Prose Challenge No. 1, "A Day in the Life"

Reply Sat 15 Dec, 2007 12:50 pm
This thread is intended to provide a challenge for A2K writers to sharpen their prose teeth on. We become better writers by practice, practice and more practice. Hone your skills here, and demonstrate to our little world just how well you can write.

Submissions may be non-fiction, but I expect most will be fictional treatments of the topic. I strongly suggest writing your story off-line and the use of spelling/grammar checkers to insure that your writing appears in the best light possible.

Submissions are limited to 1000 words, or less.

Let's see just how much interest this workshop will garner. Who publishes the most popular piece, will name the topic for Prose Challenge No. 2. Now Ladies and Germs, knock our socks off.
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Reply Sun 16 Dec, 2007 11:27 am
Goodnight Irene[/u]

Irene had no trouble waking up. Friday, her day off, was too heavily scheduled to lie abed. Today, she only smoothed her sheets and pulled the cover up. Get the coffee machine working, and dump the week's uniforms and clothing into the washer. Within the hour, Irene was dressed and out the door into the afternoon sunshine.

The first stop, as always, was the bank to deposit her paycheck and most of the week's tips. She carefully noted the new balance, and was pleased to see that her savings stood at $64,386.29. Next on her agenda was to buy Christmas presents for her sister's family out in San Diego. Irene walked down the short main street window-shopping without knowing what to buy. At the Five and Dime, she bought a colorful scarf for Jeanne, and a Swiss Army knife for Jeanne's husband Bob. Her niece, Julia had just gone off to Stanford and presented a greater problem. The last time she had seen Julia she was only 12 and Irene had no idea what might be an appropriate gift. Perhaps a book of some sort would do. At the newsstand, old Mr. Roberts recommended "Catch-22", so she bought that. Only one gift remained to buy, and she had already determined that Mr. Morgan should have a pair of gloves.

Shopping, check. She crossed the street to Fancy Cuts for her weekly visit. Irene thought of her beauty parlor visit as a business expense, but one that she always looked forward to. She always felt pampered leaving Fancy Cuts with a fresh hair-do, polished nails, and a neck massage. Fancy Cuts was operated by her old best friend Alma from High School, and was a great way of keeping up with what was happening around town.

The second Friday night of each month was Irene's "night out". This consisted of a small rib-eye steak with all the trimmings at the Cattleman's Steakhouse just a mile outside of town. Her standing dinner reservation left enough time to return to the little house her Dad had left her in his will 14 years earlier. She leafed through her mail and dropped all but her monthly copy of Travel Magazine directly into the trash. This month the magazine featured Christmas in the Netherlands. The laundry went into the drier. Irene checked her makeup, picked up her keys and started her old Dodge Dart toward the Cattleman's.

Mr. Morgan met her at the door and escorted her to her regular table in the half empty restaurant. Irene didn't need the menu. Mr. Morgan brought her steak and a complimentary glass of California Chardonnay. She smiled after him as he moved to refill the water glasses at another table. The steak was, as usual perfect. Mr. Morgan returned and bending low spoke almost in a whisper, "I'm looking forward to our New Year's in Wichita, dear". Irene was startled by the familiarity. "Mr. Morgan, George, not here... you'll ruin my reputation". Mr. Morgan's face froze, "of course, Miss Greyson … I'm sorry. I hope the dinner was satisfactory". Irene suddenly had a vision of their Thanksgiving holiday, and blushed herself.

Outside a light snow was falling, so Irene drove carefully back to her home in LePraire. The house was dark, and Irene regretted that she hadn't turned up the furnace before going to dinner. She sat in her favorite chair and watched the rerun of a reality show while her second load of laundry was in the drier. It only took a moment to set up her ironing board, but getting just the right press on her uniforms took longer. She ironed her bed linens and changed her bed. Sweep the kitchen, vacuum the living room, and fold the bath towels. "Work before play", her Daddy had always said, and she always did what her father told her to do.

Occasionally, Irene wondered if her life might have been different if she gone to college up in Wichita instead of going to work out at Trucker's Haven after her Mother died. "No point in worrying over spilt milk", another of Daddy's sayings. He was right, and Irene was content. She got along well with the Buster, the general manager, and all the other waitresses at the café. The only employee who had worked at the café longer than Irene was the fry cook Chico Chavez. Her meals were free, and the pay was all right if you counted the tips from long-haul truck drivers. She knew every one of the State Troopers, and EMT's who worked the empty night hours along the Interstate. Yes, Irene was content and only worried whether her feet would hold out.

By two in the morning Irene's weekly chores were completed, and she stepped out on to her porch. The snow had stopped, and the sky was beginning to clear. Irene loved looking at the stars and imagining seeing them from the deck of a cruise ship on tropic seas. They must be even more magnificent than the stars she had watched in New Mexico the last time she visited Jeanne and Bob. It was too chilly on the icy porch, so she retreated back in-doors. She returned to her chair and watched "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 50th time. It always made her cry, and this evening was no different than seeing Jimmy Stewart's transformation the first time. She wiped away her tears with a tissue, and began to read the feature article in her magazine.

The eastern sky was beginning to brighten, just the time when Irene would normally be getting be driving the 23 miles from Traveler's Haven to LePraire. Irene's eyes were getting heavy, and she thought, "I really should go to bed soon". She felt a slight twinge in her shoulder and remembered how nice it was to spend time at Fancy Cuts. She drew a deep breath and closed her eyes. The magazine slipped from her fingers onto the worn carpet.
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Reply Sun 16 Dec, 2007 11:43 am
I'm cold, I'm cold, I'm cold I cannot stop thinking of that, cannot think of anything else really. The heat kicks on, even I can barely hear it.

I trudge down the stairs. Coffee coffee coffee. But no, no one would give me coffee. I can smell it but no matter how much I beg and plead, no coffee. Just water. Cold water. Ugh.

Then the toilet. Even colder. Always cold, and with no company. Nothing to do, no socializing, just a toilet! Silly me. Even wanting to socialize in the most ridiculous places!

Breakfast. Meat. Something vegetal. A little egg. Ah, that Susie is a softie. Of course it's her egg but I don't mind. It's not like anyone else would ever give me any egg! It all goes by too quickly.

Television. Flashing imagery. Odd sounds. Nothing I really understand, anyway. I've never been much of a television watcher but if Susie's in the TV room I'll sit with her because I know she gets lonely and I love her so I'll sit there even though the TV is kinda boring and none of my other friends are around.

Toilet again. Man, where does the time go? Pine scents. Cold on the toes.

A bath. I'm not a fan of them but I'm resigned to my fate. Susie is kind enough to get me a towel.

Sleep time. Pretty good day for a terrier.
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Reply Sun 16 Dec, 2007 11:59 am
Ah, Jespah ... you always were a killer. I've missed all those writing exercises we used to do, and hope we can get a group going here. Just read "Cody", nicely done.
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Reply Sun 16 Dec, 2007 12:24 pm
Written Last Words
The first stroke of the morning and the smell of coffee is charming.
The first movement of the morning as the uncontrollable legs go downstairs.
The first kiss from the misses and the first "Be safe."
The first pang of loneliness as the misses leaves.

The first check of the time in the morning and then the quick running upstairs. The first frustration as the machine will not turn on.
The first phone call and the first "Hello"
Then it all rings back deadlines,deadlines, deadlines

The first typing as words strap the electronic pages
Inspiration pours on to the electronic paper like ham and gravy.
Just typing about a man who does not exist. An electronic man.

The stroke of the afternoon and the fingers become slowed.
The mind thoughtless no more gravy in this pan. The legs controllable now begin a decent downstairs.
The legs miss a step of the stairs.
No big deal just continue rolling and rolling.
Oh how foolish of me.
No more gravy but just red words. My last words no struggle no fight and the electronic man comes for me.
The electronic man takes away my sight and then my feeling.

The electronic man takes my heart and then takes my soul.
And like the electronic man all that exist is me empty soul waiting for the misses.
Oh foolish me.
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Reply Sun 16 Dec, 2007 01:04 pm
I like your poem Leaka, but the challenge is for prose not poetry.
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Reply Sun 16 Dec, 2007 01:58 pm
Asherman wrote:
I like your poem Leaka, but the challenge is for prose not poetry.

It wasn't suppose to be a poem. I get confused with this kinda of stuff.
I can fix it after I know what a prose is.
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Reply Sun 16 Dec, 2007 02:51 pm
"Written language in its ordinary form rather than poetry."

"Ordinary writings as distinguished from poetry."

"The ordinary form of spoken or written language, without metrical structure, as distinguished from poetry or verse."

"- language that is not poetry: writing or speech in its normal continuous form, without the rhythmic or visual line structure of poetry
- ordinary style of expression: writing or speech that is ordinary or matter-of-fact, without embellishment."
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Reply Wed 19 Dec, 2007 04:54 am
Ah, thanks Ash. Unfortunately I don't have time to write the long stuff that I'd like to write. {sigh} I need a 50-hour day, but I'd probably spend a good half of it sleeping. Smile Thank you for starting this. I'll get to it when I can.
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Reply Sat 22 Dec, 2007 01:52 pm
I'm hoping to find time to participate as well, though this is a particularly busy time of year for me. Great idea, though.
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Reply Sat 22 Dec, 2007 03:12 pm
Take your time; everything in its proper season. Writing interesting prose is more difficult than what passes for modern poetry. Plot, character, and dialog have to work together to tell a real story. It's not nearly as easy to get away with sloppy writing and structure in prose. I'm optimistic that we'll soon be reading some very credible stuff.

Jespah and I participated for a long time in a similar set of writing "workshops", and it was extremely rewarding to me. We need readers to motivate us into putting a story down into writing. What's the point of actually committing a story to writing, if there isn't a reader? When we tell stories to ourselves, we tend to get sloppy. We need that unknown reader to force us into thinking each story through. Why one character instead of another? Why does a character behave, or think as they do? What is the world like that forms the stage on which our actors play out our little dramas? Why do they suffer, and will they prevail, or is it more interesting if they fail tragically? This need to fully understand the characters and elements that make up a story are soooo easy to get wrong, and then the story falls short.

Our tools are words strung together into sentences. There is a temptation to use lofty and fancy words to show off our vocabulary, but most readers won't stand for much of that. Still, finding the best word to carry the most meaning with the least misunderstanding is a challenge. Long, complex sentences that sometimes continue for a whole page can work, if your a very gifted writer. Usually those sentences end up as confusing misuse of English punctuation and grammar. Short, direct sentences are easier and are less likely to confuse, but they can fall into deadly monotony. How we string sentences together can a subtle part of the story by setting up a rhythm and pacing in our reader's minds. Its like music, like jazz riffs that carry the audience along with the rip-rap.

The writer is responsible for whether their story captures their reader audiences or not. There's no excuse for a piece of writing to be filled with mis-spelling, or grammatical errors when our computer systems will check for those problems at the push of a button. There will always be typos, and sometimes it is the writer's intent to use non-standard construction to achieve a particular purpose. Trying to capture the natural rhythms of daily speech is tough. When a character would use a special patois or accent, the writer may feel the task almost impossible. They try anyway, and with practice might be pretty successful. The bottom-line for writing prose is often as simple as: EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. No sentence, paragraph or story is so good, so perfect that it can't be improved upon. Only the lazy writer will delude themselves into thinking that their spontaneous first draft is the only one that is truly "authentic".
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Reply Wed 26 Dec, 2007 12:45 pm

It was still dark when Brother Tobias swung his feet out onto the cold linoleum floor. Before cold reached his brain, the first prayer for the day was on his lips. His robe was fresh, but so worn that it would soon have to be replaced. Each stroke of the brushes that cleaned what remained of his teeth and hair were miniature prayers. Tobias was at the door of his cell, just as the bell called the Order to wakefulness. He filled the time it took for the others to assemble, and then joined them in chanting the ancient welcome of the dawn. Out in the barnyard, a rooster crowed even though the Eastern sky only hinted at day.

As the Order filed out of the whitewashed chapel, Tobias lingered to hold his silent morning chat with Jesus on his cross. "It will be a beautiful day, Tobias. I have work for you that will bring you joy". Tobias cast his eyes downward, "I live to serve thee, Lord." The two enjoyed their moment as they had done for many years. Then Tobias rose, and followed his brothers into the rectory. Brother Thomas read the daily text, and Brother Sylvester sat a steaming bowl of oatmeal before him. The oatmeal was sweetened by the word that foreshadowed the Great Silence of the day. Tobias was suddenly struck by a vision of a child with a belly swollen with hunger. Tobias hummed a lullaby for comfort and placed a breadcrumb into the child's mouth. The others sitting at the rectory table, noted that Tobias was suddenly still with his spoon half way between bowl and open mouth. He was nudged, and ate the last of his breakfast.

Brother Tobias worked in the monastery's flower garden. Each day he put on an old broad brimmed straw hat. His days were spent on his knees between the rows of flowers. He carefully tended each plant by plucking away any weed, and making sure that the beds were nutritious and moist. He snipped away old blossoms and leaves that had already served their purpose. His knees and legs were so used to the work that they no longer complained and distracted Tobias from his meditative prayers. Not long after the mid-morning bell, Tobias completed grooming a plant when he found himself in a sterile room filled with mechanical apparatus to maintain a patient's vital functions. On a Stryker bed there lay a young woman in what appeared to be a comma. Her arms were frail and bruised from the needles that fed her from clear sacks of saline water laced with nutrients and pain killing drugs. Both her legs were encased in plaster and held aloft by a system of weights and pulleys. The monitor traced uncertain lines of light that failed to reveal the terror that the patient was experiencing.

Tobias smoothed back her damp. stringy hair and whispered a reassurance in her ear. The darkness that was engulfing the young woman slowed, and her heartbeat steadied. "It isn't your time yet. There are things you still need to do". Panic was replaced by calm, and the woman's breathing became more regular. Tobias noticed that there was a fading bouquet of flowers on the bedside table. He smiled and reached out to them. At his touch the colors returned and the room was filled with their scent.

"Brother Tobias. Brother … are you all right? Come along its time for our lunch". The Abbot had long ago accepted the need to keep an eye on Brother Tobias. He worried, even though the doctors could find no physical reason for Brother Tobias' fugues.

After lunch, Brother Tobias resumed his work and prayers among the flowers. He worked steadily and hardly noticed as the heat of the day began to wane. Near the end of a row, at the far end of the garden he found a small bird struggling with a damaged wing. The poor thing had barely escaped the monastery cat, and now struggled no longer able to fly. Tobias picked the bird up in his callused hands and softly blew his breath over the bird. That breath was the first evening breeze, the warmth of Tobias' love and a prayer. The bird ceased to struggle, and Tobias opened his cupped hands. The bird stretched its wings and flew uncertainly to the top of the barn. There it rested. It's little head cocked in puzzlement as it watched Tobias rise and slowly walk back to the monastery.

Dinner and communal prayers, were as always an essential part of the day and the discipline. Afterward, Brother Tobias went back to his cell well satisfied with the day. There he found a small dish of grapes left by Brother Sylvester. Tobias said his prayers and enjoyed the sweetness of the grapes. He lay back down on his hard, narrow bed and closed his eyes. A deep breath, another and Brother Tobias shed the mundane world.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 09:36 am
Well, it there hasn't been much interest in writing to "A day in the life", but I still think this can be a valuable way to hone our writing skills. Jespah, will you please select a topic for Prose Challege #2, and get us started?

BTW, just read Elmore Leonard's little book, Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing. Its so short that it hardly qualifies as a book. No page numbers are necessary; if you want to know how many pages, just count them. At least half the book is made up of nice illustrations by Joe Giardiello, and the text pages are mostly a few lines surrounded by white space. It may seem as if I'm depreciating the book, I'm not. Elmore Leonard is a master storyteller, and there is much to learn from him. I learned from this book, and heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to write cracking good stories that many will love to read.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 09:43 am
I have a day in the life idea- and I happn to have time to write it today...if Jespah picks another topic before I get it written down - can I still do mine on a day in the life? It doesn't have to be considered for the prize or anything...

If we are still voting Asherman - I really liked your Brother Tobias story.
Am I allowed to vote before I submit my entry? I forgot the rules...anyway - I enjoyed reading that.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 09:59 am
Write us your story. Storytelling is something we humans like to do. Where will you likely find a more sympathetic and understanding audience?

Rules? We don' need no stinkn' rules. I've suggested an upper limit of 1000 words to keep the efforts uniform and readable in this site. The "topic" is just a jumping off place to stimulate our creative juices. Some will focus on plot, others on dialog and perhaps some will submit an essay rather than a story. The value for us as aspiring writers is to do our "daily dozens" building writing muscle.

I'm glad you liked Brother Tobias. Sometimes I begin to think that someday I'll actually be able to write decent stuff.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 03:01 pm
I do like it - it makes me feel peaceful and happy to be reminded that there are places and people like that in the world, and I think it's more than decent.

This is something I'm writing for a boy I know - kind of his own story- to let him know how inspiring I find him.

The name of the entire story is Nobody's Boy-.This is the newest installment or chapter- it's written on his level- sort of a childrens'/young adult fifth or sixth grade reading level.

This is a day out of his life:

Word had come that morning. Fletcher was moving again. At five a.m., Miss Margaret had come bustling into his room in a state of great agitation.
'Fletcher, boy, hop up. Get out of that bed. There's a bed available at the hospital!' She pulled back the bed clothes and yanked at his arm. 'Get up. We've got to be in Durham by three.'
Fletcher's eyes fluttered open. 'Hospital?' he repeated groggily. His hands reached for the plaid blanket that lay at the foot of his bed. 'Today?' he asked as he pulled it back up over his shoulders. Miss Margaret yanked it back down again as she spoke.
'Yes, the hospital. Today. We've been waiting for this day nearly three months now Fletcher. We've got to take this bed while it's available.' She walked to closet and pulled his battered brown suitcase from the top shelf. Placing it on the end of his bed, she turned to face him.
'They'll be able to fix that short leg of yours so that you'll be good as new. Just like all the other boys.' She patted his leg and walked toward the door saying, 'Get all your things packed up. We're not sure when you'll be back; it depends on how the operation goes and how fast you heal. They'll probably send me another youngster to mind while you're away.' And with that she was gone.

Fletcher sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes with his fists, trying to comprehend what he had just been told. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and looked critically at his right leg. It didn't reach the floor as his left one did. It dangled uselessly, a full six inches shorter. He was so used to this sight that he couldn't imagine how it would look or feel to have both feet resting side by side on the floor. He guessed that he would find out soon though.

He hopped on his left foot to the closet and sat down in the chair next to it. Every night he laid out his clothes for the next day and placed his shoes beneath the chair. Slowly he pulled on his blue cargo pants and carefully buttoned the red and blue plaid shirt he'd planned to wear to school that day. He leaned over to put on his socks and shoes. He slipped his left foot into the brown sneaker and tied it deftly. He hefted the right shoe in both hands and studied it closely.
It weighed about five pounds. Five pounds of leather and rubber that enabled him to walk, but also weighed on him like lead. Five pounds that held him down, forcing him to drag and stumble through each day. The sole of this shoe was six inches thick. It erased the difference in the length of his legs, but created a dense, impenetrable wall of dissimilarity and inequality between Fletcher and those around him. There was no hiding or disguising the thick sole that announced to all that he was different, disabled, handicapped.
With a resigned sigh, Fletcher bent to put the shoe on and quickly tied it. He rose to his feet and walked to the closet. Miss Margaret had left the door standing open, its meager contents hanging forlornly from the three hooks that had been screwed into the back wall.

The state sent Miss Margaret vouchers for clothing twice a year. Being a wise shopper and skilled seamstress, Miss Margaret was able to turn Fletcher out to school and church looking as clean and impeccably dressed as someone owning ten times the clothing he did. He gathered all his belongings in one armful and carried them to the bed. As he placed the folded clothes into his suitcase, he wondered what occasion he would have to wear any of it in the hospital. Taking his underwear, socks and pajamas from the bureau drawer and placing them on top, he admitted to himself that he'd probably have no use for any of the clothes he was packing, except his pajamas. He'd be spending most of his time there in bed.

A cold sweat broke out on his forehead and upper lip as he realized exactly what it was that he was undertaking today. For years he had listened to the doctors talk of this operation. He'd always viewed it with detachment, as something that would take place in the distant future once he'd grown enough. When he had thought about it, he'd always concentrated on the results and not the process. Now it occurred to him that what he was facing was the painul process of having three inches of bone cut from his good leg and grafted onto the bone of his short leg.
He didn't really know how it would be done, but he could guess that it would hurt.

As he closed the suitcase, he realized he was trembling. 'What's taking so long, Fletcher?' Miss Margaret called impatiently from the kitchen. 'Come on now, I've got your breakfast all ready,' she said walking from the kitchen to his bedroom and standing in the doorway.
'Son, you look like you've seen a ghost.' She peered at him closely, 'What's wrong?' she asked hurrying to his side and stroking his arm solicitously.

Looking into her strong brown eyes, Fletcher concentrated mightily and gathered himself calmly before he spoke. 'Nothing's the matter- nothing at all,' he smiled at her.
Standing silently, he squared his shoulders and walked confidently out of the room, suitcase in hand. And striding down the hall and into the kitchen, he heard in his head the steady, even footsteps of someone with two good legs.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 03:22 pm
Wonderful. See that wasn't so hard. After you've been writing a thousand words a day for a few years, these exercises evolve from being just a warm-up into something much, much more. Try my newest story The Broach while we wait for Jespah to start the new Prose Challenge thread. Hopefully, we'll attract more writers and have reading for every day of the month.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 03:53 pm
hey asherman!

I really enjoyed reading your story....
I felt a little bit sad after I had read it.

Well done.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 04:30 pm
Actually, there were two stories, Goodnight Irene and Brother Tobias. In any case, I'm glad you like one of my stories.

How about writing one of your own? This is a friendly place out of the storm, so give it a try.
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Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 07:43 pm
It can get a bit quiet around here, Asherman - so I think this is a great idea - i've read everything here and enjoyed it all - I hope you get many more contributions - and that you continue to share your work with us -i'll be reading with interest

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