editing your story

Electrifying England (second draft)

(character sketch and background information at starting to write your story)

I hurtled through the sky at rather too many miles per hour, decidedly closer to the stars than I wanted to be, and to add to that – I was freezing!

It was a night flight and after the obligatory – almost tasty, almost identifiable meal, the cabin was darkened and blankets deployed. Solitary pools of light stood starkly against the dimness as readers made their sleeplessness known. I tried to drop off too, but even with my sweater, socks and an extra blanket I was just too cold. It had started in my fingers and toes then gradually crept deep inside my bones where it set up camp for the night.

After an age of motionlessness, my legs raised their volume of agony to such a height that I unwound from my seat and began to prowl the aisles – shivering like a sick dog. Moving slowly from light-pool to light-pool I read a few lines of trash novel here, a magazine headline there. The eyes of those souls – lost to literature, scanned restlessly back and forth between the lines, paying no mind to the cold shadow that I must have been to them.

No-one noticed me – until I came into her light.

Hair like ripe corn, eyes like lavender, skin like milk. The bottom fell out of my world.

As I locked eyes with hers, my heart lurched into space, and simultaneously – the plane hit a massive downdraft that seemed to go on forever. I felt certain that we would hit the ground any moment. There was no feeling of panic – my mind was held still by her smile. Calm, serene, she was my lifejacket in raging seas. When the plane stopped falling with an apocalyptic sideways wrench, I fell gracefully over her, bounced once, softly, on her lap and landed upright and unharmed in the seat next to the window. She tracked my eyes every second of the way.

With a voice like cream, and no trace of irony, she pronounced: ‘sit with me,’ and as calmly as an autumn leaf in the eye of a tornado, I settled back in the seat.

My mom would always place her hand on my chest – above my heart and tell me that I would do great  things with my life. She had always said that such a big chest contained a big heart and that she loved me with all her being. She spoke just like that: loving and clear.

This girl … this woman beside me now, took my big heart into her tiny hands, and it sprang open like an exotic blossom.

She had no boundaries. As she began to speak, she leaned into me,  touching my arm with such tender concern and … such heat! A sudden flare, and heat raced into me. Bones defrosted in an instant.

I was 21.

My English was impeccable, my accent more Oxford than Oxford. I was precise and exact, and I knew it. Her voice was music, and all my painstakingly accumulated knowledge, all my supposed superiority was washed away by the tide of her mellifluous tones.

‘Hi, she said – summer and sunshine as she smiled up into my face.

‘Hi,’ I said – all feign and confusion. I looked at the book still open in her lap. ‘What are you reading?’ It was the first of the tangled thoughts to tumble out from my mouth.

‘A book,’ as if she were saying ‘up, down.’ As if she were telling me to try again. Giving me another chance. First of many chances.

The thing I remember most about my dad is that he would always want to race me. ‘Last one to the shop is a clown,’ he would say, and set off at a sprint – his big strong legs pumping. I wanted to win, and tried my best. But I was ever the clown; straw legs, painted on smile and defeated eyes.

I let her unfold my life, layer by layer. I marvelled as her words wiped greasepaint from my lips and installed a smile. My smile broadened as she sparked victory into my eyes with her sweetness. A strength I had never felt before coursed through my entire body as her eyes caressed me tenderly.

Looking back now, from my lawyerly life, at the boy I was then, sitting in a pool of light a mile above the world letting this girl enter his heart, I feel such love for him. All that life! Short cropped hair presiding over smooth brow; skin as sweet as chocolate, and that smile – teeth shining out of a face as friendly as a rainbow. And for all the love I feel for him – still more I feel for her as she melted me effortlessly into her universe.

I was on this plane bound for England and a Master of Laws. It was part of the plan to live up to my mom’s dreams and live down my dad’s disappointment. I had heard how in England everyone was as pure as the sky and white as mlungu and this combination puzzled me greatly but in no way prepared for the electrifying reality.

For how could I have known then that for all my fears and confusion about the people I would meet in England, every single one of them would only become bit players; minor characters in the drama of my life. And that in fact I would only truly meet one person – and it was she.

At the age of 21, my world had already exploded and contracted into her. My heart was being emptied and filled again. She was my Alpha; and as she sits beside me now in our study – watching me typing these few words – waiting for my 38 year old fingers to be done so that we can run laughing into the garden for some childlike game of her devising, I know that she is, and always will be my Omega.

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24 thoughts on “editing your story

  1. J Lyn ’s review of this story (Submitted by J Lyn Leech) on Future Learn – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/start-writing-fiction/4/steps/47059
    What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals?
    You have a very distinctive style which I appreciated more on the second read through when I knew it was a recollection of a major event in the character’s life and the start of a consuming love relationship. I thought initially that there was too much almost mannered description – that it was overwritten. For example the formal vocabulary and sentence structure:Solitary pools of light stood starkly against the dimness as readers made their sleeplessness known; deployed; apocalyptic; mellifluous. The studied imagery: life jacket in raging sea; autumn leaf in a tornado; sprang open like an exotic blossom; teeth shining out of a face as friendly as a rainbow. However, as it is a life changing episode ( rather than an account of an incident on a mundane flight) the use of these devices to give it memorable significance, as if the character has gone over and over it in his imagination so often it has become embellished with verbal jewels, becomes an acceptable technique. I don’t think it would work in a longer story or novel though.
    Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction?
    I think you employ many of the OU recommended character description techniques: physical description, back-story (relationship with father and mother) and even future-story!; dialogue; first person narrative; setting. You use oblique references to convey information eg the ‘clown ‘ image tells us about his relationship with his father and its effect on his psyche. The dip of the aircraft throws him into a new life. I liked the way you depicted presence of the other passengers through their books and then that links in to his lame question ‘ what are you reading?’ I know we are seeing the woman through his eyes and so she is idealised – but is the description of her a little stereotyped as the Romantic love interest? I like the way she ‘defrosts’ him – awakens love – nice link to the description at the beginning.
    Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you?
    Yes, it has a life time’s story incorporated into it. As I said I felt more engaged on the second read-through when I realised what you were doing. Do you intend for there to be humour in it? – the description of the meal; the slap stick landing in her lap before bouncing into the seat next door? Some of the pieces I have reviewed (21) seemed to me to be extracts from longer novels or to be compressed novels but this is complete in itself because of its nature. In fact I was surprised when the writer was only 38 – I expected, say, 79 – I suppose because you mention Alpha and Omega and because you speak of all the others he has met as ‘bit players’ . An interesting ‘take’ on life changing moments.

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  2. Muhammad’s review (Submitted by Muhammad Saber Farrag) on Future Learn – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/start-writing-fiction/4/steps/47059
    What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals?
    What a great piece, I enjoyed every single letter of it, My English can’t describe how I like your story 🙂 Some things are not set right, I think, like “I was 21.”, It should be in other place in description.
    Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction?
    I do not think there are any unclear or confusing points. I like it very much. The final lines touches my heart!
    Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you?
    His expressions and descriptions like: she was my lifejacket in raging seas as calmly as an autumn leaf in the eye of a tornado I let her unfold my life, layer by layer Really well played with words. The plot is well-set and the scenes are remarkable in details.

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  3. Comment by Faniry Ranaivo Rahamefy on the Future Learn forum 31 Dec 2015:
    OMG, calling your piece beautiful is almost a blasphemous understatement (but my English vocabulary being limited, I have to go for the blasphemy). Your prose sounds like poetry: incredible imagery, powerful and melodic association of words and concepts, etc. I gawped at this one: ‘as calmly as an autumn leaf in the eye of a tornado, I settled back in the seat’.

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  4. Comment from Andrea Mardon on the Future Learn forum – 31 Dec 2015:
    I find it difficult to give a balanced review, Robert, because I can’t think of any negatives. A beautiful story, very well written. Your descriptions are original, back story is dripped in discretely with a bit of humour thrown in. I find very short sentences very punchy so the only slightly jarring thing was the ‘I was 21.’ Although we needed to know his age I don’t think it was important enough to be a short sentence on it’s own. Just my opinion as I like to use an extremely short sentence for effect too. I think it would fit more with the lovely flow of your words if you changed it to something like ‘my twenty-one-year old mind/ heart ….’ I would quite like him to be a lot older in the end – that they’d had a long life together. Really excellent.

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  5. Hello Robert, happy new year to you too! May this year be marked by wonderful creativity 🙂
    So for the piece I have written on the Future Learn course, could I email it to you since I am not blogging or anything? or via another media? At any rate, below (in the required field) is my email address.
    All the best,
    Faniry

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  6. A wonderful flowing piece of writing. Great imagery. You left me with a real fondness for the character and wondering how his future unfolds. I really like the memory of his father and his being forever the clown, poor wee thing, but look how he wins in the end….. running in the garden.

    hope to read more soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Comment from FutureLearn forum 04 Jan 2016 from Debbie Mills:

    I really liked your story, which is usual for me because I’m not really a fan of romance. I like crime mysteries and horror stories!

    I liked the fact that it was set in a plane and the way the language of his experience reflected the rise and falls in their journey. I also really liked the ending, knowing that they had met and formed a relationship that had lasted over many years. I found myself wondering about how the had got together following the end of the plane journey.

    The physical descriptions of the female character were good, and the metaphors were interesting as well. Much like you have said, I would have liked to have seen a bit more from the female’s point of view. It was very clear that the male character felt very deeply for her from the moment he saw her. I was wondering if this was also the case for the female.
    I hope you continue with the writing as well!
    I’ve let mine slip over the holiday period but I’m determined to get back into it properly now that the new year as started!

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  8. Wonderful piece of writing Robert ! Loved it! Though initially I got little confused,the comments in your page helped me understand better.Thank you for sharing this.You have an amazing style of writing.I’m greatly impressed by this particular story.All the best 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is perfect! I specially loved some parts…”and all my painstakingly accumulated knowledge, all my supposed superiority was washed away by the tide of her mellifluous tones.” and “I let her unfold my life, layer by layer. ..”
    Beautiful, Robert!

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  10. Wow Robert!! Have I missed your posts or not!! It’s lovely to read this piece of work… I’m sure that she was lovingly staring at you while you typed this out and she smiled when you clicked ‘publish’. What a wonderful writer you are 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been trying to catch up a bit on the posts I’ve missed. I haven’t been too active on the blog myself, blame the packing and the visa application and the million other things plus a really bad viral infection. I’m still in India and will travel to Scotland early next month. 🙂

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  11. Pingback: starting to write your story | levishedated

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