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Description class, so far

As I noted in my previous entry, I'm sharing the assignments I had to write for my Coursera courses. These are the assignments for the setting and description class.

As a side note, I did take "Thirty Minutes" and rewrite it for the plot class' last assignment. I wasn't able to get it down under 1200 words, but out of the three assignments that I peer-graded, only one actually made it under the 1000-word limit. I'm pretty sure mine is shorter than the other two, and one of those was obviously above 1500, if not above 2000, so I don't feel so bad.

Description: Assignment 1


Assignment: Write a scene of no longer than 500 words that uses description to slow down an action that takes no longer than ten seconds. The scene should feel like it moves in slow motion.

I took a scene from one of my posted fics, "Something Different", and expanded it. It probably is a bit longer than ten seconds, but oh well.

Story:

"AHH!”

David's startled cry speared Will's ears. He whipped around to see David's foot slip out from under him, yanked by a thick tendril wrapped around his ankle. David's arms windmilled, and he made a desperate grab for the edge of the computer console, but he missed, the tips of the fingers of one hand sliding down the slick matte aluminum. Crashing to the ground, the impact forcing a pained grunt, he sprung up immediately to grab the oaken vine and struggle to untwine it. Two more snaked around his wrists and pulled his hands away, forcing his arms apart and back, spreading him wide, a spread-eagled silhouette against the writhing mass of sinuous branches rising behind him.

Will lunged toward him, leaping over gnarls of leafless woody vines, one hand splayed toward his friend who was far beyond his reach. "Behind you!" he screamed, jabbing his finger toward the sharp vine that reared up behind the trapped man. David didn't even have time to look: the tendril skewered David in the back of the head. Jerking straight, his eyes bulged out, his brown irises like small spots floating on large white marbles. He fell limp, his body gently swaying from the wooden vines wrapped around his arms.

With a strangled cry, Will scrambled over the branches and ducked under his friend to get behind him, slipping between him and the bulk of the plant. As he quickly assessed the damage, prickles of thorns and shoots down his back and legs set his skin crawling and he tensed to spring away from a similar attack if he must.
David didn't look good. Thick blood oozed down the back of his neck, and the tendril buried there was already spreading to shore up its hold on him, the jagged bark scoring his skin as it moved. Grabbing it, Will tried to yank it out, but it moved only slightly, the stiff wood, slick with blood, holding fast. He had no other way to remove the vines, not even a pocket knife to try to saw them off, and as he wedged his knee against David's back and threw his weight into tugging at the tendril again, he bit down hard to stop his tears.



Description: Assignment 2


Assignment: Write a 500-700 word scene that describes a holiday, routine, or ritual in significant detail. The story must be written in second person, to make it personal to the reader.

I hated the idea of this assignment at first, mostly because the only time I see second-person stories, they're Doctor x Reader fanfics, which I detest. They seem to be popular on deviantArt and nowhere else, but I digress. As it turned out, I really enjoyed writing this one once I got the idea for it and started envisioning the ritual and its obstacles.

Story:

You're standing alone, in your most comfortable jeans, the ones that are just loose enough at the waist that they don't cinch in when you're sitting back and relaxing, and a nice shirt that's not too warm nor too cold. You have a sturdy backpack secured on both shoulders and a laptop bag in one hand, its strap dragging on the floor. You're on the first step of your journey of many hours, but these next fifteen minutes will be the hardest. You take a deep breath, savor the cool air that rushes over your tongue, then breathe out. Putting the first foot forward, you raise your eyes to the sign high above your head that points you to your trial.

"Airport Security -->"

You have been here before and you know what to do. You have condensed your carry-on property to be efficient to process. You have emptied your pockets and verified that your watch and ring are easily visible. Your passport and boarding pass rest in your hand. You stride into the maze of black ribbon with confidence.

The people in line ahead of you are not as skilled as you. The woman with the paisley-printed rollerboard glances every half minute at the placard of prohibited items, then down at her bag. Dancing from foot to foot, the man behind her cranes his neck to see if the line might start moving faster. You are relieved that the young lady in the knee-high boots and the thick Stanford jacket is behind you, as you imagine how long it will take her to prepare her clothing for scanning.

A half a minute after you reach the front of the line, the woman at the podium waves you forward with an eerily smooth powder-blue hand. Scanning your face to commit it to memory for the next fifteen seconds, she flips your passport open and glances at your photo, then holds it under the UV lamp. A flick of her pen and you're approved, your papers back in your hand. She jerks her head toward the line to your left.

You approach the x-ray machine, a stainless steel maw with a long black rubber tongue that laps up luggage and shoes and machines and coats and swallows them whole. The man in front of you juggles two dirty plastic bins as he tries to fit his jacket, shoes, shoulder bag, belt, travel pillow, and other oddments at the same time as he empties his pockets of loose change, a pen, his cell phone, and his boarding pass. With an embarrassed "Sorry!" he ducks towards you to snag another bin. Boot girl behind you grumbles under her breath at the delay.

You're ready the moment a space on the rollers opens up. Your belt and shoes are already off and in the top bin, and you grab the stack of four you know you need. Backpack goes in the second; laptop in the third; laptop bag (with passport and boarding pass slipped into the side pocket) in the fourth. Quick and easy. You packed for the efficiency of this moment.

The millimeter-wave scanner is next. The agent stops you from entering with a hand in front of your chest: the man ahead of you missed a tissue in his trouser pocket and has to be scanned again, then patted down by hands of blue. He's clean, of course, and scowls as he pads off to wait for his bags, muttering something about profiling. You step into the plastic cylinder, place each foot on the worn, cracked yellow footprints, and raise your arms above your head like your brother used to when he was playing keep-away with your teddy bear. The machine's arms orbit you, then the agent waves you through, his glance noting your watch and ring. He's doing his job.

The man in front of you can't get to his things coming out of the x-ray machine, because paisley woman is putting on her shoes before reclaiming her property. She isn't your delay, however. The x-ray tech, her eyes dull and shoulders slumped, perks up as she spots something. She backs up the belt, your bins disappearing back into the blackness. The agents call back Ms. Stanford. She digs in her bag and pulls out a one-liter of Coke.

No liquids, admonishes the agent, thumbing at the nearby garbage can.

It's just Coke. The bottle's even sealed, argues the girl.

No liquids. That's the rule, replies the agent, back to being bored. She's been through this countless times.

It's a stupid rule, grumps the girl as she lobs the bottle into the garbage. The agent rolls her eyes. You do, too.

It takes her a half a minute to stuff her things back in her bag and put it back on the conveyor belt, and it goes back through the machine quickly enough. Your things finally make it through. The backpack goes back on your back, the laptop goes into its case, which goes onto your shoulder, and you snag your shoes and belt and trot off to the nearby benches. Made of painted steel in a shape that someone somewhere might consider artsy, they're the most uncomfortable seating in this hemisphere, but they do their job: they got you out of the way and gave you a place to reorganize yourself at your leisure.

Your trial is over, and through preparation and careful execution, you have emerged victorious. It took longer than expected, you muse, but as usual, that was due to someone else, and you consider your performance flawless. You drag a breath deep in your lungs and sigh. Treating this as a game, a contest, always quells your traveling nerves.



Description: Assignment 3


Assignment: Write the beginning of a story, 500-700 words, set in either a foreign country, a hospital, or a blackout. The point is that you will need to research your setting in order to describe it well. "Research" means both finding out about your setting as well as exploring your setting in your imagination.

I had a lot of problems with this assignment. I thought at first I would write about somewhere I visited in the UK, since I have my memories as well as my photos and Internet research I could consult. However, I tried about five times to start this scene, using various places and story ideas, and just couldn't make it interesting.

I then remembered that I have a partial story written set in a hospital: David and Will go to the hospital when Will's mother has a heart attack. It's only partially written because I have not yet finished the two stories before it that set up Will's family. Anyway, I figured I could develop the scene where they arrive in her ward.

Well, that didn't work either, and the scene mutated into something completely different. Though I kept the names David and Will, they really aren't the David and Will from my AU. I'm also not sure that I really did what the assignment asked for, though the peer reviewers seemed to like it. (Interestingly, one of them interpreted them as father and son. Not sure how she got that idea.)

Story:

Standing against the wall of the large empty lift carriage, David felt like he was a child again, cowering in the corner of a room sized for adults. The cold steel walls were scored and dented, evidence of collisions with gurneys and equipment over decades of operation. The grinding of the machinery filled his ears as the chamber jerked gently and rose so slowly that he couldn't feel the acceleration, the vibration of the floor beneath him the only indication that he was moving. Fidgeting with his hands in his pockets as he waited, he popped off the wall as soon as the penultimate floor number glowed then went dark and strode to the door, his nose only inches from the metal panel.

As soon as the door slid open enough to squeeze through, he trotted out then paused. The patients' rooms were down the corridor ahead to the left, but he instead wandered down the hallway to the right, as much to delay the inevitable as to see what was down there.

Large picture windows enclosed what was little more than the end of the corridor, letting the unusually bright fall sunlight warm the little lounge. Blocky metal chairs with cracked orange vinyl seats circled a low coffee table littered with dog-eared women's and health magazines from months past. As he threaded his way among the furniture, he stopped to toe the scuff marks on the tile from chairs that had long lost their glides, scraping black trails as they were pushed out of the way, perhaps to allow patients in wheelchairs access to the view.

Stepping to the window, David looked down at the street stretching to the river. Packed nose-to-boot, the cars crawled by in four lanes, and a few walkers, stymied by the crowds on the pavement, took advantage of this, dashing among the stationary vehicles to cross the road. Ferries charged by on the distant water, disappearing under the wide bridge and emerging in a few seconds to continue downstream. One slid into a wide turn to dock at the landing on the opposite bank. A few moments later, its passengers climbed the river stone stairs to street level and headed into the city.

The city below bustled with life, but it was silent, an alien world framed by aluminum and protected behind double glazing. The world on this side of the glass was hushed words and solemn eyes, pale blue walls and cool linoleum floors (easy to clean fluids from), thin blankets and plastic tubing and people in baggy blue scrubs and rubber-soled shoes. Quarantine. That was the word. The sick, and those who worried for them, were trapped in here, isolated. The world out there held itself apart from the world in here, didn't even want to admit it existed. David's world was quiet. Empty. Invisible.

He turned his back on the window and, slipping his hands into his pockets, ambled back to the main corridor. As he turned the corner, Will nearly ran right into him. "Hoy. How is she?" David asked.

Will's eyes and lips were puffed, like he was trying to hold back an explosion, and it took him a moment to find his voice. "She's dying, mate. My mum's dying. A day, maybe two."

The dam broke, and tears that Will couldn't shed in front of his sister spilled down his cheeks. David gathered Will to his chest, holding him tight as he sobbed into his shoulder. As David stroked his back and murmured comfort into his ear, he realised he'd been wrong. His world was right here, in his arms.

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