean, lean and muscular had become heavy, smudged and floppy. For as long as five years now he’d been the sole detective working at the local Indian police station. The past few months, they’d been tracking down a trio of serial killers who plagued their streets. Victor is no greenhorn. He knows this job to be one which requires backup. Years of languorous work and failed attempts had taught him at least this much. But this time, this time is different. This time is personal. Those three murderers had killed his wife in cold blood. And so, he gets up from his chair as he prepares to head out.
Around three months ago. On an unseasonably hot autumn night. Gloria’d been alone, Victor at work. That’s the type of man he is. Hooked to his job, trying to wring meaning out of life through self-exertion. She’d known. She’d never been mad at him for it. No. She understood him. She’d had a job too, and like Victor, was prone to late-nights of work at the office. We formed a perfect duo, thought Victor.

The day she died, she woke up at one in the morning. Jerked awake by the whistle of a breeze coming from their downstairs living-room. After which, she’d gotten out of bed and decided to check up on it. How strange, she’d thought. Never had she heard that noise in their house before. They’d weaselled their way in through one of the windows, smashing glass and ushering whistling breeze in. Already, they’d began stealing things when she’d came up to them with lamp in hand. She froze in her tracks then. Seeing the outline of their silhouettes in the dark. Strike first, think later! was what their instinct told them. It’d happened many times before, in many other houses. They’d been used to it. How this time could be any different than other times eluded them. They’d never suspected she might’ve been a detective’s wife.
Victor’s wife was left bleeding out in a neighbouring gutter. They’d not finished the job. No, that wasn’t their style. She was incapable of moving. They’d known time would take care of it. That was how she’d died. In the company of rats, hidden from sight, in silence and darkness and filth. It was their modus operandi. Time, their reliable accomplice, an accessory to their crimes, always took care of it. And, as days clocked by Victor began to suspect time was protecting them and made sure they weren’t caught.  Eventually though, Gloria’s body was found. After a long month of searches. Battered, bruised and unrecognizable – rats had begun eating away at it. Police concluded she’d died two weeks ago. Scientists in criminology went to work, Victor made sure of it, until they’d managed to find a trail. This crime was coupled to a few others which had occurred recently in the city. There was a pattern. Crimes with a similar modus operandi. These three men were recidivists. Serial killers.
A week ago, he’d confirmed the whereabouts of their lair. And now, Victor finally had them within his grasp. Vengeance was at a hand’s length away. Since then, he stayed in a small guest house nearby, biding his time and awaiting the perfect moment.

A street urchin had come to the police station looking for him one week ago. The urchin wore crummy clothes. He struck Victor as being very young, scrawny and sickly. He reported that only two nights ago, he’d seen the trio of criminals stroll into a small house. It was lodged between two tall buildings down in Sufren street, not far from his own. They’d likely been returning from another evening of wrongdoings. Those three were known for being wary and distrustful people. They’d have killed the child had they seen him. This one though, they missed.
Victor sits at his desk. Thinking. This is a blunder they’ll pay for dearly, he resolved, he got up from his chair and prepared to head out, grabbing his gun.
The day he decided to go rogue and take care of matters alone, Victor took off his badge and left without a word. For a whole week after this, he disappeared from the lives of all who knew him.

*

Steeling himself, he enters the premises of their den. Gun cocked and at the ready, eyes tensed with concentration. Muted steps carry him past the door. He creeps into their living-room, does a roll, hides behind a sofa below a window. He inhales. And, ready to make them pay for their dastardly deeds, jumps out, all guns blazing. Victor was sure he’d seen them enter through this way only fifteen minutes ago. He’d seen shadows move from behind the shutters. But, as he stood there pointing his gun at thin air, he understood, there was no one in. The house remained motionless under his gaze. Soothing his nerves, he began surveying the place.  Soon, a noise came from outside; the sound of hushed voices, orders and wheezing horses.
Victor partly parts the shutters and peers out the window. Outside, the air is thin and murky. Driftwood floats atop the cold river surface which runs through town. The sound of horses galloping down pebbled streets rents open the night in half. From afar, Victor sees the back of a lone rider astride his steed. The rider is heading straight for the outskirts of town. Their frame reminds Victor of Gloria’s own – short, delicate, with tapering limbs and a large waist. An overall stocky appearance. The mere comparison makes Victor sag into nostalgia. The rider wears long trousers, rife with pleats, and a pair of rawhide boots strapped into the stirrups of their saddle. In the span of but a few seconds, rider and horse disappear. The veil of night covering their tracks. All noise abates. Victor shuts the curtains, letting his shoulders slump along his sides. He turns from the window and back to the room. They’re gone now. He groans. A sunken look on his face, displays the depth of his anguish.  Escaped out ov’a hidden back door, he suspects. He’d checked, of course, made certain. There were supposed to be no escape routes. Yet now there they were, completely gone. And here he was feeling angry with himself. Attempting to calm down he begins familiarising himself with his surroundings.
Opposite him is a four-legged table. With one of its four sides pushed against a wall. Three chairs flanking each of the three free sides. Their lengthy legs draw shadows of crosses across the living room floor as they intertwine. When he touches their seats, he feels a certain warmth emanate from them. On the table are plates. Resting upon which are half-eaten slabs of bread. Slathered with melted ghee, cream and blood-red jam. They rest limply at their centre. Greasy strips of bacon sit in a separate plate, assailed by a family of flies. No one would eat them now. They left in such a hurry, seeing this amuses him. But his mind keeps wandering back to the horse rider and their eerie resemblance to his wife. The more he thinks about it, the more the two seem alike. A bright white light flickers overhead. Each flicker sending blinding spears flying into Victor’s eyes and into the room. Revealing a large array of articles and newspaper cut-outs that have been tacked across the walls. Victor plods away from the table. With his hat obliquely placed over his head and his long pelt coat drifting smoothly over the wooden floor. Wooden planks creak under his weight. Already broken glass breaks further below the soles of his boots. Wailing warnings which, resonate with Victor’s current pained and broken mental state. As he nears the entranceway, he detects a trace of cigarette smoke. They’d even had the time to smoke. They’d known he was coming, had prepared in advance, had laughed with contempt at his attempt, had rejoiced at his impending failure. They’re probably laughing right now, reckons Victor. The red mist descends upon him then. And he draws closer to the flight of stairs facing the doorway. He supposes he might as well have a look at what sordid objects lay upstairs before calling the police to apologise. He would have to find a good excuse. A stench of cabbage permeates the air at the staircase’s feet. Warding against cleanliness and justice. Victor grabs the railing and heavs himself forth. It’s hot, mucky and uncomfortable. As he moves forward, he feels sweat rise from the walls at his sides. Reaching the landing, the temperature seems to abruptly increase.

In the silence of the deserted dwelling, Victor pauses at the landing as he hears a sound. It travels down the stairs from the first-floor. With caution heavy in his heart, he trudges on and arrives in the upper-floor room. There is a kitchen. He’d found the source of cabbage fetor it seemed. Yet Victor perceives another odour mingling with the putrid cabbage smell. Something resembling a melange of sulphur and rotten eggs. He looks around and notics the oven open. Timid metallic clicks issue out its gapping mouth in a metronome-like rhythm. Inviting him to dance. A hob and a set of four dark burners brood above the stove. Gleaming with the grease covering them. One of the knobs of the hob points in a different direction from its twins. It’s rebellious. Invisible flames burn and dance, jutting from its sides, vying for oxygen and a spark. The oven keeps clicking, each click producing specks of light. Sweat drips down Victor’s forehead, falls from his jaw-line and plops to the ground. Now he knows. They hadn’t just escaped. They want to kill me! Again, the oven clicks, this time more resolutely. By now, he is already running but… too late. From behind he hears a bubbling explosion, feels the scorch of flames crawling through the air on his back. He has reached the top of the staircase and is about to hurtle himself down its steps when, suddenly, nothing. Nothing more.

As everything disappears, Victor finds his mind wandering back to the rider again. And he suddenly he thinks, No! That’s not possible. All this time, he’d been caught in a game of mouse and cats. Not a game of cat and mice.

#1 Flash-Fiction by Issa Dioume

                                                               Candles

The sun rose over a dismal scene. As he lies there, quiet and unbreathing, it struck me how my brother could even in death, do two things at once. He both did a lot and nothing at all, while blood pooled under him. On one hand, he hurt me. Pierced me. Burnt me to the core. On the other, he simply lay there with the dead eyes of a fish, absent of any sign of intelligence. The red under him blossoms. Drawing a pair of wings on the kitchen floor. Tomorrow, I think, tomorrow is my birthday. I grin at him then. For I am grateful to him. That he didn’t die on that day.
His dead eyes hurt me. In the way a finger pointed at me would. I felt them to be smiling and telling me “You’re next Johnny boy. You’re next.” I could just taste the disappointment towards me in them.

Jutting from his thorax is half the glint of a blade. The rest is buried, within his frame. I look at my hands and ask them why they grabbed the knife. It’d been a normal day. All was normal. So why had they grabbed the handle?

Brother [Poem] by Issa Dioume

I Write This For You

My dearest brother, for you I do grieve
As a days’ light was stripped away by night
Wrongfully, bereaved
Leaving you many a hurdle in sight
And your garden-tears briskly mourning eves.

Our Lady Fortune, this whimsical goon
Veiled by a jet-black restless cloaked-sky
Mindlessly, before noon
Coating our dear world’s hair, a darker dye
Has wrongly robbed one of life, much too soon

In what was pilfered lies what is gifted
Where fire has passed, so too must there grow ash
Salt waves, and sand below
When it’s dark and there’s no moon: you thrash
Yet wind still does blow and has just shifted

Therein lies hope in absence of hope-thoughts,
Therein lies sweet life in absence of life
Joy devoid of scope
Toils betwixt you and the now over strife
Beseeching brother to view past blue knots

Which ’round your hands dangle like wrung bangles
Woven with flows of thread binding you to-
– Your blue mind-street angles
Hiding from your sight red-roads where cows moo
Which all good memories do bespangle

Tear that grief away, let it fly today
And beneath souvenirs of him grinning
Like the cold heated-snow, you are brewing
Let it atrophy, and then I will say

My dearest brother, for you I do smile
Knowing you had the rarely chanced upon
Friend to rest on even just for a while
A most indissoluble truth beyond –

…. – even time and space,  now life’s breath is gone

Style Training With Ursula K. Leguin, Exercise.1; Part.2

The second part of this first exercise follows similar instructions to the first with the added suggestion that the writer must describe an action or person feeling strong emotion. And to translate – through the movement of the prose- the emotions ( From: Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story)

Here, for my second piece of writing following the given instructions, I imagined a scene where a character is engulfed by an all-powerful feeling of grief and must overcome it. I attempted to portray, through the sound and rhythm of my prose, the pain felt by a character upon receiving a tragic news, as well as to make the tension of the moment be felt, and her bravery for powering through it all:

FIGHT!

What went first when the grave news was delivered by Thaltybius was the bottom-half of my face.  My lips hung limply like two pieces of raw flesh glued onto a pristine white dinner plate.  My jaw, incessantly clamped and released in sporadic spasms, quacking loudly, teeth grinding onto one another.  Tears streamed down freely, cascading on the bumps of my cheeks, unrestrained.  Too necessary to be restrained.  My eyes stared out before me at the great nothing, dead.  Two useless globes of grief.  Seeing but not truly seeing.  Present yet not truly present and haunting in their absence.  My mind was elsewhere, with him.

Next, it was my body that gave in.  Crumpling and crashing loudly on the ground like a tree whose trunk has been split open and cruelly chopped down by a Lumberjacks’ unforgiving axe.
Then, I lay there, feeling all the years of held-in pain catch up to me. He had been the only reason I had managed to keep it all stowed within, and now, now…well, now there was nothing.  Only pain, sorrow and an absence that made itself felt.  When I met him, I had been but a lonely little girl, lost and confused in world of infectious folly.  And he had arrived with his smile and blind confidence and he had been there when I needed it, always.  My pillar.  My centre.  My power.
The strength with which I wielded my spear in battle came from the knowledge that he would always be there, waiting with his smile that could launch a thousand armies in his name, had he attempted to use it as a weapon of mass persuasion.
Around me I could hear the screams of comrades begging me to get myself together and to quickly devise a new battle plan.  But, their pleas were directed at the wrong person.  The cause that was theirs was no longer mine.  It appeared all so insignificant now.

We had started this war in the name of freedom.  A rebellion against the old ways.  At least, that was the surface of it.  To us, it was an affirmation.  A fight for us to be together.  And now he was dead so it mattered no longer.  I looked up to Bron’seilk who stood by my side and she stared back.  I saw my pain reflected in her eyes. Yet, deep within I saw something else, something different, something I no longer possessed.  Determination.
Bron’seilk forced herself to smile at me and I could see how hard it had been for her to do so.  Her eyes were moist and vibrant.  Ready to pour their content at any instant.
‘Fight!’ she said, ‘Fight for all the lovers of this dreadful world.  Fight to give them a better chance!  And, fight so that this may never happen again!’.  And her words seemed to reverberate within me, as without noticing, without thinking it, my body had abruptly risen to its own two feet.  I maintained my gaze on her for a while.  Then, nodded.  She was right.  I would fight, to my last breath.  With all I had.  And, when all this would be over, I would cry as long as I would need on her shoulder. And, I would lend her mine, for as long as she would need it.

I shifted my focus back to the matter at hand, and immediately began to hatch out new plans[…]

Style Training With Ursula K. Le Guin[Project Explained]

I am currently reading ‘Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century guide to sailing the sea of Story’ by the incredible Ursula K. Leguin. This book contains a few writing exercises to do in order to better one’s writing style and narrative skills.
From now on, I will be posting the text I write using these specific exercises. I may do the same ones more than once due to the obvious fact that: practice makes perfect and doing something once does not guarantee it will stick with you.
I hope it will prove interesting for some. As style exercises are a great way to see a writer improve step by step. And, I highly hope it will be my case using this book. The book in itself is awesome, the author of it speaks for itself. Ursula K.Leguin is quite simply an amazing writer.

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