Father Christmas

This was part of an exercise designed such that you would write about children.

Unfortunately I have very limited experience with children and apparently it showed. My lack of understanding was about the level that children think at.

From my perspective a child has reasonably little awareness of a world outside of their head. My limited understanding stemmed from the way parents treat children.

Parents insist upon holding a child’s hand (because children have no idea an oncoming car can kill them).

Parents tend to keep children close to them (because children can’t survive alone).

Parents escort children everywhere (because children are unable to do anything by themselves).

So I had the impression that prior to a certain age a child’s perspective was skewed by what was inside the child’s head.

The feedback I received was that the story was unrealistic as the child would not be this naïve.

That shows how little I know.

This underlines the idea that you should try to write about things that you know – or do your research well.

After this I’ve pretty well decided that using children as characters is not going to be something that I’m great at. So probably has no future in the things that I write.

The following therefore is probably only of interest in terms of an example of what not to do.

Story

“Can I have a puppy Mummy? Can I?  I want a puppy because I don’t have a puppy”.

“Timmy be quiet can’t you see I’m talking?”

Mummy was talking very loud.  Mummy is loud if I am naughty.  I think the man must have been naughty.  I hid behind Mummy’s legs.

Mummy was very upset –the back of her hand went white.  My hand hurts when she holds it so tightly.

“Mummy, Mummy let go, I want to play”.

I looked down at my new shoes.  The little lights in the sides came on as I was walking.  I was stamping my shoes and trying to see the lights come on.

I wondered if the strange man had sweeties.  “Hello” I said from behind Mummy’s legs.

The man bent down and looked at me.  He was very dirty, he had strange-looking hair with leaves in it.

“Mummy he smells funny”

Mummy pulled my hand suddenly – it really hurt – I was crying.  Mummy was talking very loud now.

The man had Mummy’s handbag.  Perhaps he wanted to buy me presents?  Sometimes Mummy buys me presents when she has that bag.

Mummy said that Father Christmas would come with presents. Perhaps this man was Father Christmas? He had a wrinkly hairy face.

“Mummy has Father Christmas got me a present?”

“Timmy if you don’t shut up I’ll give you a thick ear, understand?”

Mummy took me to see Father Christmas before; he wasn’t like this Father Christmas.  When I went to see Father Christmas before he was shiny, red and happy, he didn’t smell like this man.

I saw another Father Christmas in a shop today.  Maybe there are lots of Father Christmas’s?  Perhaps I get more presents if there are lots of Father Christmas’s?

“I want a present, I want a present”.

Mummy turned around and smacked me.  I started crying.  I felt hot and tired

Mummy was very angry now; she was really shouting – her arm had gone stiff and my hand was really hurting.

People were standing still watching me.  They must have known that I was with Father Christmas.

It was very quiet now.  Mummy was not shouting.  A shiny car was there; it was white and had funny lights.

The lights on my shoes are red, these lights were blue, they were very high, I watched them go round and round.

A really big man was talking to Mummy.  He had very dark clothes on; he was scary.  He had a shiny belt on; I was watching the long stick on that belt.  Billy has a stick like that; he got it for his birthday.  I don’t think I could have played with this stick.  Billy has a puppy, it was all floppy and sleepy – I don’t think Father Christmas had my puppy.

The big man put Father Christmas in his shiny car.

“Mummy can I go with Father Christmas?”

“NO Timmy you can’t”.

Mummy didn’t have hold of my hand now. I jumped in next to Father Christmas.

“Father Christmas, can I have a puppy?”

 

 

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Narrative Vs Dialogue

Two stories both on the same subject to show the effects of Narrative vs. Dialogue.

From a course I did so long ago now that I can’t remember the context.

They’re here purely for your enjoyment and with no other explanation.

I hope that you like them.

Narrative

Elizabeth was a fool Jane knew it. They hadn’t been friends for twenty years without the realisation that Elizabeth was a weak-headed, softhearted, naïve fool.

Didn’t she, the mother have the greater insight into the workings of her daughters?

There were the startling, the mediocre and the downright alarming. Rebecca, the eldest – she had always been the exceptional one. Always knowing what she wanted to do. She planned her wedding for the best weekend of the year, a marvellous dress, a fantastic husband.

Then there was Ruth. Jane could feel the anger like a tiny pricking sensation already starting, just thinking about her.

Ruth, yes – she’d warned her – with every one of the dropout wasters she’d hung around with (and taken to bed) she’d warned her.

Now she was pregnant,, of course she hadn’t taken the time to tell her own mother, oh no.

A hasty wedding in October – at a registry office, a rush job at minimal expense – well this guy Richard was hardly the high-flyer, not like Rebecca’s husband.

Ruth had made a bad choice and it was obvious why. It was just to spite her mother. They’d never seen eye to eye and now she had chosen the one thing that she knew would really hurt.

Jane took pride in her family – liked to think that she’d instilled in them some old-fashioned values.

Rebecca had never hung around town late at night picking up boys – and what boys. The latest one had a tongue piercing – and a dotted line tattooed across his neck with a small pair of scissors labelled “cut here”.

What kind of guy was he this Richard? She doubted very much that Ruth even knew him very well. She knew he had a motorbike and was the sort of guy that Jane would despise. Jane would never welcome him into the family.

How better to hurt her mother than to marry him? Well it worked; all the years of spite and angst could not equal what she was doing this time.

If only Ruth wasn’t such a stubborn, wilful girl, she wouldn’t be dragging the family down in this way. Jane wished, not for the first time that she could disown her.

It was bad enough that she’d found them “at it” in her own bathroom but then to go and marry him? It was too much.

So what was Elizabeth going on about? The loose-minded woman. No doubt, she saw Ruth as another hard-luck case like an abandoned puppy or something.

No, Ruth had a lot of learning left and she, Jane was not going to shield her from any of it.

Dialogue

“Isn’t it the most perfect day Jane” Elizabeth gushed, her brow furrowed in concern.

“It’s October Elizabeth, who ever heard of a wedding in October? I may as well look around for thermal underwear” Jane was at her most caustic today. “Now, Rebecca, Rebecca; there’s a girl with sense, a June wedding, very sensible”

“As I recall Jane, you moaned all day that it was too hot and you were suffering from sunburn,” said Elizabeth archly.

“Hmmph well at least I didn’t have to go there looking like an Eskimo – it’s so unattractive.”

Elizabeth sighed inwardly and tried again “The weather is unseasonably warm Jane. Anyway I’m told the registry office is centrally heated”

“Office, yes office, why not a church?”

Elizabeth decided on a change of tack “Did you see the dress though Jane? She will look beautiful”

“I didn’t want to see it, it’s not as though it’s a wedding dress or anything. There won’t be a train or walking up the aisle will there?”

“I guess as long as she’s happy though?” Elizabeth’s voice squeaked with the effort of maintaining diplomacy.

“Happy, happy, what kind of selfish attitude is that? I give it six months, that’s all, six months”

“Richard seems a very nice lad” Elizabeth was tiring of the fight.

“If you don’t count the tongue piercing and the tattoos of course.”

“They all have those now I think”

“Well he isn’t tolerant enough for Ruth that’s for sure. I don’t think he’s had half enough time to realize what a vicious little wildcat she can be”

“What makes you think that, Jane? What evidence do you have?” Elizabeth, by now beaten decided to go with the flow.

“I’ll tell you why – she’s been going round like some old slapper. Mike last year, Derek six months ago and now Richard. Is it any surprise that she’s pregnant?”

Elizabeth gasped, “That’s a vicious thing to say, you’ve no evidence at all for that statement”

“Oh, come on, don’t be so naïve, she’s been hanging around him like a bitch in heat” Jane snapped.

“How can you say that about your own daughter?”

“You just have to look at her for God’s sake, how many brides do you know actually put on weight for their wedding?”

“I think you’ll find the dress size is exactly the same now as when she ordered it Jane.” Elizabeth was sounding exasperated. “You can’t just treat your daughter in this way Jane, you can’t. It will come back to haunt you if you do.”

Jane glared at her stubbornly “I have five daughters, Elizabeth, five and have any been so awful to me as this one? I don’t think so.”

“Ruth is a lovely girl, Jane, surely you see that” said Elizabeth, tears by now gleaming in her soft brown eyes.

Jane’s gaze was grey and piercing “I tell you, for all the pain this one has brought me, I wish I only had four daughters.”
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The Neighbours from Hell

I have been fascinated for a long time in stories about Hell.

On one of the writing courses one of the tutors suggested that we write a story about a neighbour from hell who was literally from hell. (As I mentioned in my earlier post https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/13/on-the-theme-of-hell/)

For some reason this has captured my imagination and over time I have created different stories on this theme.

This is the first of these. Many of them are quite old now and I would rework them today.

But here it is unadulterated in case you like it.

Perhaps this will encourage me to produce more of the same in which case watch this space.

Story

Hi, I’m David and I’m a servant of the Devil.

Of course it isn’t obvious to look at me, I’m a balding middle aged civil servant but nonetheless I am Beelzebub’s man so to speak.  It started when we moved to a small estate in Tunbridge Wells.  I had never liked the place from the beginning.  But the price was right and Deirdre; yes, Deirdre just had to have the place.

It’s comfortable enough in a boring suburban way but any place that has a fridge and a sofa would suffice for me.  Deirdre though has to maintain “standards.”  That started almost the first day.  We had only recently moved in when Deirdre started on about meeting the neighbours.

“You should meet them David, you never know if he might be something important in The City, it doesn’t harm to network”

Frankly I couldn’t see the point in this, I’ve worked as a Junior Civil Servant for twenty years now and I see no obvious break in that career coming anytime soon.

“We should show we are good neighbours David, Go next door and introduce us.”

I noticed the “us” in that sentence and the very final ring to it.  A decision had been made, and I was to be the one to implement it.  I didn’t even dare sigh.  I shed the carpet slippers with regret – I had just got comfortable with The Sunday Times (one of my rare pleasures).

I am not naturally an outgoing person, I would happily leave the neighbours to themselves, however Deirdre had spoken.  (I am more frightened of Deirdre than the unknown quantity of the neighbours).

The house from a distance looked exactly like ours. It looked comfortable four-bedroomed detached with a beautiful white picket fence and a tidy arbour over a tiny front gate.

However as I approached the road appeared to darken and clouds began to gather. The gate began to look horribly distant when previously it had been mere feet from mine. I paused uncertainly. The charming arbour with red English rose seemed to be writhing like a nest of snakes. The pleasant curving aspect of a moment ago now seemed to me a gaunt gothic archway. I felt the challenge of the few steps to be too much. Something was definitely wrong.

However into my head rushed the vision of Deirdre: if I returned without having performed my little “task”.  The glare, the folded arms, that stare which told me what a pointless little individual I truly was.  I shuddered and then hastened on.

The tiny white gate now seemed to be of rusty iron (how strange what a change in perspective can do).  And the picket fence I noticed also iron – it reminded me uncomfortably of the cage surrounding a Victorian grave.

I girded myself for the short walk to the door.  This was ridiculous I told myself – a perfectly charming little place.  As I pulled, open the gate to a sound like wood tortured by a gale I distinctly heard the tolling of a resonant bell but from a great distance.  The grass surrounding the path swirled and twisted as if animated with menace, which seemed odd.  When I had set off the day was fine and clear – mere seconds ago.  It was as if the garden had weather of its own.  I realised that I had closed my eyes against the “illusion”.  As I opened them, I recognised that I had been wrong all along, the garden was dead, dry and brown, dusty grass bordered by dried out stumps of a herb garden.  I mused that they certainly needed to get the gardener in.

I hastened to the door – a plain white UPVC door with a faux brass knocker.  At last, I thought something sensible to latch onto.  I lifted the knocker and was amazed at its extreme weight and that it appeared to be hot like a pie direct from the oven.  I flinched immediately and the knocker fell with an enormous clash like hammer meeting anvil.

The door slowly swung inwards as if assisted from behind.  I could feel the sweat beads – clammy in my armpits and cold as they trickled down my ribcage.  “Hello is there anybody there”.

It must be a shy child, that’s it, hiding behind the door, that’s what it is.  I could feel myself trembling just a little.  But the vision of Deirdre firmly in my mind I stepped in.

The door slammed immediately shut behind me with a sound more normally associated with a massive door of oak closing on a vast frame.  I think I would complain to the double-glazing company I reflected whilst peering around what appeared to be an unusually vast hall.

Nothing at all like ours, I couldn’t even see the ceiling and the dining-room door seemed an impossibly long distance away.

Odd that they have the heating on, I remember thinking.  So strange in July, it’s like a real oven in here.  I could feel my white shirt become transparent as it fixed itself firmly to my spine – pulling it free was pointless.  It was more humid than a rainforest.  The neighbour must grow tropical plants I thought to myself.

“Hello, hello, I’m David; I’m your new neighbour”

I could hear the trembling highness of my voice.  I really did not want to be here any longer than I had to.  A quick hello and then go I assured myself.

I stepped into the impossibly long hall and perceived in the distance a standard hardboard-faced door.  Very retro I thought, time they had a man in to replace that.  The door seemed completely smooth and gleamed an impossible brilliance of white.

In front of it gyrating and jumping a Chihuahua.  It appeared to be a Chihuahua at any rate.  The yapping also had a familiar tone to it (Deirdre’s mother owns one; she says it is more fun to live with than her ex-husband ever was). I’ve always hated them; they seem perfectly capable of inflicting a very painful wound only to be swept up by the doting owner as if you had hurt them.

This one was strange though, it must have been the odd lighting but I could swear it seemed to have three heads!

The dining room door swung inwards with a scraping noise like stone dragged across massive stone.  This chap must be a sound effects man I thought, quite amazing the effects he can produce.  Well I sighed, that lets down Deirdre’s view of a chap in the city.

As I peered forwards (still apparently some yards from the doorway), I noticed their obscure taste in carpets. From this distance the red and grey carpet appeared like hot coals.

I halted, unsure what to do next, I was trespassing in somebody else’s house.  That bothered me quite a bit.  But the house was doing strange things to my mind.  That bothered me quite a bit more.  I am not naturally courageous.  (I’ve lived with Deirdre too long for that).  This was beyond my threshold for fear by one hundred percent.

I could almost feel a sense of panic rise within me.

Then a voice both sweet and soothing spoke directly into my ear as if the owner was stood right beside me.

“Mr Blythe, do come in, have a drink”

I didn’t remember to jump, I didn’t remember to be afraid, I couldn’t remember ever mentioning my name. I felt so relaxed so calm suddenly. Some distant voice was yelling “you’re in mortal danger, leave, leave now”. But that was only from inside my own head, I wasn’t about to pay attention to that when I could listen to this beautiful voice right here.

I turned slowly and looked straight into feral eyes.  Not human, more like a cat, devoid of any emotion, yet somehow echoing back concern and charm.  Subconsciously I was thinking I bet this man could con his way into the royal mint.  The face smiled, a smile without warmth, like the gape of a large carnivore.

I couldn’t remember moving, but I was sitting, relaxed in a very comfortable high-back chair. A glass of something was positioned conveniently by my right hand. The light was terrible everywhere in this house I determined. The glass seemed to hold a half pint of steaming blood (or at least blood colour liquid). Revolving slowly at the top of the glass appeared to be a large eyeball, which turned and fixed me with a baleful stare. I set the glass slowly on the floor to hide it. I did not wish to offend my host.

I hadn’t seen him, concealed as he was in shadows just opposite me in a chair very like the one I was occupying.  Somehow, his chair seemed vast in comparison with mine though, fully ten times the size.  I couldn’t imagine how I could have looked into his eyes only moments before.  Oh, this is ridiculous I told myself.

“Sorry I didn’t introduce myself, I’m David”

“Ah, yes, I know”

“Right, Right” I mentally tried to recall if we had met previously but I failed utterly.  I shivered.

“Yes well I’ve just moved in next door”

“More Deirdre’s choice than yours wasn’t it”

So he knew my wife as well?  “Sorry?”

“More Deirdre’s choice, you never liked the area?”

I recalled the first visit – even the drive up to the house had felt uncomfortable – I put it down to a head cold, but nonetheless I had been very glad to leave.

“Yes I suppose more Deirdre’s choice,” I mumbled

“I am just a piece of folklore of course”

“Of course, of course…………………………………………………………………what?”

“A piece of folklore, people can’t actually see The Devil”

“The what?  Sorry I thought I heard you describe yourself as the…”

“Devil, yes of course, but I am just a series of ideas, not a ‘thing’ as such”

“So how……..?”

“How can you see me?”

His eyes flashed yellow and at the same time, a stream of images began to play in my head.  I began to realise that Hell was not a place beneath the tarmac after all.

I had been living in it for the past forty-five years.

 

 

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Character

A good character is key to your book. If you have poor characters there is nothing to rescue the book.

These tips come from a writing course and I’m hopeful will be useful in improving your characters.

“Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.”

(The principles of screenwriting by Robert McKee) Bookfinder 

McKee

Character ‘Dimension’

A quote from p.p.  377-8 of the above book:

‘Dimension’  is the least understood concept in character…Some years ago a producer pitched me what he believed to be a ^three-dimensional’ protagonist in these terms:   ‘Jesse just got out of prison, but while he was in the slammer he boned up on finance and investment,  so he’s a expert on stocks, bonds, and securities. He can also break dance. He’s got a black belt in karate and plays a mean jazz saxophone.’ His Vesse’ was a flat as a desktop – a cluster of traits stuck on a name. Decorating a protagonist with quirks does not open his character and draw empathy. Rather, eccentricities may close him off and keep us at a distance.

A favourite academic tenet argues that, instead,  fine characters are marked by one dominant trait. Macbeth’s ambition is frequently cited. Overwhelming ambition, it’s claimed, makes Macbeth great. This theory is dead wrong.  If Macbeth were merely ambitious, there’d be no play. He’d simply defeat the English and rule Scotland. Macbeth is a brilliantly realized character because of the contradiction between his ambition on the one hand and his guilt on the other. From this profound inner contradiction springs his passion, his complexity, his poetry.

Dimension means contradiction:  either within deep character (guilt-ridden ambition) or between characterization and deep character (a charming thief). These contradictions must be consistent.  It doesn’t add dimension to portray a guy as nice throughout the film, then in one scene have him kick a cat…

Dimensions fascinate; contradictions in nature or behaviour rivet the audience’s concentration. Therefore, the protagonist must be the most dimensional character in the cast to focus empathy on the star role.  If not, the Centre of Good decanters; the fictional universe flies apart; the audience loses balance.”

Plot and Character

A Plot led structure

If your story is about the robbing of the bank – you still need to care about why the character is robbing it.

Plot led structures are found in crime, thriller, horror and where there is suspense in action.

A Character led structure

Character led structures are found in romance, family drama and anywhere suspense is found in the character’s internal struggles.

You may not know what structure you’ve got until you’ve written your first draft. (Outlining in sufficient detail may help).

Plot Structure

  • Give your character a huge problem to resolve.
  • In the process throw loads of obstacles at them.
  • Your character needs to come up with a solution and redeem themselves.

What is your characters main dilemma?

What is the most exciting action line or crisis or major discovery?

Does this serve to highlight your character’s dilemma?

Is your character’s dilemma rooted in their personality?

Character

Normally there is one main protagonist.

This is the character whose story you are telling.

Aim to create a struggle within your character. Struggle reminds us that we are human.

Create a dimensional, real, character with their own wants and needs.

The outer goal is what they want recognisably to achieve.

The Inner goal is why they want or need to achieve those goals.

What is at stake if the character fails to achieve their goals?

What is stopping the character from reaching their goal?

The inner and outer goal should be linked. This is the basis for the reader’s engagement.

During the story the character “finds themselves” and this is the resolution.

Levels of conflict

Relationships – other characters, family, friends, antagonists

Societal – organisations, murder, rules

Nature – forces of nature, disaster,

Supernatural – monsters, God, aliens, ghosts

Character Building

There is a good questionnaire for this here https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/interviewing-your-characters/

  1. Where does your character live?
  2. Where is your character from?
  3. How old is your character?
  4. What is your character called?
  5. What does your character look like?
  6. What kind of childhood did he or she have?
  7. What does your character do for a living?
  8. How does your character deal with conflict and change?
  9. Who else is in your character’s life?
  10. What is your character’s goal or motivation in this story or scene?

You should really know your character.

This is a slow process building up from small details.

Gradually build up the intimacy between them and the reader.

Take time to allow them to get to know one another, time to care about what happens to the character, time to allow the reader to root for them to achieve their goal.

 

I was set a task of exploring a character and came up with the following which I hope you enjoy:

Story

Cigarettes, how he hated getting the cigarettes.  Here he was in the “sad bastards” ten items or less queue at Tesco’s.  Everything in the basket evidence of his vegetarian “live healthier” lifestyle and then Gary has to ask for cigarettes.

Of course he could never say no to him.  One inkling of that cheeky smile and the lights went on inside.  He felt like some school girl giggly and shy.

If only the eczema would give up he might try to know him a bit more – hand cream it was a euphemism really.  Try “whole body cream” and you would be closer to the truth. The red-scaly patches could rage up at any time and cause him wakeful nights; his flagging will-power all he had to stop the damn scratching.

It was easier to stay awake – a bit more coffee, a chunk of Bourneville and a late night weepy.  He hoped the checkout assistant wouldn’t stare again – the patches on his cheeks were bad today – if only he could send out for shopping.

Still it was his only activity outside his self-imposed prison.  Exercise was the rowing machine and work was always by email and by telephone.

Hopefully the Soya would be enough for the lactose intolerance.  The doctor had said IBS – then he had said that in his opinion IBS was “all in the mind”.  Well he’d try the Soya and avoid the bloody doctor.

How could anyone fancy him like this, especially Gary?  He tried not to think of it, best not to cry just as he was handing over his clubcard.

 

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On The Theme of Hell

I have enjoyed the idea of stories about hell ever since one of my writing instructors asked me to consider the neighbours from hell as if they were literally from hell.

Over time I generated several stories on this theme.

Following on from the Book Planning article recently: https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/11/book-planning-pt-2/. In this I consider James who has escaped Hell (but possibly not for very long).

In this one a tormentor from the flame regions tries to find himself a new employee.

The Apprentice

“Ah Lawrence, dear, dear Lawrence, I see that you have put in a request for retirement, you know how I get upset about such things”

“But Your Eminence I have served you faithfully for longer than any of your previous servants, surely I have earned it?”

“Oh dear, this concept of having earned something Lawrence, how very demanding of you.  I’m afraid that I may have to provide myself with a little entertainment at your expense.”

“Ah, that is, I apologise for not having explained myself properly Your Eminence.  What I meant to say was that I have found an excellent replacement servant.”

“Now you have given this some thought Lawrence haven’t you?  It isn’t just the first name that happened to turn up in ‘The Book of the Damned’ is it?”

“Err, well, no Your Eminence.”

“Oh Lawrence don’t lie to me, I’m very good at detecting it you know.”

“Well, I was flicking through ‘The Book’ this afternoon and discovered a possible candidate who lives just next door.”

“One hundred percent for convenience Lawrence but is he as talented as you are?  I’m not sure that I need another apprentice.”

“But think of the advantages Your Eminence, the bending of a new recruit to your will, the fresh viewpoint, the different ideas.”

“Very well Lawrence you’ve made your point, let’s have a look at him shall we.  Oh and Lawrence.”

“Yes Your Eminence.”

“Here’s a set of painful mouth ulcers to repay your feeble deception attempts.  I think I’d rather like to watch you eating some nice hot chips – and don’t stint on the vinegar.”

*          *          *
“David, DAVID, get up now and be swift about it there’s a good man.”

The voice sounded like it came from inside my head. I knew that I was still asleep but without thinking I was up, out of bed and padding down the stairs, still dressed in my pyjamas. I seemed compelled to head towards the source of that voice. Down the street; the house adjacent to mine; through the gate and the front door, which were hanging, open as if in readiness for me.

*          *          *
“Lawrence?  Could you just sort out the business with the wife now?  That would be lovely.  Ah David how nice for you to finally meet me.”

I had a feeling that there was something very wrong with that sentence.  There was also something wrong with being fast asleep but with your eyes wide open.

“Lawrence, come and look at him would you?”

“Yes Your Eminence”

“This would be David. I see from his entry in The Book of the Damned that he would be forty six. So far he is a man largely without drive or ambition, are you sure that he’s the right sort to replace you? It’ll be the hot bath for you if you’re wrong.”

“No, no, I’m sure” Lawrence sounded anxious to please.

“As long as you’re not putting your wishes above mine, such as sneakily nominating a replacement servant so that you can take it easy you know that would just make me annoyed.”

Lawrence sighed “With respect your holiness; everything makes you annoyed.”

“I’m sorry Lawrence but that’s it; off to the hot bath and don’t come back till you’ve mended your ways.”

“No, no, please; I didn’t mean it.”  Lawrence’s voice was edged with fear.

“Oh we’re going to try overacting are we?  Excellent Lawrence; I do love a spot of melodrama; do go on.”

“I was going to beg for my life Eminence.”

“Beg for it Lawrence?  Beg for it?  Have you learned nothing in the three hundred odd years you have served me?”

“Eminence?”

“That life to which you would cling so tenaciously is my invention. It is a shadow of consciousness sufficient to enable you to appreciate the suffering which I can provide, nothing more. Oh, and to provide me with a fine entertainment I might add. Now off to the baths there’s a good man.”

“But, but…” Lawrence had begun to babble.

“Oh dear Lawrence; a desperately slow learner aren’t we?  (I wonder why I’ve never encountered that before.) Should I take that life away from you then?  You could call it a last favour as a long-time companion.”

“No, thank you Eminence; I’ve grown rather attached to it.”

“Well; I’m sure that you know best.  Oh and Lawrence.”

“Yes Your Eminence.” Lawrence responded with a hopeful note to his voice.

“Wake him up before you go; there’s a good man.”

“Eminence” Lawrence’s voice fell to a hopeless whisper.

*          *          *
I had been listening to the whole conversation from the depths of a dream.  I was insulated from it and distant, but now as Lawrence touched me an incredible pain brought me instantly awake and to my knees in one moment. As I gasped Lawrence took one last reproachful look at me and then departed.

“Ah, David, delighted, delighted, now I am really at a loss I really am.  My old slave seems to think that you will be an adequate replacement for him but you seem really lack-lustre to me, it is really bemusing.”

I was still dazed by the pain and unsure what I was supposed to say next.

“Perhaps you might explain what qualities you possess that would make you interesting.  You see I would ask Lawrence but it would be rather difficult right now, he may not have time to explain; in between the screaming that is.”

I continued to stare at him mute with disbelief; it seemed like mere seconds before I had been resting in a comfortable bed.

*          *          *
“I’ll forgive you the silence this far David because you are new; but I warn you don’t stretch my patience any further. What is it about you that makes you so useful?  Hmm?”

I remembered the fear in Lawrence’s voice when he had been told to go for a ‘hot bath’. “I’m sorry, I really don’t understand; this is really a strange kind of dream” I blurted out without thinking.

“Oh this is so annoying; fortunately I had prepared a demonstration, I always find them so useful in illustrating the realities as it were.”

“A demonstration?” I could feel my voice quaver a little; what did he mean by a demonstration?

“Yes David it’s time we had our relationship on the proper footing which it will be I have no doubt after you have returned home.”

*          *          *
Before the sound of “home” had properly died, I found myself back in my bedroom, still kneeling. Looking into the staring eyes of my wife; fixed now in death, around her throat a set of bruises, causing it to be swelled and purple.

I stared in disbelief, Deirdre, my companion now for twenty years. It took me some time to understand that this was real. As I knelt there in shock, the realisation dawned – he had said that there would be a “demonstration.” He had done this – he had murdered my wife.

I looked around for a weapon and saw an ugly brass table lamp – something Deirdre’s mother had given us and I had been too polite to throw out. I grabbed it, pulling the cable from the wall socket and set off down the stairs.

*          *          *
“Back so soon David? How admirable, how quickly you are facing up to the realities.  So much faster than Lawrence did; there really is hope for you.”

“She’s dead, she’s b b b bloody dead and you killed her” I heard myself yell.

“Well of course I did at least indirectly. Of course it was your actual hands that committed the evil deed so to speak but yes I was the guiding intelligence behind it.”

I looked down and saw that my hands were red and trembling as if from some great exertion. The muscles were aching badly –how could this could be, had I killed her?

“Of course it was me that gave her that wretched life in the first place. I certainly think I have the right to take it away. If I get a bit of enjoyment watching her struggle and finally despair as the last gasp chokes from her then I think that is only my due don’t you”

“You bastard, you evil, crazy, mean-minded, bastard” I was desperate now.

“David; I don’t think that’s wise. Whilst the words are inevitably accurate it’s traditional to keep up a modicum of front about these things.  Put down the table-lamp. You can’t do anything with it you know.”

At that instant, my arm started to spasm and I rapidly dropped the brass lamp “Aaah, ah, ah, shit, damn, it electrocuted me. How could it do that?  It wasn’t even plugged in.”

“Because I commanded it to of course; when I say ‘Lord’ I mean ‘Lord of Darkness’ and all that charming Gothic nonsense.

“You mean that you’re The…Devil?” I asked gaping in disbelief.

“Well if you must use such a demeaning term, I prefer to think of myself as ‘The Prince of Evil’ or something similar but each to his own.”

“You’re insane; you know that, you can’t possibly be The Devil. I mean The Devil doesn’t exist.”

“You’ll have plenty of opportunity to verify my existence over the millennia I will force you to serve me. This really is most tiresome; I feel that I’ve given you quite enough time to knuckle down. Tell me why you are useful to me; or shall we go for a tour? I could show you some of the less well-publicised elements of my realm, hmm?

I was distracted from the menace of his last sentence. My mind filled with the image of Deirdre lying dead “I loved her; I really loved her; what will I do now?”

“Well of course you think that you loved her. That was all part of the plan to increase your wretchedness when she finally gave up the ghost. It really is most gratifying that it has worked out so well. Now if you don’t mind your qualifications?”

“M-my qualifications? I-I don’t know about qualifications; I’m just a civil servant.” I could feel my sanity wrestling away from me.

“Oh I think it unlikely to be anything about your job. I’m not interested that you have served 26 years with the Inland Revenue.  Charming though that cliché would be.”

“I c-can’t understand what you mean” my mind felt like it was drowning.

“Let me put it simply for you shall I? You have mere moments to explain to me in what new and diverting ways you can increase the misery of the world or you can join my previous employee in a rather warm bath.”

“I? Increase the misery of the world?” I knew now that it was insanity; I must be delusional.

“Well I’m sure that you do David; merely by breathing. You really are quite dull you know; but that is not quite on the scale that I imagined. I do so love the petty annoyances; they do make the time pass so delightfully swiftly.”

“Petty annoyances?” I was repeating everything he said; by now reduced to parrotry.

“I take it all back David; you really are so incredibly slow I am amazed that anything makes it through that dense artefact you call a skull. An example I think, just to make things easier. Last week I believe was your dear departed wife’s birthday?”

“Deirdre; oh my God; Deirdre” tears fell so thickly now my eyes felt like open sores.

“Yes, as you so eloquently put it, Deirdre. You booked a table at eight and promised to be home on time. Unfortunately, your boss gave you a grilling about use of the photocopier in work time. This delay caused you to miss the bus and the next bus of course didn’t turn up. You decided to walk but a sudden downpour turned that into more of a frantic run didn’t it?”

“Yes, how …?”

“So that by the time you arrived home soaking wet; stressed, tired and an hour late Deidre was slightly less than pleased to see you. Of course you did try the restaurant but due to some mishap they had failed to take your reservation.  Deirdre’s birthday turned out to be a Chinese takeaway and she didn’t talk to you for three days!  It’s all so delightful when it works so well; rather like poetry really.”

“You did all that?” I felt as defeated as the look in Lawrence’s eyes when he departed for the ‘warm bath’.

“Oh not personally of course; I did have Lawrence; He was really very good you know. But then I am hopeful that you can do better.”

“Better?” What did he imagine I could do?

“Well keep the gears oiled, the wheels rolling; continue to make life miserable for people.”

“But why?”

“Oh purely for my entertainment of course; I’m stuck in this realm for all eternity so I definitely do not wish to see anyone enjoying their time here.”

“But surely when the time comes.”

“You die? Oh purely an artefact David I can assure you.  You see you were never living in the first place.  Life is merely that essence that I have caused all the residents of my kingdom to be addicted to; to treasure; to give everything for.  But in fact it is completely worthless.”

“Worthless?”

“Oh yes, you see you can’t cease to exist, you have been imprisoned here for all eternity with me; every miserable one of you. The ‘Day of Judgement’ – over hyped as it has been, has, actually occurred. This place you call ‘home’, ‘Earth’ and in fact this entire Universe is the home of darkness and of suffering for all eternity.”

“But then where do you go…?”

“After you die? Well you see it’s a bit of a sleight of hand.  I whip you out of one rotting mound of flesh and cause you to be born memory erased somewhere else equally miserable; equally without hope.”

“I don’t see the point…”

“Of course if I can make you a little uglier; maybe give your mother postnatal depression so that she can’t stand you. Perhaps I’ll settle for something more minor like a severe nappy rash or that you develop debilitating asthma at a young age.  It’s all rather gratifying once you know how it works.”

“So this is purgatory?” (I remembered something about this from a programme on television; unfortunately, I hadn’t given it much attention.)

“Well not, as such, no; you see as I understand it the definition of purgatory is that eventually you may escape it. You, I’m afraid have no hope of escape, ever. So now” (his voice took on a truly sinister edge) “why are you of value to me David?”

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The Framework of a Novel

Outline plans (the framework) come in different shapes and sizes dependent upon your preference. Guidance indicates that spending a great deal of time on an outline plan is worthwhile in preparation for writing.

On one of the writing courses I attended there was an introduction to producing an outline plan. However the approach taken would be scratching the surface. The depth of your own plan would almost certainly be much more extensive than achieved here. But it might give some pointers to people who want to do an outline plan themselves.

This was an outline plan produced for a novel on one of the writing courses I attended. I haven’t done anything with it subsequently but it might give some insight into the start of the process. I would then spend much longer understanding the outline before diving in and commencing to write. Your Mileage May Vary.

Taken from the seven basic plots https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/23/seven-basic-plots/. This outline is based on the idea of the quest which has this basic structure:

  1. The call
  2. The journey (archetypal figures)
  3. Arrival and frustration
  4. Final ordeal and last battle
  5. The goal, treasure, prince/ess

The plot can have as many subplots as you like. Subplots are similar in theme but do not have to be the same as the plot.

Every character that you choose to include will be overcoming something as part of their progress in the book.

Subplots can be resolved part of the way through the book.

Each character will have a subplot and this tends to result in a large novel.

The average novel is 75,000 words but there are some that are over 100,000 words.

When planning a novel this should be along monomyth lines.

(Joseph Campbell Bookfinder

the hero)

The Monomyth

The single story through which we understand all stories (Joseph Campbell)

  1. Hero in ordinary world
  2. Call to adventure
  3. Reluctance to accept call
  4. Encouraged my mentor
  5. Crosses the threshold
  6. Enters the special world
  7. Encounter tests, allies and enemies
  8. Cross another threshold: inner most cave
  9. Endure big ordeal
  10. Takes reward
  11. Flees back down the road
  12. Cross 3rd threshold – resurrection/transformation
  13. Return with elixir – a treasure to benefit the ordinary world

 

My outline plan to reflect this was:

  1. A 9 year old boy has to be selected for a future life and to be configured for the best fit for that life.The configuration is also constraining in that once configured realistically that is the only life that he could expect to lead from that point onwards.However he feels himself to be unique. He starts to fight the selection process.He would like to escape configuration and have a life outside the constraints of the normal rules.
  1. The boy is taken for configuration anyway and is unable to escape. Configuration is successful and he enters an apprenticeship willingly.One of the aspects of configuration is that it also ensures compliance with expectations around for example occupation and behaviours.He leaves behind his child life and aspirations. He forgets his desire for a life which is different to other people his age. He departs his home and we next see him in training.
  1. The initial frustrations with existence have subtly altered the mental pathways in his mind. This is unknown to him. Overtly the configuration has taken successfully. But over time he finds himself increasingly unable to adapt to expectations.He becomes increasingly concerned that his behaviour will be detected.He has seen others who have failed configuration disappear. Those who disappear are not seen subsequently.
  1. Eventually the problems of configuration are detected in him. However the delay has given him time to prepare.He runs.There is a running battle.Ultimately he escapes from the training zone into an area of “misconfigured” people.

    Although the mental configuration will not take in these people an alternative strategy is employed.

    These people are physically adapted which means that they still fit the social norm.

    Through subterfuge he is able to exist in this area of the “misconfigured”.

    He determines that members of “the misconfigured” have no value.

    They are not monitored – they are disposable.

    After a great deal of time with them he starts to learn something of the configuration process.

    Eventually he amasses sufficient expertise to reprogram some of “the misconfigured” who have so far managed to survive.

    In doing so he causes their deaths.

    However he is able to use their deaths to completely escape the training programme.

  1. This means that he has to go on the run again.Because “the misconfigured” have no value the deaths are not investigated. This means that he is able to obtain the freedom from constraint that he dreamed of when a child.However he gains this freedom at the cost of guilt for those he has killed.Outside of the training zone resources are in short supply and his survival is impacted due to the absence of food, skills and other resources.

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Beginnings pt. 3 – Beginning at the End

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This beginning seems the opposite of what is expected – the first paragraph of the story begins where the story ends. The rest of the story is then leading up to this point.

For the author the advantages include knowing exactly where the story will end up and so carrying that clarity through the rest of the story.

It is often said that an effective beginning cannot exist without knowledge of what the end will be. In this situation the writer creates both in the same paragraph.

For the reader it can build an intriguing atmosphere which causes them to want to read on (if done well).

However if you deliver too much with the beginning there will be little cause to read on. An insufficiently fascinating end/beginning may cause the story to hit the bin.

This is further to my earlier blog posts on beginnings:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/02/beginnings/

and

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/09/beginnings-pt2/

I have been relaying some of the items I learned from writing courses about the options available for beginnings of stories.

All of these are story beginnings which I have created for different writing courses so they are not examples of perfection.

When creating these beginnings I focused on one character “Dave the Effective Detective” and I got quite fond of him.

However if there is a story for him I do not appear to be the man to bring it forth. So this is all we are likely to know about him.

Beginning at the End

A fly buzzes around the lamp.  The lamp still lit in the middle of the day but no one will switch it off.  On the bed, the long cool body darkens in the heat and the missing space that once held an accountant’s brain is now sprayed upon the wall.

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