Friday Freewrite

This idea is gratefully borrowed, with permission, from Brynn Stein. Brynn’s Week 1 prompt post can be found here! The idea of doing prompt posts was something I’d been kind of thinking about beforehand, but it hadn’t quite crystallized ’til I read Brynn’s post via the Dreamspinner mailing list. (Do go check it out! I wrote a fill here.)

Basically, I’ll post weekly prompts for a freewrite. You can answer with a descriptive paragraph or a short scene or even a complete story if you’re so inspired. Post your response in the comments, or post it at your own journal and comment with a link. You can do art too, or fannish stuff — whatever you like! I’m just hoping to inspire a few people. (And I’ll be filling my own prompts, can’t help myself.)

This week’s prompt is: Drawing on skin.

Tattoos? Body paint? Kink? Magic involving painting words or runes on people? Necessary notations for surgery? Kids with magic markers? Go wild!

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I'm a writer and artist living in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Posted in Flashfic, Free Fiction, Friday Freewrites, Writing
18 comments on “Friday Freewrite
  1. […] author on the dreamspinner list liked the idea of having a weekly prompt and has posted her own at https://laylawier.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/friday-freewrite/ Her prompt this week is “drawing on skin”.  Double the challenge…double the […]

  2. slhuang says:

    I’ll play!

    Apologies: This might be depressing/triggering. I wrote it partially because I read this today, which is a response to a male writer who objected to criticism regarding his female characters admiring their breasts in mirrors, and partially because . . . I wanted to for other reasons.

    I like to think, by the way, that this is one scene in a much larger, much longer story that’s about something else entirely. Because I think it’s better that way.

    Female Gaze

    She stares into the mirror, naked.

    She stares at her breasts.

    Can she still call them that, she wonders? What else? Chest? Pecs?

    Scars?

    The puckered lines in the flesh stare back at her, the effect alien and disturbing, almost obscene. She’s reminded of horror films that feature creatures without eyes, their faces a fleshy mask.

    That’s what she feels like now. Transformed. Monstrous.

    She runs a finger along the knobby scar tissue. She wasn’t supposed to feel like this. She’s the type of girl people call “confident.” When she admitted she was frightened — not only of the surgery, not only of the disease, but of the intended result, of losing a part of herself she’d like to think didn’t matter, not when it came to saving her life — her mother had told her, “You’ll get through it. You’re tough. Thank God it’s you and not your sister.”

    She wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

    But it’s true: she’s supposed to be tough. She’s not supposed to care. She’s not supposed to talk about this like it makes her ugly, is she? Like she’s embarrassed? Like it does matter? Isn’t the popular, the “healthy” thing to do to raise the banner and say she’s beaten it and be proud, a fucking survivor?

    She’s twenty-four years old. She doesn’t want to be a survivor of anything.

    Her fingers trail upward. Here’s the branching thickness of the scar from the biopsy; here’s the puckered, lumpy skin just under her collarbone where they put in a port catheter after her veins started bursting from the chemotherapy. Beneath it is a small, round knob of scar tissue where the needle went in and out, in and out, a hundred times, a thousand times. She lost count.

    She used to be afraid of needles, before this. She’s not anymore.

    She traces the tiny tattoos they inked into her skin to mark the boundaries for the radiation therapy, so they’d know where to send the damaging rays, intentionally making the cells in her body whither and die. Can’t you just draw on my skin? she’d asked. No, they’d said. We have to be clear.

    In the movies, people get superpowers from radiation.

    Maybe getting to live is supposed to be her superpower. It doesn’t feel as exciting as it should.

    She’s told everyone she’s getting reconstructive surgery, and she probably will. But in her secret thoughts, the ones she keeps locked in a box in the back of her head, she wonders if that will feel like yet another violation. They’ll be new breasts. They won’t be hers.

    And no matter what, the scars will remain, mapping out the exhaustion, the frustration, the anger and fear. Her story, printed on her skin, shouting her tale to any lover, whether or not she would choose to tell it. On men’s bodies, scars are sexy, dangerous. On her they will be sad, awkward, an unintended invitation for pity her partners will wonder if they should ask about, even though they can already guess the answer.

    She puts on a shirt. It hangs on her, lifeless and flat.

    She takes one final look in the mirror, and then she finishes dressing and gathers her things, her purse and her wallet and her keys and phone, and the files she took home from the office and the books she has to return to the library and the package she has to mail to her brother in Georgia. She remembers to refill her parakeet’s food before she leaves; he chirps at her cheerfully. She hitches the purse onto her shoulder and runs an absent hand over the fluffy fuzz of her regrowing hair. She might keep the buzz cut for a while, she thinks abstractedly — it works on her.

    Then she steps out the door and locks it behind her and heads out into the bright sunlight of a crisp autumn morning, leaving the mirror dark and alone in her bathroom. It will be there tomorrow, after all, and today she has things to do.

    • Layla Lawlor says:

      This is brilliant, and beautifully written! Thank you so much for participating, because this is a lovely piece: excellent use of the prompt, awesome response to the specific set of blog posts that touched it off, and it’s also simply a beautiful character piece on its own. I love how well you delineate her personality in this short space. This is a character I would love to read more about.

      (In other news, regarding the link, I just lost an hour down THAT bunny trail; thanks a bunch. ;p I had actually seen the end of the bunny trail — Rees complaining about FREE! SPEECH! — but not what started it, to which I can only say that the first Facebook comment on his post is the most perfect thing ever: I think the answer is “No. Rod Rees cannot successfully write female characters.” BWAHA.)

      Also, while I’m at it, thank you very much for the retweet. 🙂

      • slhuang says:

        Oh. . . thank you! 🙂 And thanks for the prompt! It was the perfect inspiration to write this, and it’s something I’d been feeling the need to write about.

        In other news, regarding the link, I just lost an hour down THAT bunny trail; thanks a bunch. ;p

        SHARE MY PAIN — I mean, oops, sorry! Yeah, I pretty much responded to the whole thing the same way you did, I think. Unbelievable. Some of the responses were beautiful and enlightening, though.

        • Layla Lawlor says:

          Well, I just discovered something new about WordPress. There was no “reply” button on your comment, and I had to do some poking around via Google to discover that, if you have threaded comments turned on, you have to manually set the depth to which it will allow a comment thread to go. Mine was set to 3, for whatever reason. Beyond that, no more reply buttons! Looks like 10 is as deep as it can go. Interesting.

          Anyway, yeah, the discussion was interesting … and I think it helped me nail down how men often miss the mark when they’re writing about women (and I’m sure this also applies to women about men, or people writing about a minority group they’re not part of, or whatever). Looking at the examples made me think about how people who don’t belong to a group can write something that’s technically correct but is contextualized incorrectly. Using Rees’s example … yes, women DO look at their breasts in the mirror! Which was basically what my husband said when I started telling him about it: “But I’ve seen you do that!” But any woman reading the excerpt from Rees’s novel can tell that the context is all wrong. Women might examine their breasts, but not like that: not for those reasons, not in that way. And those deeper layers of context are the ones that are hard for an outsider to get … and exactly why it’s a good idea to get an expert second opinion (and listen to it!).

          Despite his flaws as a writer, one thing I’ve noticed about Stephen King’s novels (and one reason I like them) is that he writes an excellent female POV. Books like Dolores Claiborne or Rose Madder never once make me stop and remember that I’m reading a book written by a man; the viewpoint is, at least to me, completely authentic. In his book On Writing he talks about writing Carrie, and discusses how he has absolutely no idea what being a teenage high school girl is like … but his wife does, so he consulted her heavily at every stage of the writing process. Which is probably why his female characters seem so authentic: he uses his wife as a beta and sounding board when he’s writing them, so she can alert him to the places where he’s missed the mark. (Now if only he could do that for some of the other demographics he writes about …)

          • slhuang says:

            ::digs WordPress thread deeper::

            Yes to everything you said about writing as a different demographic, and all the little teensy tiny contextual things. I’m finding that right now — I have a character who uses a wheelchair, and I did scads and scads of research, read tons of blogs about disability and daily life, vanquished my initial assumptions (with some embarrassment), and was patting myself on the back for Doing Pretty Well with the portrayal for about two weeks before I ran into another unconscious assumption I’d been making (and didn’t even realize I was making). And then another one. So now I have just acknowledged that I will always be learning and that I will still probably get something wrong but I’m going to do my damndest to question every assumption.

            (And this contextualization issue also applies to professions, I find — I had to put down a UF series because the author tried to set it on a film set and there were so. many. tiny. little. errors, and it’s not stuff that would bother any reader who hasn’t worked in film . . . and I am well-known for groaning at all the things books and movies get wrong about MIT . . . but at least those sorts of things won’t marginalize.)

            • Layla Lawlor says:

              Yeah, I think what gets people most of the time is not the big stuff, because you know to ask about that or look it up. It’s the stuff you don’t even know that you don’t know. Books set in Alaska often hit me that way when the author hasn’t lived here. Or, I guess I should say, you can almost always tell within a couple of chapters if the person writing about it has lived here — some of it is little factual details that people wouldn’t even think to look up, but some of it is even more subtle, miscontexting things that aren’t technically wrong but aren’t right either.

              … and it’s SO INTERESTING, because prior to reading the above links last week, I never realized how much of that is the problem, in so many situations when things are almost written correctly but not quite. It’s not that no one in that situation would ever do that thing; it’s that it’s not quite right for that person to do it, in that way, where a few little tweaks might put it into a context where it doesn’t have that feeling of wrongness about it.

  3. andreaspeed says:

    Well, I hate to follow that with my nonsense, but here’s my nonsense.
    **

    “So you say this started a week ago?” The Doctor said, staring at Tony’s arm.

    She was looking at the latest in the tattoos that had sprung up on his body overnight. They looked like ink drawings, only they didn’t come off, and they seemed to be growing. All of which was impossible.

    At first, Tony had thought it was just a line of ink, a pen mark he hadn’t been aware he had made. But the next day, the line was not only bigger, but seemed to be a vague outline of a shape on his forearm. It took a couple more days before Tony realized he was looking at a road, complete with shrubs and a grass covered verge. The tattoo – or whatever it was – now took up most of his arm, from wrist to shoulder.

    “And this isn’t a tattoo?” The Doctor seemed skeptical, and he could hardly blame her. It sounded insane, and the fact that other people could see it was the only reason he didn’t think he was having a psychotic break.

    “Not unless I’m getting the tattoo in my sleep.”

    “You’re not taking Ambien?”

    “No.”

    “Roommates? Vengeful exes?”

    “No, not that I know of.” Tony had scoured his mind, trying to figure out how this could be happening.

    The Doctor consulted her computer, and frowned at the readout. “Nothing unusual happened a week ago?”

    He shrugged. “Just a party at Ben’s new place. Got pretty wasted, but I didn’t wake up with any tattoos.” But had something happened that night? He didn’t remember how he got home, and there was some front end damage to his car, although Big Mike said he might have done that by dropping the keg.

    But the tattoo on his arm was clearly illustrating Midvale Road. It wasn’t one he drove often, but enough to recognize it. His car was being drawn in slowly as well. It was impossible to mistake it for anything else. But the most disturbing thing was, something was being drawn in front of his car.

    He’d hoped it was a deer or some other kind of animal, but it was starting to resemble something on two legs, and roughly his height. In fact, there was little else it could be but a human being.

    Was it a curse? Tony had no idea, and he was afraid to find out. But he had a sinking feeling he would, one way or another, when the face was finally filled in.

    • Layla Lawlor says:

      Oh, this is really cool! 😀 Not nonsense at all! I love the concreteness of it — even though the scenario is fantastic, it’s very well grounded in little details like the keg party.

      And it leaves you with a lovely shiver at the end, that creepy uncertainty of the figure without a face. *shivers*

      Though it feels complete enough on its own (that last line is really perfect!) I also think this would make a fascinating start for a longer story.

      • andreaspeed says:

        Thank you. Speaking of Stephen King, my bit must have been influenced by him. A guy’s forgotten crime written on him seems like a Stephen King set up.

        • Layla Lawlor says:

          Yeah, I think that might be what had Stephen King on my mind when I made the above comment, because your piece definitely had a King-like feel to it, especially that last paragraph! I think I even had a bit about that in my comment, but deleted it because I wasn’t sure if you’d appreciate the comparison.

    • slhuang says:

      Oh, stop it with the “nonsense” comment! This was wonderful. But now I want to know what happens next!

  4. Layla Lawlor says:

    Hmm, it was my prompt, but all I have is a fragment!

    ***

    “Hold still,” she said.

    He did, or tried to. The brush tickled and he couldn’t help flinching. This time the artist smacked him lightly on his forearm, one of the parts of his body not painted yet. “Hold still!”

    “I’m trying, honored one,” he murmured, and subsided. The paint had a smell; he’d never realized that. It was faint and acrid, not entirely unpleasant, but distinctive.

    He watched the designs take shape under her expert brush, intricate and detailed, curling around his arms and legs, across his belly and chest — turning his body foreign and strange to his own eyes. The first parts of the design had already begun to dry. The paint tugged oddly at his skin whenever he shifted his weight … which he was trying not to do.

    Outside the tent, he could hear that preparations for the ceremony had begun. Smoke, fragrant with herbs, wafted through the half-open tent flap. He tried not to be nervous. The decision was made, for good or ill, and whatever came next he would simply have to accept.

  5. Okay this is really short, but I hope you like it.

    Sweets

    Bart waited until Steven had settled, had stopped squirming beneath him before continuing his current line of dark chocolate. He wanted the finished product unbroken, and went very slowly around Steven’s cherry pink nipple with the paintbrush. Steven’s milky white skin was the perfect canvas, and the resulting photograph would be stunning.

    “I get to do you next, right?” Steven asked, giving Bart pause. He hadn’t considered that. He sat up, but continued to straddle Steven’s hips, a small, microwavable Tupperware bowl in one hand and a slender paintbrush in the other.

    “With what?”

    Steven looked to his left. “I’ve got white chocolate ready for the microwave over there.”

    Bart peered around the camera and lighting equipment to the kitchen counter running along the far loft wall.

    “You waxed, right?” Steven asked.

    “Don’t I always?” Bart teased, looking back at him.

    “Just think how your smooth, dark skin will look after my scroll work.”

    Bart grinned wickedly. “Think how it will taste.”

    😀

    • Layla Lawlor says:

      Oooh, this is neat — I like what you’ve done here! The dark & light chocolate is a very fun, creative way to breathe new life into an old visual trope (skin-tone contrast) and it has a very sensual touch-taste component as well. I like! 😀

      Also, thank you very much for stopping by to participate. 😀

  6. […] from Layla M. Weir for July 5, and it was about drawing on skin. My short, Sweets, can be found here in the […]

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