I Went to a Writing Group Yesterday - January 23rd, 2019

There was a lot of snow in the Muskegon, Michigan area yesterday, so there were only five people. Not only did the session go well, it may have gone better than when there were twelve people there.

The exercise was simple, but not that simple. There were six groups of physical traits. You were to choose one trait from each group and that was your character. The scene also had to include the phrase "That didn't go as planned." Here's what I did in 25 minutes, I'll talk about it after.

- - - - - - -

He mostly looked like any other dwarf. The stocky body, the bald head, the bushy eyebrows, hooked nose, and big beard. Just his eyes were different.

Now, let me assure you that these details matter. I take three things seriously in life: one, betting, two, ax throwing, three - well... I'm not sure what the third one is, but there is one.

This guy, Hulfalflafen, he was new. The odds were good, 7 to 1. I had 37 silver marks to my name. At 7 to 1, I could live for a month. But, if I lost, well... then it was back down the mine. I already had a cough. In the mine... it probably wasn't going to get any better.

His eyes though, they were shifty. That could mean a few different things. Maybe he's lookin' out for someone that's lookin' for him. Maybe he's a bit anxious in a new place. Maybe he's a thief lookin' for his mark, or his exit.

I saw Stanuk two tables over given' Hulfalflafen the once over. He took a long pull from his mug and seemed uninterested.

Stanuk might drink too much, but the thing was he was rich. The guy could mess up anything at any time. He could place a single bet and sway the odds. He could fire a guy from his mine if he wanted to. He could fix a match as easy as rhubarb pie, or he could lose a bunch of money and not even notice.

It's amazing how your entire life can turn on a single decision. Shifty eyes... what does that have to do with ax throwing anyway?

Well... it doesn't. But it does have to do with how I ended up in this prison cell.

- - - - - - -

When I looked at the list of traits I thought it would be a good idea to go with a characteristic set, and I like fantasy. It's pretty easy to grab the descriptors for a classic elf or dwarf, so that's what I decided to do.

I don't usually like long or drawn out descriptions of appearances in books. So, I decided to dump the descriptions right off the bat. But, that's not engaging at all. I held one back. A trait that isn't usually associated with a dwarf, something that would stand out. I like eyes anyway, they're powerful and mysterious and revealing all at the same time. I thought shifty would work perfectly.

While writing I forgot about the phrase "That didn't go as planned." I didn't have a great spot for it yet. In the next scene I think I would have some present tense dialogue between our unnamed narrator and a prison guard before switching back to him telling this story from his past. It could have been included in there.

The name Hulfalflafen was inspired by the crazy names that Rose Nylund uses in her stories about her hometown of St. Olaf in "The Golden Girls". My mother and I have slowly been watching those over the last several months.

I wanted to use a kind of tough guy voice, and I think that came through. A dwarf that's been around the block. Ax throwing goes with dwarfs. And, last year I went to the renaissance festival in Holly, Michigan. There was an ax throwing station. It took me a few turns, but I was able to stick an ax in the boards. Then, on the very next throw, I was able to hit that ax and split the handle. I was quite impressed with myself. When I was thinking of what to do with a dwarf I wanted to include that. I was just reading the day before about Gimli using his ax at Helm's Deep in "The Lord of the Rings", so it was on my mind. (I was also the first, and only, person to escape from a set of custom handcuffs behind my back at that festival. Not to brag or anything.)

Betting just seemed to go naturally with ax throwing. I was at the logging festival in Newaygo, Michigan last year and it seemed odd to me that people weren't betting on the different events. That way you have a stake in the outcome, your invested and you have someone to root for. Just betting a dollar adds excitement. Of course, in a story a dollar wouldn't add much excitement, you have to raise the stakes a bit.

Our narrator has to have a reason that this bet is important to him. I currently have a cough, so he had a cough. Dwarves are associated with mines. Mines are bad for your health, especially the lungs, that reminds me of a plot in "Poldark". It went in.

The guy has shifty eyes, that's all you can observe without being in his head, or knowing about his background, which our narrator doesn't. Well, he's obviously going to wonder about why the guy's eyes are shifty.

There has to be someone else, otherwise we're just bouncing around in this guy's thoughts the whole time. We have to connect with the world somehow. That's why I put Stanuk in. And, it should be someone that complicates things. Stanuk does.

The ending just came together. I felt like there needed to be a change. I wasn't sure what. I've done a lot of speeches and it works great to tell a story, make a point, tell a story, make a point. That's what I decided to do. It just turned into this guy telling a story about how he ended up in this bad position. I wasn't thinking about this at the time, but now that I look at it the basic setup reminds me of "The Kingkiller Chronicle" by Patrick Rothfuss.

There are a few things that I would have to play with for the punctuation to be right, but I was just trying to get the story down here, and I didn't change any of that for this article (although I did correct the spelling of rhubarb).

I sprained my thumb a few days ago at my uncle Ron's retirement sledding party. Add that to the fact that I almost never write by hand, and I've never been good at it, and I'm glad that I was able to get so much done.

The group is fun. I really like the fact that we aren't doing serious critiques of each other's work. We are just doing this exercise, sharing it, saying what we liked/thought about it, and then moving to the next person.

I do have to work on listening more attentively to the other people when they're reading. My mind has started this story and it keeps writing for awhile whether it's going on the paper or not, so it wanders back and forth a bit.

I also wonder about my reading. In the last session I tried not to add too much to the story with my voice, but this time I didn't worry about that. Last time I was thinking that I wanted people to judge the story based on the writing rather than the reading of it. This time I used my public speaking skills and added some life to it. It's more fun that way.

The other stories were fun to listen to also. There was the one about the luggage with the bomb, the great setting for a historical drama, the heart wrenching one about personal loss, and the one about the quirky vampire. It's amazing to watch what people can generate. How ideas spring from the mind and then twist and turn and evolve into this organic growth we call a story.

To sum up, it was fun.

Here's the article on my first visit: http://www.jeffreyalexandermartin.com/2019/01/i-went-to-writing-group-today.html


You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com


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