Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Some reflections on the course

Writing the third/final draft

While writing possibly the last version of my story I tried to focus on two areas that were brought up in the second workshop; providing an epiphany and anchoring the story around the main character through point of view and zooming. In fact, in the end these two areas went hand in hand and helped to resolve each other. I will start by explaining changes to point of view and zooming.

When I look back on my first draft I can see what a disaster it was in terms of point of view. I kept changing from first to third person and back to create distance rather than using the main character's observations and leaving the reader to infer the meaning of those observations. The most difficult part for me to change was the shift from the perception of the virtual world to the reality of the teenager's bedroom. In the first draft I used omnipresence and in the second draft I used another character (the mother). However, in this way I created more gaps for the reader to fill and perhaps ended up telling rather than showing. In the bedroom scene in the third draft I tried to use the teenager's shadow to zoom out from his perception to the reality and linked each observation to the next until I reached the top of the wardrobe and the photo that looked back at the teenager from a distance.

An Epiphany
In order to develop an epiphany for the main character I needed to make it clear that he had understood the reality of his father's death. This had not been achieved in the first or second draft due to the switch in character from protagonist to drone pilot and rather weak link in the words 'three years ago'. I had to find a way to tell the story of the pilot without going into her mind. Again, I tried to use the visual aspects of the drone, as seen by the main character, to provide information about the pilot and invoke an epiphany.

The Theme
I also needed to change the ending slightly from fighting in a war to drug dealing to link the ideas and context together and create a more feasible form of changelessness for the protagonist. I tried to incorporate suggestions to use the word 'click' to create a theme through the story. In fact, I changed the title, had the main character turn his mum off with a 'click' and finished the story with a 'click' of acceptance.

The Workshops

Peers and constructive criticism
I can definitely see how peer suggestions/corrections from the workshops have helped me develop as a creative writer. And there's still a long way to go... It isn't always easy to come back to your story and rewrite it though. Sadly, very often with my students there is just one draft that gets corrected by me and never seen again. I have experimented with peer corrections/suggestions but never asked my students to rewrite their text.

Another thing I found difficult was constructively criticising other people's stories. I'm not sure if this is because I consider myself very much a layperson in this department and didn't know what to say or because I didn't want to offend anyone. That said, my peers also seemed hesitant to express their opinions on each other's stories, perhaps this was due to similar feelings. We might have also had difficulty in feedback due to the synchronous CMC environment in which the workshops took place (adobe connect). issues such as not being able to read facial expressions and delayed audio for turn-taking might have made it more difficult to make a personal connection and develop trust. We had the opportunity to give asynchronous CMC feedback in the blogs but I personally felt a little bit restricted by the public nature of the blogs. One way to get around this might be to use a private space specifically for asynchronous feedback which could be referred to in the workshop.

Back to my F2F context, I think it might be useful for students to have specific areas to concentrate on and perhaps a set number of good and bad points to mention. It would also be a good idea to divide my classes up into smaller groups of three or four to avoid excessive reading loads.

The Future

I'm not sure if I will continue to write stories but I will definitely continue to blog and encourage my students to do the same. I have found engaging in a kind of 'self talk' through blogs to be very useful for reflecting on my learning, whether it be for creative writing or some other endeavour. I might find more enthusiasm for creative writing if I explore the idea of multimedia or trans-media story telling, especially in the form of a choose your own adventure or computer game. I think there is a huge difference between creating a story with images or video and one with text alone. In fact, what was interesting about the workshops was the fact that each reader interpreted the story in different ways. It seems that if you really want to communicate a specific idea you need to be very skilful with your words so that the readers are led to perceive the gaps in the way you intended. On the one hand, the use of images can act as a crutch for less confident writers but on the other it might offer less opportunities for linguistic development in L2. Looking back at my three drafts, I think I definitely used the technology as a crutch to begin with, took it away in the second draft and then reintroduced minimal use of images in the third draft. This might also work with my classes as a way of using digital technologies to overcome writer's block or blank page syndrome.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The third draft



...onse oonse oonse oonse...

Bleep! Excellent! You have completed a new record! Only two drop-offs to level 8!

Oonse oonse oonse oonse oonse!

With the sweet tunes in your head, it was such a buzz to race full throttle down the narrow streets, up the infinite winding staircases and through the lavishly decorated courtyards. But it had been a busy morning trying to get through the fifty odd door to door emergency electronic cigarette capsule deliveries. As Bruno whizzed through the city, black lava stone walls covered in restless images stretched and blurred into spaghetti-shaped beams of light. There was no time to stop and look though, the orders had to be completed before dusk if there was going to be any hope of a moving up to the next level. Half the time it didn't even feel like a job, the competition gave the day urgency and purpose, unlike school.

In fact, leaving school had been a good move in the end, although it hadn't exactly been a conscious choice, it just kind of happened. Bruno's mum knew she couldn't make a fuss now, and besides, she couldn't really afford to pay the fees anymore. After his dad had suddenly passed away three years ago, a lot of things had changed, maybe it would have been different if his mum had taken dad back rather than finding yet another lover.

In those last few months his dad had seemed so lost, so on edge all the time, especially after losing his job. If only his father had come home rather than moving back in with grandma.

There they were again, those glossy emerald eyes framed by that lifeless marble mask. The rest of the world disappearing as dad's lifeless body lay rigid across the bed... No one had ever explained why... 

'Come on focus, that was the past... just a couple more drop-offs'...

Anyway, since then school, friends, and life hadn't made much sense. His mum had got married again, obviously, and there was a new baby too. And there was Bruno, with his pale elongated face and Elvis style quiff, the embarrassing leftovers from a failed marriage, out of sight, out of mind. But he didn't care, life was getting better now, he'd been lucky to get a kind of job, and even earn enough credits to buy his own augmented apartment, car and all the Obey baseball caps he could dream of, not bad for a sixteen-year-old.  He'd also made friends from all over the world, most of them were older than him, but they were far better than the idiots at school.  Tonight was the end of the month too! He'd beaten all the records... if he was in luck, he might finally get picked out by his employer, Amazon.

'That's it, no need to look back, no need to look back, no need'



He recognised the voice but it took him a while to realise where it was coming from. When he did he decided not to answer and turned the music up instead, he couldn't stop now, he had almost finished. In his head he imagined her standing at the doorway to his bedroom with her incapacitating high-heels, impractical long nails and jet black hair, pretending that she still cared. Mum wouldn't hang around for long, she never did. Just to check, Bruno clicked on the triangle icon and brought up the audiovisual feed from his bedroom camera, but then quickly turned it off. It was getting hard to concentrate after ten hours of non-stop deliveries and Bruno couldn't deal with any more distractions.


With a 'click' she was gone again.

However, he couldn't put off the draining sensation coming from his strangled stomach, he needed to eat something soon. Speeding down the never-ending via Roma, the main high street, Bruno took the chance to take one hand off the controls for a second without veering off into one of the abandoned boutique shop windows. He made the order by tapping on his usual, hotdog and chips pizza bookmark from the favourites menu on his wrist interface, he didn't even need to look anymore.

'Should be able to get this last drop-off done before it arrives'

He'd been trying to ignore the shivers that ran from the side of his face and trickled down the back of his neck. This and the dull ache creeping in behind his retinas was normal around this time of day, there was no time to blink. It didn't bother him that much, just needed a couple of pain killers after his meal to set things straight. Up popped the image of a smiling pizza on the GPS display, it would be about another ten minutes, just enough time. After he'd dropped the last capsule into the post tube of number 46, he parked up at the closest charging station and pressed pause. He dropped the sticky controller on to the bed and took a deep breath.
Bruno reluctantly removed the VR helmet with two quivering limbs and slowly swivelled round to immerse his filthy stinking toe-nails into the sea of sweat drenched clothes and plastic.

"Mum!' he croaked without expecting an answer as he rose to his feet.

The movement and newly disturbed stench caused him to retch and belch but there was nothing to bring up. Through the slits in the now permanently closed shutter, beams of dust filled light invaded his bedroom and projected his lanky teenage shadow across the landscape in front of him. Bruno stood there for a moment and listened to the muffled beats emanating from the discarded headset on his bed. The electronic pulses seemed to mix and blend with the whirring and buzzing noises beyond the potholed shutter. Just beyond his spindly shadow, untouched school books and stationary sat accusingly on his desk, each item framed by the cascading array of cables from his disused fifty-two-inch TV and accompanying games consoles. Clinging to the cables, a soup of last years Nike and Adidas trainers, dated Obey caps, childish T-shirts, Lego bricks and pizza boxes did their best to hide all evidence of the floor space between the bed, desk and wardrobe. As Bruno's eyes slowly crawled up his wardrobe, the dust veiled reflection of his father stared down in disappointment. He let out a faint raspy exhalation as his eyes dropped and he prepared himself for the long journey ahead. A squinted glance at the e-tattoo on his left wrist indicated that the pizza would be here soon, after which he could take another pill and get back to to his virtually augmented reality life.

When he opened the bedroom door, he was greeted by the glaring alien environment of his mother's new family. The smell of nappies, baby wipes and cleaning detergent flooded his nostrils and chiseled though his sinuses. He tried not to look at the nauseating cream-coloured curtains or the leopard skin sofa and instead focused on the front door. The headache was getting bad now, every drag of his feet seemed to cause his brain to shake and rattle in his skull. Suddenly, a shrilling high-pitched drill sound penetrated the empty corridor and his throbbing head. The pizza had arrived. 

'Nearly there', he murmured, 'nearly there...'

Bruno twisted the handle with both hands, then with all his weight tugged the front door inwards. As usual he was greeted by the sights and sounds of a pizza carrying drone held in the air by it's four whirring propellers. He gazed into the two glossy lenses and wondered who it was this time, maybe it was one of his friends. Another teenager like him, remotely connected to their flying avatar through a virtual reality headset. This drone was in bad shape though, it looked as if it had been through several modifications and upgrades for various purposes, not all of them legal. Bruno had heard about drones being used by the Camorra to deliver or even administer drugs but had never come face to face with the hypodermic needle modifications that were clearly visible on the model before him. All of a sudden, the two staring lifeless lenses let loose a suppressed image of his father from his sub-conscious. He had been too naive to recognise the bruised markings on his father's forearm for what they really were at the time. Now it was suddenly clear. But why hadn't they told him? Why had they left him second guessing all these years?

'Enjoy your meal!' gargled the drone

Bruno was jerked back into reality and the two lenses came into focus again, but this time he saw his own undernourished spotty reflection staring back at him. The pizza was lowered into Bruno's arms and the drone whizzed off down the staircase.

'Thank you' whispered Bruno to the empty staircase.

Exhausted by his thoughts Bruno stood and stared out through the stairway window. Piles of black bags, glistened in shimmering orange as the setting sunlight squeezed through the smoggy air. Hovering above, drones of all shapes and sizes danced and hummed with the swarms of flies and mosquitos. There below amongst the waste a gipsy family scavenged through the bags for something to eat. What was he doing? He'd given up school, friends and everything else for what was essentially, a game. How long could he go on like this? But, what else could he do now?

Just then Bruno's wrist interface lit up, each alarming flash accompanied by an urgent bleeping sound. Bruno couldn't stop the mix of adrenaline and glucose releasing itself from the device in his arm to his bloodstream. With half a slice of pizza in his mouth he slammed the door behind him and clumsily shuffled back down the corridor. As he reached his room half the pizza had been gobbled down but there wasn't time to eat the rest. He flung the box into a pile of cuddly toys in the corner and half jumped, half fell back onto the bed and frantically pulled the VR headset on. His vision was instantly filled with 360 degrees of startling high definition colour and beauty.

'Ah! that's better'

There was the real Bruno again, reflected in the augmented wardrobe mirror, or at least his virtual avatar was, proudly standing there with his tanned muscular physique, heroes jaw bone structure and red spiky hair. As he chewed the remaining salty hotdog morsel, he selected a cap and watched his avatar's unmoving but reassuring grin. The bleeping signal had now transferred itself to the wall display in the lounge so he hovered over as quickly as he could to download the message. Outside the virtual apartment window, beyond the virtual swimming pool, the pristine augmented environment video feed filled him with pride for his beautiful city once more. This was his reality not that disgusting tramp infested dump he'd left behind. The real world was just a wind up for most of us, it didn't matter how hard you tried, only the privileged princes and princesses had a chance. Here he could be anything and anyone. Anyway, there was no going back now even if he wanted to.

When Bruno got to the virtual display, in his virtual lounge, the avatar sank himself into his black virtual sofa and hit download. Adrenaline fuelled sweat gathered in Bruno's tightly gripped fists and his mouth went dry as he waited impatiently for the loading bar to make its frustratingly slow progress from left to right.

...Download complete...

...Finally, the message on the virtual wall screen zoomed into focus...

Dear Mr. Bruno Esposito,


As you are probably aware, recent changes to the buying and selling of narcotics have been adopted by the global union to pull the carpet from under the organised crime networks plaguing our societies. Amazon is therefore expanding its human piloted delivery services to other sectors in your region. This means higher earnings for people like you!

After careful consideration of your now level 8 GPS track record we are pleased to inform you that you have been selected for a drone piloting job in a variety of suburban council estates and surrounding villages. You will also be given the opportunity to develop and transfer your already efficient and accurate deployment skills through the delivery and administration of a variety of exciting mood enhancing products.

In accordance with current employment laws for your age group, you will receive an extremely competitive virtual compensation of 1,000,000 credits per month. This can obviously be used on all of our virtual and augmented reality products and even on a limited selection of food and drink items delivered free of charge to your door as in your current contract. If you should choose to accept, please click 'proceed' at the bottom of the screen to upload your virtual signature.

Please be aware however that current e-cigarette positions will be merged with level 8 jobs and therefore cease to exist as of next month.  

Thank you for your time and we look forward to your decision.

Amazon and our partners




VR teen: