Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Bell Tolls, I'm On A Roll

Since the next term of my Creative Writing Class has began, I'll finish putting up stuff from last term. Why has it taken me so long? Well this was the big piece for children, probably the most ambitious writing I did for the class and the part that sucked the hardest. So let's do it.

Ring the Bell, Never Tell

In the trees at the top of the hill I found a bell. It was tiny and golden.

“Look at this Poppy,” I said.

“Where did you get that?”

“I didn’t steal it. I found it. The pirates dropped it.”

Poppy sighed. “They weren’t pirates.”

“They had hats and cutlasses and were carrying a chest. You saw them! One had an eye patch.”

“He did not have an eye patch. And they weren’t cutlasses, they were machetes. They used them to cut this path.”

With the sun shining through the leaves, it would have been difficult to believe we had seen pirates sneaking by yesterday evening if there weren’t hacked off branches all the way from the bay to the hilltop.

“There’s some writing on the bell,” said Poppy. “Read it.”

“I can’t read it. It’s too small. I bet it says something like:

Ring this bell, or maybe don’t
My metal heart finds it hard to care
I will teach you, or I won’t
Many things if you’ll just dare

The reason adults cause confusion
Secret treasure; when boys lie
Correct use of the semicolon
The recipe of a famous pie

All of this, or less, or more
Ring or not. The choice is yours.”

I rang it. It made a tiny tinkley sound. A tall man in a dark suit appeared.

I said “Can you tell us secrets about pirates? Or treasure?”

“Or boys?” said Poppy.

“I’m sorry miss,” said the man in his smooth voice. “I’m just the butler.”

“Then can you get us some spades? And some lemonade. And cake.”

“And hardboiled eggs,” said Poppy.

“Certainly miss.” He vanished from sight.

“Why did you want spades?” asked Poppy.

“Look!” I pointed at the dark patch of disturbed earth at the end of the path. “That’s where they buried the chest!”

After we ate and drank and Poppy had a hardboiled egg we picked up the spades and started to dig. We wondered what we were digging up.

“Treasure,” said Poppy. “Doubloons, pieces of eight, silver dollars. Or maybe pistols and hatchets, ready to attack the town.”

“I reckon it’s a skellington.”

Poppy stopped digging and looked worried. “We should tell someone.”

“No! They get all worried and shouty and everything gets confused.”

“We could tell my brother.”

“You can’t tell boys,” I said. “Remember when we went to the graveyard and the devil chased us up the tree?”

“There’s no such person as the devil.”

“Alright. The time we were chased by a giant black dog with glowing red eyes that breathed fire. The boys ran and screamed and told our parents and we all still have to be back home before it’s dark. That was weeks ago.”

My spade cut through the dirt and clunked against something wooden. Poppy’s eyes widened, as she’d only half believed there was anything there. We dragged the rough wooden box out of the ground.

“We should...” said Poppy.

“I’m opening it,” I said, levering the top off with my spade.

Inside was a single sheet of paper. I peered at it in the fading light. It showed houses, roads and a coastline. It had a compass rose in the top right corner and a big X in the centre.

“We’d better go home,” said Poppy, looking at her watch.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “Tomorrow we’ll find out where this map leads. Find the treasure. Discover the pirate’s secrets and bring them to justice!”

“You’ve got Sunday School tomorrow,” said Poppy.

“Tomorrow afternoon, we’ll follow the map, discover the secrets, and so on,” I said. “Race you to the bottom of the hill!”

So here's the failure. Although it looks like the story answers some of the questions it raises it actually doesn't. The class wanted the poem to actually be on the bell. To know if our narrator makes stuff up, exaggerates or is actually telling the truth about the stories. Whether the butler is magic or just a butler[1]. When it's set. What the narrator's name is.

The reason these questions aren't answered is threefold. Firstly we had a limit of 600 words. Secondly I find questions more interesting than answers. Thirdly, and more importantly, I hadn't decided if this was the start of a longer story or a complete story. If it's the start, then these open questions are fine, although I will have to answer them eventually. But in that case I should open it up, give more and better descriptions and foreshadow some of the answers. If it's the whole piece I should give one big answer at the end to pay for all, give both characters names and nail down when and where we are to make it satisfying.

Also the title was considered too juvenile for the 10-12 year old age range.

I now think skellington was a bit much, but shouty is just right. The class thought Poppy insisting they went home at the end would have been annoying but I'd established her as the sensible one pretty well.

A longer version, which includes the poem as an actual sonnet, is in progress in a stop and start kind of way.

[1] Of course as far as I'm concerned butlers are magic, when they aren't the villain. Or sometimes even when they are the villain.
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