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ACB
July 25th, 2015, 04:47 PM
The candle had been burning for some time, and wax had started to flow in streams onto the stone floor. A thin sheet of smoke hung in the air, tribute to the seemingly endless supply of incense. The Teacher kept a well-stocked cupboard of similar things; quite where he managed to get the quantity of some of these items Sing wasn’t sure. Even when there wasn’t more than recon for the daily meal, there would be endless vacuum-sealed packs of sticky, pungent sap stocked neatly on the bottom shelf. The courier that delivered these packages stamped ‘EXPRESS’ would never meet Sing’s eye. Or indeed, talk to anyone at the temple. Still, that wasn’t so strange. What was stranger was the source of these packages, and how willing the Teacher was to accept them. For someone like him, who often turned down both food and the offer of company, it did seem strange that he would accept these gifts. Perhaps they were not gifts, but compensation, or tribute, or…

The thought pushed Sing’s awareness into focus, colours and smells returning to him in waves. Slanting an eye around the temple’s inner chamber, he noticed his brothers had also started to stray from their meditation. A twitching foot, a slouched back, a too-frequent blink, all betrayed that this was their third hour of Passive. The Teacher had evidently left the room once he was sure they were all faced inwards, although Sing hadn’t noticed him leave. The altar atop the small semicircular platform in front of them was bathed in a shaft of sunlight, which from a single window illuminated the frayed drapes and framed photographs that dotted the walls, making tapestries of the thick, resinous patterns which coated the domed ceiling.

A sudden shuffling sound from behind their half-moon arrangement sent a ripple through the group, and the young monks found a renewed interest in the ends of their noses. A mane of well-groomed grey hair skirted the edge of the room, and a wizened but purposeful stride brought a thin, pale-skinned old man onto the altar in front of them. He gingerly sat cross-legged, mirroring their positions, and appeared to almost instantly blend into the background, his gaze far above the searching eyes below him. One by one, the boys began to take deeper breaths, and the atmosphere shifted. Sing caught Yin’s eye, his friend and home-brother, and offered a nervous smile. After the last few hours, straining for inner focus, it was refreshing to remember the presence of others. Yin’s eyes glinted, the corner of his mouth twitching, telling Sing that there was more than Passive on his friend’s mind.

“Who…do you think you are?”

The controlled, familiar whisper nestled in their ears. Two dozen heads snapped sharply to attention, as the refrain expelled itself from their lips.

“We are not who, but we are when. That when is now, that we are here.”

A cloud had swarmed the midday sun, briefly leaving the chamber in a familiar darkness. Their voices echoed together.

“Why…are we here?”

“To be as one with all that is and is not.”

“Where… is the path between the two?”

“Behind a corner of the infinite shape.”

“And What…is the purpose we here choose..”

The Teacher always dropped a tone in his voice at the last part, Sing had noticed. He had obviously been doing this for a very long time, and his advancing years were of no small concern among his charges. It was generally taken as an admission that Passive was indeed boring – for him as well.

What was of particular concern to Sing though, was that he knew his Teacher to be in fine health, and he had certainly never been seen to be disturbed by events. Even the explosion yesterday, a block away at the Poly, hadn’t drawn more than a slight widening of the eyes before there were orders for blankets, clean water and washing baskets for the older boys, to clear rubble, or to carry wounded, or both.

As their final response drowned in the shuffle of knees on floor (“We choose to be and ask for no more”), Sing spent a moment to admire the Teacher’s hair. A thousand brushes with morning chanting, and a thousand more before tying it up at night - the result was an immaculate grey curtain, a slight movement of which could send them off on an errand to the exchange, or to fetch a cup of something wet.

An elbow in the ribs turned him around, and Sing found himself grinning at Yin, an excitable boy three years his junior; at seventeen, Sing was one of the oldest at the temple.
‘I am so glad that’s over with.’ He said. ‘Need to get out today, I don’t know why-’

Sing raised an eyebrow, cutting the younger boy off.

‘..well, maybe it’s something to do with that!’ Yin laughed, almost too loudly.

Sing closed his eyes, took a breath, then exhaled deeply, blinking once, twice, three times. He beamed a grin at Yin, and his face felt free again.

‘Shall we see who else wants to go?’ Sing nodded his head towards the door. ‘We should all go find a good spot, and stick together-‘
Turning to see if any of his other home-brothers had had the same idea, Sing was not surprised to see that the room had cleared, muffled excitement and whirls of dust the only remnant of the fifteen other boys, who were clearly seizing the opportunity to get out into the March sunlight.

The Teacher was nowhere to be seen.

‘…Where is he?’ Sing wondered out loud, scanning the other end of the room. Yin turned his head to follow his brother’s eyes.

‘You know he never sticks around, now come on, or we’ll get stuck behind loads of people…’ Yin started edging Sing towards the door with his shoulder, ignoring the worried look on his face.
Concern gave way to a gust of wind that ignited Sing’s dormant legs, and the promise of the day ahead in the crisp sunlight swept away his cares. After all, the Teacher had been there every day for nearly the last ten years, and it wasn’t every day that there was a Parade through the city.

As the trail of smoke from the incense embers settled once more into a steady flow, the temple’s main room fell as silent as it could, interrupted only by the slight but deep vibration of the subway.

Nothing moved. Except, that is, for a tiny whirr as the camera hidden in the ceiling refocused.

Pluralized
July 26th, 2015, 05:03 AM
Hi ACB -

Enjoyed this, and I can see you've put some work into it. It's got promise and I hope you'll take my comments in the helpful light they're meant (even if they come across harsh or irreverent).

I like to be more firmly set in time and place than the first paragraph allowed. The observations our narrator makes are too passive, with cluttered passages and more than a few egregiously purple passages. Luckily, you've got an interesting setting as it happens, with a fairly successful dry monotone at the end of it all and some kind of action finally happening (with the boys getting up, which moves us out into the world, keep the next scene moving too, and with the camera...). Better do something really good with that camera (I'm sure you will).

One suggestion I might make is to have Sing do a bit more effective ruminating, or at least form a couple of opinions about stuff so we can have some tension. Without a knife in someone's hand, a fire raging in the forest just outside, or some opinions against which we can compare our own, we readers might drop off early with the descriptions herein.

For someone like him, who often turned down both food and the offer of company, it did seem strange that he would accept these gifts. Perhaps they were not gifts, but compensation, or tribute, or… - Did these packages contain sap? Were the packages the gifts? I had a bit of trouble following this Teacher's collection of gifts and why they mattered. Maybe what would help that is a tiny bit more specificity.

making tapestries of the thick, resinous patterns which coated the domed ceiling. - Might be helpful so the story kicks off more quickly, to trickle these metaphors in. Resist the urge to get too flowery too early. Choose the moments you attempt this sort of prose wisely and they'll be far more effective.

He gingerly sat cross-legged, mirroring their positions, and appeared to almost instantly blend into the background, his gaze far above the searching eyes below him. One by one, the boys began to take deeper breaths, and the atmosphere shifted. Sing caught Yin’s eye, his friend and home-brother, and offered a nervous smile. After the last few hours, straining for inner focus, it was refreshing to remember the presence of others. Yin’s eyes glinted, the corner of his mouth twitching, telling Sing that there was more than Passive on his friend’s mind. - Take a read. The sentences are constructed in a very similar rhythm, and they put a rut in the narrative. Might just be me, but I'd prefer to see it take a pause every now and then. Give me a short sentence. Make something happen. Make it a bit more spicy that way and we're more likely to stay atop the pony.

he knew his Teacher to be in fine health, and he had certainly never been seen to be disturbed by events. - At the outset of a story like this, it's deleterious to slip into passive voice like this. I'm built up somewhat by the mention of the Teacher's health, thinking maybe since it's been mentioned I might get some insight into a threat to that, or something else that could cause that contrary motion we need to keep a story running on all cylinders, but then the last clause requires me to ponder and re-read to see what exactly has just been illustrated. "He had certainly never been seen to be disturbed by events." - If I said that to you on the street, you'd look at me like I'd broken wind. :)

As their final response drowned in the shuffle of knees on floor - A bit too dramatic for what we're really talking about. In fact, it sabotages the narrative pretty bad. My focus is on this subject, their response, and this powerful verb, 'drowned' ... the sentence implodes. Not that this kind of writing is necessarily 'bad,' it's just problematic for both flow and story in this excerpt/intro.

An elbow in the ribs turned him around, and Sing found himself grinning at Yin, an excitable boy three years his junior; at seventeen, Sing was one of the oldest at the temple. - Would try splitting this into at least two separate sentences.

Turning to see if any of his other home-brothers had had the same idea - home-brother. Struck me funny.

Concern gave way to a gust of wind that ignited Sing’s dormant legs, and the promise of the day ahead in the crisp sunlight swept away his cares. - Ought tone that down a bit. You've got some nice imagery going here, some swooshy metaphor, but with our setting so far and the lack of characterization, it doesn't have the intended effect. Give us a strong character with this Sing, and you can swoosh all you want (to a point). Because as a reader I won't care, given the weight of who I'm reading about. With a character I don't know or like or relate to as a protagonist, the hackles are raised looking for that and flowery language is no substitute.

So, I saw a couple of other things but don't want to pour it on so thick. I apologize if this is too much, too complain-y, or not to your liking. It's just that when I see underlying imagination getting hung up, I wanna help. There are characters in there, there's a cool monk-ish thing going on here, and opportunities galore for some awesome storytelling. Figuring out how to let that out is important - don't stop. Hope this helps.

Best -
~P

ACB
July 28th, 2015, 04:43 PM
That is no problem at all, but exactly what I was looking for. I'm trying to learn how to shift mindset away from writing short passages like this to getting a flow going over a longer period of time (including getting and keeping the reader's attention!). I think i've been thinking that if I just cobble together enough of these passages, the thing will just emerge eventually, and that's clearly not the right approach. The slow start was intentional, given the breadth of the arc, but absolutely, who wants to go on a journey with a character they don't care about! First impressions and all that. Thanks for your time man, taken on board.

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To avoid cluttering with another thread, thought I'd post another excerpt from the same piece here. This sort of exemplifies the short-form writing I've been falling into too often. Poetical, but difficult to link into a larger context. Comments/Criticism gratefully received!

A gentle bobbing brought her head into contact with the side of the tank, again, for what must have been a half hour. Warm currents from unseen jets kept her suspended, floating in what would pass for water, were it not for the oily, metallic sheen it wore. Masked lights far under the surface gave a blue-white-green glow to her cruciform shadow, dark, circular walls reaching far above and below.

Breathing became more laboured as small electrical signals raced across her eyelids, signal fires of a deep engine turning over. Slowly, fingers extended themselves. Arms braced, then flexed in an arc, as she began to yawn tentatively, testing the instinctive limits of lungs that had not been used in some time. As arms and cables returned to the liquid with a silent splash, the suit, that had up until now been an idle second skin, began to vice around her wrists and neck. A minor discomfort soon became painful, the threat rising in her gut. Panic set in, muscles began contracting violently, the liquid silently cradling her efforts. Muffled cries echoed in the warmth of the half-light.

With an audible ‘TtSsssss’ the lowest part of the mask detached itself, and heavy, laden air flooded her lungs. Gasping, choking, clawing at the strangely organic mechanisms that surrounded the rest of the mask and supported her back, life returned to the human body of Rachel Berkitt. In the same instant, the suit once more relaxed into submission, leaving her flailing and helpless. Panic breaths and survival instincts faded as chemicals seeped into her bloodstream, bringing with it a clarity that felt like ice on the back of her neck.

Almost unnoticeably, a ledge slid out from the wall underneath her, anticipating her blind search for a foothold. Without questioning the providence, shorter and shorter breaths became purposeful, and with a swift, practiced movement, she ripped the rest of the mask off.

Struggling for a moment, as her senses readjusted to the unnatural environment, she watched from above as the pieces of mask began to sink slowly, spiralling slightly together as their outlines ebbed away. Their silent dance was the only accompaniment to her slowing heartbeat, green eyes becoming grey in the warmth of the illumination from below.


P.S. Does anyone else write from pictures?