Yesterday at the writing workshop, we were given a writing activity for which the instructor laid out a dozen or so objects, most of them vintage, dated. A 1895 edition of Alice in Wonderland, an old edition of a hilarious looking book titled Men Dislike Women, an old postcard, an aging necklace with a large blue pendant, a hand mirror—the kind you'd spot on the dressing table of a BBC period drama, a laughing buddha chipped at the bottom...
We were told to pick up an object and write a scene centered around it. Who was holding the object? How did it come to them? Was it theirs? Had they stolen it? What were they feeling? Where were they?
I picked the postcard. It was in a plastic covering transparent on one side and white on the other. It had an illustration of a young woman ice skating, in a style reminiscent of the 1930s or 40s, with a cartoony cherub popping out of a broken crack in the ice with the text below:
“May I speak, now the ice is broken?”
I turned it around and spotted text beneath the translucent covering. The postcard, on removing it, revealed the message:
Just a little joke from your loving husband TBurns. Somewhere in France.
This is what I wrote after scrapping the first draft.
“May I speak, now the ice is broken?”
She turned the postcard over and smiled.
It had been months since she’d last heard from her loving husband. At least now she knew he was safe, at least until he’d sent this little joke, anyway…
She wondered how he was. Was he still somewhere in France? Had his regiment moved? Had he fought yet?
She looked at the postcard again, running her fingers over his handwriting, fingers ended in long manicured nails painted the deepest shade of red. His favourite.
Her face had changed. Lines etched with worry had creeped into her brow. but she’d made sure her fingers—fingers that felt out of place if his weren’t nearby—if nothing else, had remained the same, ever since he’d been drafted ‘somewhere in France’.
She always had so much to say to him. Stories he loved listening to.
What was he doing right now? Did he share her stories with the other soldiers?
He was all he had and she had no idea if he would come back. Or come back the same.
She looked over at the window, at the sunlight streaming through the pale green curtains. She’d had to sell some of the furniture that they’d so painstakingly selected.
Why was it that they had to pay the price for the egos of men?
This was the original draft:
Was this supposed to mollify her? This lousy postcard from ‘Somewhere in France’?
Where was somewhere? Where was he? Why wouldn’t he call?
It was terrible having to wait. Wait for days and days on end for news of him and then to get this ‘little joke’.
She flung the postcard across the room. It went straight for the cat sprawled on the carpet, and the cat jumped, startled. That stupid cat always
That's where I stopped.
The feedback surprised me. Almost everyone that read them preferred the abandoned draft. I personally felt I was climbing into a cliche and didn't feel like writing such a negative scene or trying to figure out why she was so angry. Now I realize I chose to write something I was comfortable with because I didn't feel like challenging myself, and actually ended up writing a cliche. I should finish the original scene.
A friend also said the last line of the lovey-dovey one was very me. And it dawned on me that it was out of character for the character I was writing. I don't like that and am glad it was pointed out to me so I can experiment more with different kinds of characters and really work on being true to them.
Do you write fiction? What techniques do you use to create well-rounded, believable characters?
And which version did you like better? :D