While working on my MA this year, I’ve really tried to focus on identifying and combating my weaknesses as a writer. It turns out it’s very easy to identify weaknesses. Here are some I’ve identified myself, by looking at the habits and strengths of successful writers:
- the boundary between emotive and shlocky
- finishing things
- working without tangible evidence of progress or success
- writing comedy that is actually funny
- writing romance that isn’t cheesy/cliche
- writing convincing dialogue
And, for fun, here are some I’ve had pointed out to me:
- your main character is too superficial and self absorbed to be likable (damn lady, that character is me)
- you rely too much on rhyme in your poems
- your dialogue is unrealistic
- this has been done before so many times that I think if you’re going to do it, you need to do it WELL
- I don’t like sci-fi so it’s difficult for me to critique it (but could you try though please, creative writing teacher)
- I don’t like fantasy so it’s difficult for me to critique it (but could you try though please, creative writing teacher)
- I don’t really write short stories so it’s hard for me to critique it (can I have some of my seven grand back please, teacher)
- please stop rhyming all of your poems
- ‘People carrier’ is not convincing sci-fi language, I don’t think people would say that in real life
- FFS do you literally only know words that rhyme
Ok, I’ve gone off on a tangent now. But the point is: I am trying to focus on setting myself challenges which target my weaknesses. This flash fiction piece was an attempt to target the following:
- finishing things
I tried to find a picture on the topic of heaven but couldn’t find anything particularly relevant. Instead, here’s a picture of Pete and me on the ‘Heaven and Earth’ bicycle tour of Hoi An in 2014, and at the Danang Intercontinental resort the next day (the closest I’ve come to heaven on earth so far).
Seeing as this is a challenge to target my weaknesses – PLEASE feel welcome to offer some critique/criticism (particularly relating to dialogue, comedy and the effectiveness of the piece as a whole) in the comment section.
Checking In, Checking Out
The pearly gates are furry, not pearly. Imagine that! I read the information plaque just after I joined the queue: a misprint that got out of hand, apparently. And it’s leopard print! Going by what I’ve seen of the lobby, leopard print and gingham are the height of fashion here in heaven.
Angel bouncers are a misconception too – those decisions are all made electronically nowadays. Well – there is an angel, but he’s more ‘fancy spa receptionist’ than ‘shit nightclub doorman’, vibe-wise. I reach the front desk after two hours. Angel gives me a glass of watermelon juice, a glowing smile and a sing-song greeting.
“Hello and a very warm welcome to Earth Heaven, may I take a surname for yourself please, sir?”
In case you’re wondering: yes, it was unexpected.
“Fabulous Mr Trent sir, thank you. Okay, bear with me, bear with me… George is it?”
Angel swallowed a guffaw before apologising stoically. Turns out George is slang in Earth Heaven for a fluorescent pubic wig. Pretty rich considering his name-tag read ‘Colostomy Southampton’ and I hadn’t said a bloody thing.
“Fabulous! Okay, Mr Trent sir, bear with me… okay. First and foremost: you bashed your head on an outcropping of rock while bouldering with your girlfriend in the Dordogne, correct?”
“Well, she’s my wife actually, but- ”
“Oops, terribly sorry, it was your honeymoon, bear with me… Okay that’s sorted for you… Can I just confirm with yourself that this collision caused a large intracranial haemorrhage which increased intracranial pressure, prevented blood supply to your brain and subsequently resulted in death for yourself?”
“Sorry Mr Trent, I know it seems like stating the obvious, it’s just a little formality we have to run through with yourself sir for legal reasons, terribly sorry sir.”
It was only at this point that I mustered the wherewithal to ask if my wife was ok. My blood ran cold as Colostomy’s brow furrowed sympathetically. Well it might have done, had my blood not ceased to circulate my body as a direct consequence of my recent death.
“Unfortunately not, Mr Trent, sir.” Colostomy patted my forearm reassuringly. “According to these records she’s gutted, actually sir.”
“So she’s alive?!”
“Oh! Sorry, yes, alive. Definitely alive! Misunderstood your question there. DOIYNNNG!” Colostomy mimed a slapstick halo tug. “I honestly think, Mr Trent, I’d lose my own halo if it wasn’t an integral component of my immortal, celestial form! On that topic though, Mr Trent sir, I can actually at this juncture offer you a free upgrade to our couples package for no additional cost, is that something you’d be interested in at all today, Mr Trent?”
“It’s something we offer all new arrivals sir, although I should point out that whatever decision you make for yourself and Mrs Trent is final, sir; once it’s in the system I can’t undo it under any circumstances.”
“Hang on. Are you asking if I want you to kill Jenny?” Colostomy giggled uncomfortably, shifting in his ergonomic gingham cloud chair.
“Well, in a word, sir, yes. Though many customers prefer to think of it as offering their spouse the chance to get to heaven early and remain with their loved one. Yourself, in this case! Unfortunately I will need to press you for a quick decision on this one.”
“That’s horrific! Jenny’s only 28! She deserves to live a long and prosperous life! To know what it feels like to look into the eyes of her-”
“Okay, I’ve popped you down as a no for that one Mr Trent, since we are pressed for time – may I remind you that Mrs Trent will almost definitely die anyway within the next fifty to sixty years, and she is currently operating on a 78% likelihood of coming to heaven, at which point we’ll be back in touch with yourself, Mr Trent. So no worries, it’s – what’s that Earth phrase – six and two threes really, isn’t it sir? Oh no, not that one… Much of a muchness!” He laughed, muttering the phrase under his breath a few times. “Does that all sound okay to you, Mr Trent, sir?”
Now, in a moment I’ll give you your welcome pack and my colleague will be along to show you to your room. There’s an orientation presentation which screens hourly in the recreation room. Any questions you have will hopefully be answered then. Does that all sound alright for yourself, Mr Trent, sir?”
“Ah! Here’s Pam: she’ll show you to your room and answer any other questions you have along the way, okay?” Colostomy hauled a gingham holdall onto his desk and smiled at me with finality. “Here’s Mr Trent’s welcome pack, Pam. He’s on the 532nd floor. Oh, and double room please, he opted IN to the couples package-”
“No, I opted OUT of-”
“Of course, haha! Pam, I’m as useful as a lead halo today! I’ll just call my manager and get that sorted, okay, best of luck to yourself there sir, Mr Trent, sir, bye bye!”
Before I had chance to respond, Colostomy had disappeared and I found myself struggling to keep up with Pam through a labyrinth of corridors.
“Pam is it?” I called after her, hoping to slow her down. “Lovely, a good traditional English name, reminds me of an aunt I used to-”
Pam turned to me and beamed.
“French, actually! Short for Pamplemousse! Pamplemousse Apartheid. And I know what you’re going to ask next so before you do: no, you can’t meet him, 33 years old and yes but they rotate the menu weekly. Hang on, my phone’s ringing.”
Pam coughed, vomiting a cloud of pixels from her throat which formed into the shape of Colostomy’s face in the air in front of us.
“Hiya Pam, could you just pop Mr Trent back to reception for me for a moment, love? Just an extra admin thing to sort, you’re both going to laugh when you hear it!”