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Is the phrase "Once upon a time..."
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Monthly Writing Prompt
For this month's writing prompt write a scene using the following sentence to start;

The streets were deserted. Where was everyone? Where had they all gone?

Writing Tip
Our monthly writing tips are written by our very own TerishD. You can read more in Terish's Blog located in "The Abstractions" area of the forum.

Look Back

When not able to write ahead, it helps to look back. In my case I had written a paragraph ahead of the story. What I needed to do was add a section of exposition (talking) presenting some facts. In going back, I realized that I could insert a section where a 'tour' of the surroundings could be done. This allowed for character interaction, story development, and other things that enabled me to present the facts in an entertaining manner.

One should not face a writer's block with the mentality of bursting through it. I have found in my own experience that a writer's block is usually due to my mind indicating that it has a problem in 'channeling' the story. One reason might be a re-imagining of certain story points. Another reason however is that there is a problem in where you are at in the story, so you need to look back and find out the problem with the 'journey' that prevents the tale from advancing.

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 His Heritage

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Number of posts : 63
Age : 25
Location : Lahore, PK
Registration date : 2008-08-26

PostSubject: His Heritage   September 9th 2008, 7:20 am

Religious element involved

His Heritage

Officer Frank Gates shuffled through the record of the army enlistments. His obedient, but somewhat rude troop waited for his next command. He looked up and darted his gaze towards William.
“Will…you haven’t submitted your proposals on the recruitment as of yet. You said you might.”
“I decided not to, sir.”
“But you must. There are very few proposals. I want more. You know how the Sergeant loses his head if we don’t have a ‘democratic’ way of doing things.”

He attached humor to his otherwise deep voice, but the soldiers were not in the best of their moods. The officer shoved the thick stack of papers to a side and stood up, ready for inspecting everyone. Everyone stood erectly, gazing into thin air, as the officer slowly explained the agenda, while observing his men. His style was sustained and rhythmical with his blue eyes widening and shrinking abnormally.
“There is no report on the enemy as of yet.”
He stopped, looking for signs of relief, or perhaps terror, but the soldiers seemed half-dead.

“However, I have read your proposals. I am satisfied with all of them. Except yours.”
His smile became an erratic one for the soldier. Ali shyly ducked his gaze.

“Ali Hussain?”
The fact that Officer Gates was so particular about his first name, was in itself a painful reality.
“Yes sir!”
He said out sheepishly, in spite of the anger which dominated him.
“You don’t want to fight in Afghanistan, eh?”
The officer was not really rude, but Ali did not find logic in asking the question. Of course he did not. Why would he, in the least, want to kill another Muslim?

“No, sir.”
Ali trudged past his dismay and said plainly:
“I cannot fight the armies in Afghanistan, sir.”
In a state of breathlessness, he stopped. However, the tense atmosphere pushed him to talk.
“Because they are like my brothers, sir.”
“Are we not your brothers, Ali Hussain?”
“Yes, you are, sir.”
Ali did not have an answer. Perhaps these questions were better unanswered in any case.
The officer repeated harshly, and when Ali did not entertain him, he gave out a dissatisfied sigh and sat down.

“Whatever may be your reason, Ali Hussain, you have been recruited to the battalion which will fight in Afghanistan, according to plan B.”
He murmured, slightly frightened, perhaps expecting to see a bomb emerge out of the Muslim man’s shirt. But Ali remained calm.

Fatima brushed her hair as Ali complained about the day’s happenings. She hushed her younger sister who was playing with the cat.
“How could he? He knows better than anyone that my religion doesn’t allow it.”
“He’s a secular man. He wants you to be practical.”
“I am being practical. Do you want me to bombard an array of thousand men, all of whom pray to the same authority as I do?”
“Of course not. But do you value your job, or your religion?”
“What do you think?”

Fatima yawned, throwing her glossy brown hair into a braid. Ali put an end to the conversation and picked up Farooq from the cradle.
“How’s my little lion cub?”

He tickled his stomach, and the baby boy chuckled. The innocent laugh uplifted his heart from the throbbing pain he was experiencing and Ali jumped back onto his bed. He played with the baby like a little boy, laughing and giggling carelessly. Fatima smiled adoringly at her husband’s juvenile gestures. It was the best thing about him, in her opinion. He could laugh it off anytime he wanted.

The phone rang out of the blue. Fatima grabbed hold of Farooq as Ali got up to attend the phone call. He picked up the receiver, his gaze divided between his 8-year-old sister-in-law and the clock, which read 5 pm. He then directed his hearing to the phone call.

“Hello. May I speak to Mr. Hussain?”
“Yes, this is me.”
“This is Sergeant Walters speaking. Mr. Hussain, your recruitment in the Afghani mission has been readjusted.”
A fountain of joy burst forth in his heart. His eyes were eluded with tears as he cried out in appreciation.
“Oh, thank you, sir. Yes, thank you indeed.”
The sergeant’s diplomatic voice came up. Ali realized that there was a big catch in the concession.
“You will have to administer the Jane Austen Convention downtown, Tuesday. In aid to civil power, you see. Report to your battalion officer by tomorrow and he will guide you through the details.”

Ali murmured a brief farewell and hung up the receiver. Despite the good news, he had a gut feeling that the Sergeant had not mentioned something to him. Something dreadful.

“Who was it, dear?”
“The sergeant.”
There was no life in his voice. Fatima curled up the quilt, frightened.
“Really?! What did he say?”
“He said he had readjusted my recruitment in the Afghani army.”
Her smile immediately became prominent. She hugged her husband lovingly, her buoyancy having no limit.
“Oh, thank God! Alhamdullilah [Praise be to God]! I knew, one day, us Muslims would be respected for our religious values.”

Fatima failed to notice Ali’s disillusionment. He was an optimist, but sometimes his sixth sense got the better of him. He unwillingly returned the hug, still unsure. What was the mission going to be like?

Ali could hibernate and no one would die. He drowsily eyed the security alarms which were scattered like beans all over the place. He scratched his head; his black hair seemed to wither every time he did so.

He finally kicked the floor lightly and eyed the young girl who came in, wearing a beautiful tank top with a frilled skirt. The innocent creature eyed him briefly as he smiled and waved at her. The girl was immediately impressed by the undercover army man and tugged her mother’s shirt.

“Mommy, mommy, look – a guardian angel.”
Guardian angel! Ali thought and looked down at his white suit, with a yellow rose in his breast pocket. Well, maybe the girl wasn’t too wrong about his identity. The mother of the girl shyly approached the young man with an apology.

“Sir, forgive the girl. She is young.”
“I actually appreciate her imagination. God bless her.”
Ali immediately replied, patting the girl’s head.
“I take it that you are a fond of Jane Austen?”

The woman seemed insecure, frightened and enthralled at the same time. She muttered a melodious collection of words which made no particular sense.
“Well…just to dwell…not in the least am I a fan…just, you know, the ways…”
“I suppose so.”
Ali grinned, modestly lowering his gaze as the woman tried to make eye contact with him. The woman was interested in knowing more about him, but Ali was least bothered. The woman realized that and bid farewell.
“Thank you, sorry for the trouble.”

Ali wouldn’t ask irrelevant questions from unknown women, but the only purpose behind the question was her apparel. He was somewhat apprehended by her head scarf, usually which Muslim women would wear. Then again: he was undercover. It was his job.

An electrical signal echoed in his ears as his army gadgets vibrated. Some uninvited guest had entered the convention.

Ali waded through the crowd, following the radar. The bomber had somehow ditched the jamming system, which was almost impossible, in Ali’s opinion. Ali found himself as the only army soldier who made it. The others, though were told to him by his officer, as deployed here, were clumsy and there was no sign of them. Ali pulled out a gun and slowly approached the bomber.

His hand sweated in combined emotions of tension and fright. His clammy fingers stumbled over each other, his muscular coordination suddenly going haywire. His valiant and chivalrous self took a while to expose itself, but by the time it did he had grabbed hold of the terrorist. Without more ado, he placed the gun at his shoulder. Then, a shock he had been somewhat prepared for, hit him.

“Allah-u-akbar [God is great]!”
The man cried, his movements delayed. He attempted to pull the string of the bomb he had tied to his stomach. Ali dropped the gun but managed to stop the man from pulling the string.
“Stop! Please, in the name of Allah, don’t.”

Where Ali now stood was a complicated stance. Where he was a patriotic solider, he was a devout servant of God. Where he was a benefactor to humanity – he was desperate to change his fellow countrymen’s opinion about his kind. Right now, all his ambitions and passions flooded his senses. His cerebellum was swelled up as he tried to contain his identity in his own soul.

“How would you know the value of the word, Allah? You are nothing but a filthy infidel.”
“Allah is my Lord, and so is He yours. Isn’t that enough proof for you about my intentions?”
Ali caressed the man’s back, trying to calm him down. But the man was unconvinced.
“Then why do you side with the Non-Muslims?”
“Because they are right.”
“Right! Right!! Right!!!”
The man screamed, gaining some audience in turn. Ali pulled him to a side where no one could hear them.

“Right they are, when they pay you big bucks for doing their job. Right there are, my brother. But when they pay you for being a Muslim – they work in a different manner.”
The man criticized, his eyes full of hate and spite. Ali could relate to him in a lesser degree, but did not want to further heat him up.
“But you cannot generalize your contempt. These people – they are innocent.”
Ali persuasively argued, but the man was an equal.
“They all are alike. All of them are programmed to ruin us. All of them.”
Ali wanted to give a reply, but the man cut him short.
“My family was annihilated because of them. My two daughters were molested. My wife was kidnapped. My parents were burned alive in the fires they cast. Why do you argue for them?”

Ali raised his voice, unable to find a better way to catch his attention.
“Because, if they all were the same, there would be no converts to Islam. None at all.”
The man seemed to listen with timidity this time.
“Because, if we all were to bombard them, we all would be going to hell. Why, tell me, brother-“
He finished his plea in complete agitation.
“You make bloodshed a part of Muslim heritage? My heritage is Islam, brother, and so is yours. Why do you stain it with blood? WHY?”
Ali gasped, his face red with anger while his hands were damp with sweat dripping from them. The man had no answer.

Ali withdrew, unable to recognize the feelings emerging in his heart. All patriotic feelings had faded away.
“But you are not the only one, brother. Someone else also makes bloodshed a part of my heritage. And even worse – I let them make it.”

Sergeant Walters smiled at Ali who stood straight, like a determined soldier.
“You did a great job, Mr. Hussain. No bombing took place, as we had been warned. But, there were no deaths reported either, I’m afraid.”
“Isn’t that a good thing, sir?”
“Would have been, under normal circumstances. But you see – this means that the terrorist is still on the loose. When he should have been eliminated.”
Ali coyly toyed with his idea, not knowing whether the Sergeant would like it.
“There wasn’t a bomber after all.”
“I’d doubt that. The espionage was so sure of it.”

The sergeant relaxed his shoulders suddenly, looking straight towards Ali.
“Surely, you’d know about him.”
The remark was intended as a joke, but Ali had been waiting for the conversation to become lopsided anyhow.
“Which reminds me of something, sir. I wish to resign, sir.”
Ali swiftly placed his resignation letter on the desk. The man’s eyes widened as he received the news of the day.

“But, but…Mr. Hussain, why?”
Ali smiled, with a tint of serenity in his expression.
“I’d like to keep my heritage, mine.”
With that, the young Muslim departed.

[Earlier published at another site]
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PostSubject: Reply   September 9th 2008, 8:20 am

It was rough. Definitely needs some editing. You do attempt to bring emotion into the story, but some work to polish people's movement and actions would help.

Beyond grammar and usual tweaking, your story is very dependent on the ignorance of the reader. As someone that has a more complicated vision of the world (and America's involvement in the world), I found many flaws in the story itself. I would thus suggest to bring out facts to support your story.

The largest flaw is in Ali not wanting to kill other Muslims, when Muslin against Muslim violence is daily. I kept hearing Ali say, "Send me to Korea. I can kill Koreans all day." Tossing in the fact that some Koreans are surely Muslim (just like some Americans, some Mexicans, etc.), Ali comes across as racist. Now, I accept that Afghanistan is mostly Muslim, but again there is the issue that other Muslims ARE being attacked in Afghanistan, so Ali could be working to cease the death of Muslims (the eternal paradox, going to war to stop the killing).

The above rational does not kill your story. It only challenges you to raise the intelligence of the writing. Ali has a strong moral base. His issues, even in the present version of the story, are clear issues. You thus should be able to bring out points that clarify and justify your tale even to those who might not agree with your position.

Fantasy puts more requirements on the writer than any other fiction, because the world must be made as real before anything else can be real.
Adult Christian fiction quite different than all the usual lame stuff in that market.  "Dilemma of Dreams" now in hard back.
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Location : Lahore, PK
Registration date : 2008-08-26

PostSubject: Re: His Heritage   September 9th 2008, 9:03 am

Thanks for your prompt reply, TerishD.

To your third paragraph, first of all, military operations are unique. He was naturally being sent to a battalion whose nature was such that he was bound to fight against Muslims. Like in World War I and II, the Indian Muslims were reluctant to go and fight (but many did go, mind you). In the the war against Afghanistan, neighboring Muslim countries (well, basically Pakistan) had reluctant parties.

He didn't say he wanted to go kill Non-Afghani Muslims. In fact, he emphasizes the need to protect all human beings ( refer to paragraph 28 ) later in the story. He simply said he didn't want to be a part of ignorant massacre.

Your critique is helpful because it makes it apparent to me the ambiguity contained in the story. I'll try to redraft it if possible, and post it up here. Thank you again.
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PostSubject: Re: His Heritage   September 9th 2008, 12:46 pm

Quote :
The officer shoved the thick stack of papers to a side and stood up, ready for inspecting everyone.
Something like ‘ready for inspection’ or ‘ready to inspect his soldiers’ would sound better.

Quote :
Everyone stood erectly, gazing into thin air, as the officer slowly explained the agenda, while observing his men.

Who is everyone? Soldiers? The sentence doesn’t feel right coming out in that order, and kind or reminds me of a run-on.

‘While observing his men, the (soldiers?) stood erectly, gazing into the air as the officer as he slowly explained his agenda.' Maybe?

Quote :

His smile became an erratic one for the soldier.

Hmm. This could use with a better flow.

‘His smile became erratic as he stopped in front of the solider’ Something like that, just something that flows better.

Quote :
He said out sheepishly, in spite of the anger which dominated him.

That instead of which?

Quote :
In a state of breathlessness, he stopped. However, the tense atmosphere pushed him to talk.

Just seems like there needs to be a sentence or two between this.

Quote :
The officer repeated harshly, and when Ali did not entertain him, he gave out a dissatisfied sigh and sat down.

From what I’ve seen, this soldier is superior to Ali, and from all the ‘movies’ I’ve seen (haha, what a place to base facts on) they wouldn’t be sitting down while talking to a superior officer, he’d be standing erectly?

As I told you in MSN, I only went through half the story. But, from what I did look over and read, it was pretty interesting. I like the idea and it's definitely worth the read Miss Charface.


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PostSubject: Re: His Heritage   September 10th 2008, 2:44 am

I liked the story as a whole although it does get confusing and I felt I needed some explaining done between the dialogues. he's obviously in the wrong job but shouldn't that clash between his duty and his morals been aparent from the beginning of the story? after all, isn't a soldier a killing machine, specially an unercover one.
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PostSubject: Re: His Heritage   September 10th 2008, 3:28 am

Here is my issue, as it stands, in order for the story to work I have to believe Ali has no problem with killing as long as he isn't killing people of his own religion (I mean after all he joined the army in a country were service isn't mandated, so he had to know there was a chance he'd be called upon to kill) but he doesn't hold these Muslims he is expected to kill to this same standard. In other words these people aren't any less Muslim in his eyes then he is even thought they regularly kill other Muslims and wouldn't likely give a second thought to killing him. I don't know too many deeply religious people who'd still consider people claiming their religion to be that religion even when they contradict it with their every action.

There needs to be further development of his thought process.
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PostSubject: Re: His Heritage   September 11th 2008, 9:37 am

Thanks a lot for the input, everyone. I'll edit it whenever I find time, though I don't promise a prompt response. Embarassed Thanks again.
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