Writing in Paradise: Day 5

Day 5 of a Writing Retreat with Jan Cornall @ Daku, Fiji.

Fijian welcome
Juxtaposition, creating tension, action, graphing the emotional journey of characters, and structure. This was just some of the ground we covered on Day  5. Jan reminded us that all of these things - as well as graphs, flowcharts, index cards, postit notes – they are all just TOOLS to use in writing, exercises designed to get us thinking about our story. Then we put them aside and just write.

The other important task that we did, and spent some time in the afternoon developing further, was to write a short paragraph of the story/novel that we were working on. A back cover blurb, a PITCH. Getting a story down to a short pitch is an important thing to do. It gets to the heart of story, tells the reader who the main characters are and what happens in the story. It’s important for the writer because it’s an exercise in distillation. I liken it to looking the story from a bird’s eye view where you can step out of the complicated business of the story and see it clearly. After writing a paragraph pitch, the challenge is to then distill it even further, into just one sentence.

So how did I fare? Well, the original story I had in mind was one which was quite surreal and it didn’t really lend itself to a distillation; it wasn't quite ready to be reduced to a single sentence just yet. I sensed I had to leave it alone. However, the other story that was brewing was something I could get a handle on. Here’s what I came up with:

In a world where men and boys are being infected with a strange illness, Pocket is a single dad whose son, Timmy, is dying. At the Grieving River a mysterious woman unzips a portal to another world where there is no sickness. But the new world comes at a cost. And Pocket must decide whether to save his son or save himself.

Caroline Reid has written a fabulously dark tale of one man’s response to grief.

I’ll let you know when I’m done writing that story!

Kava ceremony
That afternoon we were lucky enough to visit a Fijian village where, in a hut with village elders, we participated in a traditional Fijian welcome, the Kava ceremony. Kava tastes to me a bit like muddy water but it was the solemnity, the joy and the sense of us being part of an historic ritual that was wondrous. We were given a tour of the village by Clarence, a man born in the village but raised in America with his father. He had returned to his mother’s village to marry and have children. Softly spoken and very chilled out, Clarence explained to us that because we’d been officially welcomed, we were able to return to that village any time. 

Cheeky boys
I loved the singing and the dancing, the cheeky boys, shy girls and strong women who seemed to be running the show. During the performance I felt a little like the intrusive Westerner enjoying the traditional ways of the ‘natives’. But that’s my problem. The Fijians are a warm and welcoming people. And we had less than two days left in this gorgeous country. It was going to be hard to go home.

Caroline x