Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I don't know which way to turn...

*a reposting from my Tumblr account*

I blogged, some time back, about my plan to maybe, possibly enter a short story competition. At that point I already had the bare bones of the story - I’d extended a very brief piece I’d done at the writing workshop mentioned in that earlier post.

The theme of the competition is “A Wrong Turning” and, alas, it appears that’s what I’ve taken. Certainly I’ve reached something of a creative cul-de-sac, if not a complete dead-end. Though arguably they’re one and the same thing.

I digress…indeed I should probably be spending time on the story rather than doing this, but I’m stuck. I’m loathe to extend the turning/journey/road analogy further but I really am at a bit of a crossroads with the thing. I’ve got around 1500 words. Many of which I like, I even like them when they’re put together into sentences and paragraphs! The trouble is, as I often find with any story writing I do, it strikes me that the words would be better spoken or read aloud - a play, or a screen play perhaps.

Entering the competition has, somehow, become important to me. Not necessarily because I want to win, nice though that would be, but because I’d like to try to see through a story or piece of work from start to finish.

With blogging, whether that’s been about music, campervans, teaching or whatever, it tends to be more diary-like: events happen, they’re digested and discussed, something else happens (or not) and that’s that. They are in and of themselves and because they’ve actually happened (gigs, trips, etc) it’s easy enough to recount them and to try to make them interesting, perhaps even humourous. The problem I have with story-telling is that I tend to become,as one of the workshop leaders put it, “elliptical” in my narrative: i.e. I ramble on all over the place without ever necessarily getting to any particular point and it all goes a bit stream of consciousness-y. I like to think of that as the Irish ancestry coming out there, if not trips to Ireland itself: wandering off on the back roads and byways (perhaps stopping here and there for a Guinness and a packet of cheese and onion ‘Tayto’) before getting to somewhere nice - a second hand bookshop, say, or a convent-run delicatessen in Clonakilty - without necessarily having set off in that direction.

The more observant amongst you will notice that I’ve done it again.

Where does all this get me then? Surely a story needs a beginning, a middle and an end? Especially if it’s a short story - even more important to get in, do the business, tie it up and get back out again quickly. Much like a bank raid or a Buzzcocks single. Short stories aren’t, it seems to me, about copping out with a “dot dot dot” type ending, a “to be continued” vibe hanging over the whole enterprise like a coldly calculated Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks animated series…

Or maybe that’s just me? Maybe it’s okay to leave things up to the imagination of the reader. I know that, personally, I’m always hugely disappointed by an unsatisfactory conclusion. I can moan to my other half for days when a book - or film - ends in what I’d consider a half-arsed, careless, lazy or just plain lame fashion.

Starting, now there’s another problem. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” - that, for me, is poor. A well-known, for sure, starting line but a poor, indeed lazy and meaningless one as well. “It was the day my grandmother exploded” from Iain Banks’ The Crow Road on the other hand, now there is an opening line. I mean, you just have to read on after that, don’t you? What kind of soulless monster would stop reading after an opening sentence like that?

I know the beginning has to be carefully considered but if I even attempted a start like Banks’, I’d just be off into the realms of the contrivance…never mind the fact that I’ve now done over 650 words on this displacement posting alone.

Ach well. I suppose I should really get back to it. I know! Got it at last! “It was the best time when my worst grandmother exploded…”

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