So, here it is, last week's FightDay, WriteDay exercise.
When it comes to writing, I’m far more interested in the story of character, rather than the story of place. Often, when editing my work, I come across sections of “white space” where characters are ‘doing their thing’ inside a setting devoid of colour, texture or being. For this, my first official FightDay, WriteDay, I’ve decided to do an exercise that focuses on setting rather than character. The exercise, taken from Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Kovich, asks me to “describe places where you have worked…Describe how people handle their tools and machines...(The objective is to) concentrate on the details and energy of a workplace.” (p44)
As per the rules of the exercise, I’m not going to say what my workplace is (was), so see if you can work it out by the description I give.
Long ago, back in the 90s, The Powers That Be made a promise “You’ll never wait longer than 5 minutes.” By the time of my induction, circa 2001, it’s a promise that has been broken, but not forgotten. A woman approaches, hands a sheaf of bundled notes, sticky with the juice of her toddler’s orange and a dog-eared passbook through the Perspex window.
“You’re not supposed to make us wait longer than five minutes,” she complains. The smile I offer is meant to be consoling, but it’s a thin smile, worn tight by weeks of hearing the same thing.
“That advert stopped years ago,” I answer. “We’re understaffed and doing our best.”
Still, a remark made by someone who wants to protest, but has no ground upon which they can firmly make their stand. I have her money, I have her details. In return, she has my attention for the next few minutes.
I open the passbook. Despite its worn appearance, it’s still mostly blank. I turn to the second page, carry over the balance, check my terminal for any outstanding transactions. The reason for the emptiness quickly becomes apparent. At least a dozen child-support payments have hit the account without being recorded. I pick up one of several pens allocated to my bay and manually bring the book up to date then stamp and initial the corrections.
“They’re phasing passbooks out,” I inform her. “You’ll be asked to move over to an ATM card soon.”
“But not today.”
“No, not today. You’ll be allowed to finish the book, first. After that they probably won’t provide a reissue. It’ll also make banking a lot faster.”
“But then I won’t have an excuse to come here.”
As if I’m the social highlight of her week.
I wipe the balance from my screen, then make the deposit, first of all filling in the blue slip, then sorting the individual notes so they all face upwards. A quick count and recount confirms the amount of $560. A lacky-band bundles the ten $50 notes together, which I tuck into my safe, while the three 20s are added to my drawer. A mental count confirms I’m well within my drawer limit.
My face time with the woman takes less than three minutes, including updating her passbook. I offer to stamp her daughter’s hands, which is happily accepted. One side states the child is “Not Negotiable” in blue. The other, outlined in red, shows her as “Cancelled”. The mother finds this amusing. She leaves in a slightly better mood. This was an easy one and soon I’m calling “Next” to the waiting customer.
Hmmm. After completing the exercise, I noticed I’m still more focussed on the characters than their setting, however, I do think I offer enough clues to situate both women and their roles within the setting.
After doing this exercise, I came home and wrote another 500 words on a short story. It didn't follow the exercise at all, but it didn't matter. The exercise had achieved my number one purpose, it got me thinking creatively again.