The Neighbours from Hell

A very long time ago in a town far far away. (Well actually the same town but it didn’t sound as good) I was attending one of those how to get from a dunce to a fiction writer courses. The tutor was one of those types sent to inspire. He suggested that we write a story entitled “The Neighbours from Hell” where the neighbours really were from hell.

The pictures that this generates in my mind were so vivid that I was inspired to write various short stories all of them centred on the same subject.

See my earlier bog posts for more stories on the same theme. https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/13/on-the-theme-of-hell/, https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/18/the-neighbours-from-hell/.

I haven’t written one now for several years but do wonder if I ever grew a big enough pair to set about a book whether it might not be on a similar subject.

This is the next version of the hell stories:

Story

How did I get here? Where am I? I seem to be sat in an interview. A mere five seconds ago, I was walking up my neighbour’s path.

Ranged around me are six people in exquisite suits, finely tailored. This must be a prestigious position! What am I doing here?

The first man is leaning forwards his suit a delicate pinstripe in grey. Sombre, restrained, tasteful which belies the light from his eyes. The light is like insane excitement, almost techno-blue like the neon glow from a car stereo display. A light all gleam but no soul.

It must be the shock of the sudden change of scene, I feel disorientated; I look around bemused. I find that we are sat, cross-legged on a deep green carpet. It is a surreal and dream-like existence; not like any sense of reality, I am used to. Perhaps I am not awake at all?

The journey up that garden path, did I dream that too? It seems that as soon as I touched that door knocker…

Around us, other people lounge engaged with their own affairs. The area appears to be of all things a student bar. But if this is a student bar, these are the best-attired students I have ever seen. I feel strangely out of place in my carpet slippers and gardening trousers.

Now why was I visiting my neighbour? It seems now like another lifetime. Oh the noise, yes, that weird (and very loud) caterwauling emitting from the house. It had made my ears ache the second I had heard it.

So now, I am in a student bar? The furniture seems to be fixed around the wall vaguely like a sofa. But more utilitarian – perhaps an upholstered bench – in a very tasteful green.

The room punctuated by iron scrollwork screens. Each set at random angles to create interesting spaces for people to congregate. The screens have a Verdigris finish and stained wood surrounds. Each screen is a support for well-tended houseplants. A rubbery creeper here, a flowering orchid there. Each supports a shelf – waist-height of well-worn brown-stained wood. Like the surface of an old school desk; a meeting point at which others stand in active discussion.

Another thing strikes me; if this is a bar then why am I the only one holding a drink? I look down at what appears to be a large gin and tonic in a dainty wheel-cut glass – of a crystal so fine it is sure to ring with a tone fine enough for opera.

I look around and feeling my conspicuousness. I gulp the drink in the hope that I will gain some “fibre” from its contents. The bitterness of the draft grips my throat like drinking the entire bark rather than just quinine. I feel as if all fluid is drawn from my mouth.

Of a sudden, the noise hits me. I realise what has made the experience even more surreal – I have been completely deaf. Not a sound have I heard since this “dream” commenced.

The man before me is talking – he is staring at me with his gleaming eyes. I realise that he is talking to me

“Mr Blythe?”

“Oh, I mean, yes”

“I need to test your understanding: for the position you understand?”

“The position, oh, yes, the position”

“Now, as I was saying, you need to understand the database on which you will be working extremely well. If you satisfy the requirements then the rewards are high”

“Rewards, oh, ah, I mean yes, rewards”

“Now a design question; in which we will use the example of some gice”

Gice? I’m sure that he said gice, what are they? Does he mean mice?

“Mr Blythe?”

“Oh yes, sorry”

For some reason I feel that I have to pass this test, I have not felt the urge to ask where I am or what I am doing here. I am faced with a test and it has assumed all importance for me. Although I cannot say, what the test is for or what the penalty would be for failure.

“There are some gice in a carriage,” my interviewer continues. Immediately and without further description.

I know the carriage. It stands in my mind like a piece of art. A horse-drawn carriage angular and gleaming with a strength. As if it was hewn from solid ebony rather than constructed. The seats of deep-buttoned leather in a saddle-soaped burgundy. Each button lovingly buffed. The entire seat stuffed until bursting with horsehair. The wheels high and unadorned each spoke painted a gleaming black to match the body of the carriage. The horse-shafts slightly curving a deep black themselves. The whole, poised, stationary like some fantastic animal about to pounce. This carriage is no ordinary carriage.

The interviewer continues, “The carriage is in a corridor”

In my mind an endless corridor of gleaming white appears. The carriage is stood; the doors mere inches from the walls. The walls shining white like the interior of a brand-new hospital. Lit by some internal light banishing all shadow. The carriage is moving along the corridor at a fantastic speed. Door handles remaining a uniform distance from the wall. Passing intersecting corridors in a blur.

“Now Mr Blythe”

I come back from the vision so suddenly I can almost feel muscles in my head snap with the strain.

The interviewer continued, “How many objects are there?”

It feels like the weight of the rest of my life rests on this one question. I think so carefully that I can almost feel the fluff of lack of use drop from my brain cells as the mental cogs whirr.

I surmise that as he mentioned “gice” as a group that I can count them as one. The sense that a lot depends on my answer lingers. If gice are one then gice plus carriage plus corridor, must equal three mustn’t it? How do I know?

“Three” I respond.

Instantly all six people burst into laughter. My interviewer recovers first. The light in his eyes now somehow reflects deep concern. The light appears to be probing me, looking for the weakness that gave that answer.

“No that’s not right; it’s one.”

Suddenly I get understanding; it is like mentally finding the answer to an exam question. Lights metaphorically go on in my head. I sense an enormous rush of happiness. Akin to that of solving a difficult puzzle that has bothered me for weeks. I feel that I have long needed to know the answer to this question. It is strange, why do I feel such fulfilment? What does it mean?

“Ah, I see”

And I do see, although I can’t explain how, it is like the answer was just placed in my mind – the answer has to be one. And; from this understanding, I am now able to ask the interviewer questions of my own:

“So, how do you decide whether to put gice in a corridor or a carriage?”

The interviewer now looks at me approvingly “It’s not like that; it’s whichever choice fits the best”

“Ah, so it is an entirely pragmatic approach”

I realise that I am now able to watch myself from a distance. It is as if I am floating above myself, whilst also being inside myself at the same time. I am involved in the interview still. However, I am also watching myself in the interview as it continues. I can see that the interviewer approves of me – I get a growing impression that I have this position in the bag. But why? How do I understand the question? How do I understand that these objects together make just one? What is the database? Why must I work on it?

As I watch myself, I see that my delight at the understanding is growing. Finally, I see the six rise as if to leave. Rearranging themselves so that the magnificent suits settle into a smooth uncreased line.

I reach out and catch the arm of the interviewer; I stop him as the other’s leave.

“The one object, that’s the database isn’t it?”

He beams at me quite suddenly; it is like the sun suddenly shines in my world.

“You worked it out” and then he turns toward me.

We sprawl now upon the floor. The atmosphere of the interview has become very relaxed. We prop ourselves against one of the iron screens. I notice for the first time that a strip across the top of each screen is an inlay of stained glass. Approximately six inches in height composed of a flower motif in yellow, orange and green.

Sunlight now beams into the room. The stained glass gleams like an artistic snapshot of springtime. The sunlight lights the spot where we sit and chat in a relaxed style.

This is it – I have the job. I can feel delight and elation. The interviewer rises once more and leaves through a door. The door shuts behind him as if guided by a powerful spring. I approach the door but it has an air about it. Like a staffroom door to a child. I have a definite sense that I cannot go through this door.

I look back into the room, in the far corner nearly hidden by one of the iron screens stands a group of men in dark suits. The confidence of my new success buoying me I feel the need to approach, perhaps to swagger a bit. As I approach they look up, resentment obvious in their eyes. I get the feeling that passing this “test” is not all positive. Something tells me that having obtained the “position” I have somehow deprived these people. Not only that but I get the definite sense that I know these people from somewhere. But David Blythe would definitely have no memory of them. Why is this? Have I been living a double-life somehow, if so, why can’t I remember?

I turn to a man, youthful in appearance with shiny long dark hair. He has a familiarity as of a colleague that I have long worked with. He is glowering and his face darkened as if in shadow.

In excitement, I blurt out “who is that man? The man who interviewed me, what is his name?”

For some reason the unreality of my situation has ceased to affect me; perhaps, the drink? I am not sure. I am acting as if part of this scene, not observing it. It is as if I really belong in this totally alien place, performing unreal tasks.

The man looks up just once and catches my eye, I see the sulky expression; he refuses to speak. He turns away from me. One of his colleagues seems familiar. Unfriendly he indicates a large box of white-painted speakers.

I get the feeling that these are being removed. It is as if the equipment to which they were once attached is now redundant. They have the appearance of speakers that were once attached to a computer. Stained and well used. They could have been in a classroom used as part of a presentation; I get the feeling this is not insignificant.

Each of the speakers seems to develop a label as I view them. It is as if the labels are writing themselves as I watch. Each label has a neatly-lettered name on it.

The nearest set of speakers has a number of names, the first and subsequent lines untidily ruled out. The final lettering is “T. Bordure”. Unlike the answer “one” that brought great happiness, this label brings me uncertainty. I realise that I am guessing that this label is the correct one. I want to be certain. Nonetheless, the name associated with that brief script springs into my mind.

“Tim Bordure?” I enquire

Tim? How did I know Tim? How can I know the name?

It must be written down somewhere? Maybe it is part of my history at work? Work? Yes, that slipped into my head, work. I must have been doing something before to give me the experience for this new position.

I still feel uncertain about that name, have I identified the correct label? I determine to rush back. Back? Back to where? I must check that name; I must look it up on our intranet. Intranet? What Intranet? Where will I look up that name? Why must I look it up?

I must stop this; this can’t be real. I must think straight, I must find out what is real again.

I still feel like I just passed a significant test. I feel for some reason that I have been preparing for this test for a long time. Finally, I have understood, I have passed. But passed what? I can’t remember any preparation.

I am a Forty Five year old civil servant. I can’t remember preparing for anything in a very long time.

I feel certain that the six who just left are important, that having passed the “test” I will soon be joining them. However, I still don’t understand the glass – if it was gin why was I holding it in an interview? Why me alone?

I feel a sense of excitement and anticipation but mostly a sense of fulfilment. A sense of the mission ahead and that this “understanding” I have mysteriously achieved is a part of that.

*             *             *

I feel the itching in my eyes and blink. Oh, thank goodness it really was a dream. I felt sure it had to be it was so surreal. I am going to wake up back in my own life, beside Deirdre in our old rumpled bed. No test; no strange people; no “database”.

*             *             *

I open my eyes; there has been a change. I am not sat in the “student bar”. Neither am I waking from a dream to a small bedroom in Tunbridge Wells.

I am sat on a very hard orange plastic seat. There is a hexagon of seats. I form one side with another man sat a short distance to one side. I am facing other men.

The six of us I notice are myself and the five from the interview. But no sign of “Tim”. We are all silent and unmoving, facing forwards motionless.

My arms are resting quietly along the arms of a… what? I could swear the seat was orange and plastic. But now my arms are resting on a chair of tubular steel and black leather. It strikes me like a chair I have observed through the window of a local hairdressers. Even the chair seems to be unreal.

Into my mind hovers a vision of “Tim” as I last saw him beaming with happiness for me, I feel a great warmth towards him. The vision seems to blot out my mental objections to the situation in which I find myself.

My previous life with Deirdre is but a distant whisper in a melange of more strident voices. Central is this sense that I have a mission. That it is of overriding importance and that I have been preparing for it for a long time. But what is this mission? What am I doing?

In my mind, “Tim” continues to smile; but his face now begins to appear a representation. His smile more like a caricature. A clown rather than a warm human being.

“David Blythe, at last you join us”.

I look down at myself as he speaks into my mind and I see that I am now attired like the others. Gardening trousers, old faded slippers have metamorphosed into a sombre grey flawless suit. A suit that moves so smoothly I swear it was silk. The shoes gleaming enough to blind onlookers. But no onlookers – just the team of six.

In my mind “Tim” speaks again. Looking less and less appealing, the charming smile appears an animal snarl.

“So David, welcome to the purpose of your life. It’s been a long preparation but you have finally achieved the level which I knew you would achieve seven hundred years ago.”

Seven hundred years? What does he mean seven hundred years? No one lives for seven hundred years; surely, he knows that?

“Yes, now we have all six of the database administrators together. Finally the management of earth can come back on stream”

As he announces this confusing message the man to left and right of me grasps my arm in a tight grip. I felt a sense of panic rise. A dark foreknowledge of what is to occur. I see in my mind frightening images, which I do my best to dismiss.

I look to my left hand and I see that the flesh of my fingers is extending as I watch, one part of my mind hysterical. One part, an older part, calm, expectant. The growth is amazingly rapid.

Then pain begins. A sense of stretching, then a burning tearing sensation. As I watch, my finger ends rip and inwardly I scream with agony but outwardly, I am calm, silent. I see that my fingers have found my neighbours – also extended like my own. As they find them the finger, ends fuse and thicken to form a five-pointed cage of flesh and bone.

Strangely, I begin to embrace the pain to draw it into myself like a possession. It is like a smoke-ridden breath to an addict. Deeply pleasurable but also dreadful and frightening.

Now the skin, blood and bone of the two limbs rushes together. The five fingered birdcage completed, but growth still continues; nerves fuse. Sensory pathways between our two minds now become one.

I begin to receive pain, an almost intolerable level of pain. This is not my mind, I am receiving the pain response of my nearest neighbour now fused with me.

His mind is an inner scream of agony and suffering. For some reason I am able to deal with the sensations more rapidly than he. Over time I can see beyond the wall of pain. I begin to receive his thought, his memories, his desires.

Beyond the pain is regret. Time wasted, things not accomplished a knowledge that he has reached the end and never lived up to his obligations.

I realise that as I receive this “broadcast” of despair I am broadcasting back one of my own. Mental images of the time that girl rejected me at school. The sense of failure when I was redundant. No happy thoughts seem to escape me.

I have no time to think. I begin to receive more images. I realise that my other neighbour is now linked to me as well. This man is quite different. I find that the link between us is an unbreakable curse.

Toby has been a murderer all his life. He feels great pleasure at the inflicting of pain on others. I can see the many people he has tortured and abused. The sense of despair in their eyes as they realise that they are about to die. Then the cold blankness of their eyes in death.

I cannot escape him; he is now one with me and I with him. I can see the blows in detail that he meted on those he battered to death. I feel his exaltation at the powerful feelings this raised in him..

I realise that now Toby and Neil are a part of me, I am a part of them. I am now the murderer, his feelings of pleasure are also mine, we are one. One, the answer to that question that got me this “position” one, I reflect bitterly.

I now can feel the mind of each of the six in the ring, each in pain, each filled with regrets. We are now linked as one organism into a flesh and bone ring. Some minds are sadistic, some deluded but no happy mind do I receive.

I realise that as one we have the collective ability of six united. This collective must have great power of thought and of mind. Each memory is mine as much as my own. I can think with their thoughts. Recall their memories and they, can do likewise with mine.

I am filled with the guilt not only for my own misdeeds but also for those of the other five. Between us, we have “sins” of such great gravity and breadth that no single man would have had time or imagination to experience. Now I feel them and remember them as if they all belong to me.

I begin to mull over this past in deep shock. I cease to perceive with my eyes or ears. Living only inside in the darkness of this new world. I am saved from this by a sharp tug on my pain stretched arms.

The white room is moving at some incredible speed. The walls begin to slide down as if a partition rather than a part of the structure. Around the room, there is only darkness.

I have the sensation of sitting in a square of light consisting only of ceiling and floor surrounding by impenetrable black.

As I wait, I see approaching from out of the dark another square very like ours. In fact it appears to be ours, approaching so fast.

Initially a faint dot – almost unperceivable but upon us in moments. Docking with our room at lightning speed. The jolt sends fresh waves of pain through the ring of which I am a member.

The ring is a mirror of ours – I can see myself facing me, and close to me my neighbour Toby but this cannot be. We cannot be sat in two places at once.

As I try to understand, to get control of my mind I see a small child, walking across the darkness. Her feet resting on dark, walking through the dark towards us.

She is a barely four feet high and clad in an almost see through full-length shift. But as she approaches, I see that her pretty form is marred. She has no eyes. The sockets burned out and glaring red.

I want to scream but I seem unable to do so. My mouth will not open. I mentally recoil as she grasps the place where the hands of Toby and I join. At the same time with her, other arm she grasps the ring that has now docked with us.

It is then that I have the realisation that I had not seen the ring approaching with my eyes at all. In fact, the ring was behind me. I have seen the approach through the eyes of the man opposite. It was hard to think like this now; I was not thinking “us” so much as “me”. My ring of six was now me and I was it.

Then a new pain. I realise that fresh flesh and bone is forming between the ring in which I am sitting and the other ring. The child seems to take no part. As I struggle with the new pain, I realise that I cannot sense her. She appears to have no mind; in fact, she appears not to exist.

As I wait, the girl detaches herself and walks away across the darkness until it absorbs her slight form.

The two joined rings allow me to feel the other me. I can feel me as a happy and positive man. I can feel the sensation of the first time Deidre and I went out. I can feel the satisfaction at getting my first job.

The two halves of me are at war. It is not just my war. Each of the men in my ring aggressively responding to this new invasion. Electricity sparks across the interface between us. Twelve minds attempt to destroy one another.

But the war has just begun.

Even as I battle my other, self I see approaching a third ring of six. As this one also docks at lightning speed. I sense all six minds in my ring unite in despair at the new arrival. Mental images from the other ring are of welcoming expectation.

From the darkness, this time emerges a boy child, dressed again in a sheer outfit like a shift or nightgown. Again, he has a face ruined by burning.

He grasps the place where the hands of Neil and I join and with his other arm grasps the ring that has now docked with us.

As we fuse I feel the pain blank out my mind for a while. I feel a sense of our imbalance, the sense of war between the two halves and in the third ring judgement. Like the sensation, I had in the interview of watching myself. The third ring is watching the war between good and bad and judging us.

The bad hates the judgement. The good welcomes it. The sense of the warring parts of self escalates until the junctions between us hum with angry electricity.

As the boy disappears into the darkness, I see “Tim”. I see him flying, unsupported through the darkness towards us. He is gliding supported by nothingness. Arriving with a graceful determination.

As he nears the room enlarges to be become one whole. New walls start to “grow” organically around us. The walls reflect back that penetrating whiteness.

I barely perceive it; wracked as I am with pain and battling my inner self split into three parts.

“Tim” hovers above the ring for mere seconds before fresh flesh springs from the union of three rings. It rushes upwards like vine from a tree. I feel a sensation like blood draining from me and lose all consciousness.

*             *             *

I am awake; I can feel myself angry, despairing, frightened. I am real. I can feel myself in all six parts. I can now feel “Tim” floating above me. Strangled in a flesh and bone cage, which has surrounded him; feeds on him; is embedded with his mind, torso, abdomen.

I can feel his suffering as I can the six. I can feel that he is receiving the war amongst the eighteen and struggling with it. As he struggles the struggle becomes mine. I feel almost a compassion for him but also anger and loathing.

The electricity between us is now an angry growl. The heat from it oppressive. It crackles with the fury of our warring as pain follows hope, and judgement follows pain. Round and round like a desperate man drowning.

Then above us an entity begins to form, drawing on the pain and frustration. A blue light develops above the warring minds – drawing lightning rods of power in a blue arc directly from “Tim”.

The consciousness of the entity is malign drawing strength from the three rings of six. It begins to tower in an ice blue form above us. Sneering in its awareness of its own strength it looks down on those who formed it. It bathes in the suffering of the puny who united for this moment.

Now at last the database is online.

 

 

 

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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 Writing Manifesto

This was something unique to one of the courses. I had never before come across the idea of having a writing manifesto. This is a declaration – public usually of your policy and aims. Presumably any such declaration is going to be a forceful lever motivating you in your desired direction in this case writing).

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/grammarly/write-manifesto_b_5575496.html.

It’s a good idea before writing a manifesto of your own to look at manifestos that others have written for example:

The Futurists Italy 1909

Manifesto of Futurism

  1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
  2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
  3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.
  4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
  5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.
  6. The poet must spend himself with ardor, splendor, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.
  7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.
  8. We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!… Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.
  9. We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.
  10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.
  11. We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.

The New Puritan Manifesto

  1. Primary storytellers, we are dedicated to the narrative form.
  2. We are prose writers and recognise that prose is the dominant form of expression. For this reason we shun poetry and poetic licence in all its forms.
  3. While acknowledging the value of genre fiction, whether classical or modern, we will always move towards new openings, rupturing existing genre expectations.
  4. We believe in textual simplicity and vow to avoid all devices of voice: rhetoric, authorial asides.
  5. In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.
  6. We believe in grammatical purity and avoid any elaborate punctuation.
  7. We recognise that published works are also historical documents. As fragments of our time, all our texts are dated and set in the present day. All products, The Introduction to The New Puritan Generation 15 places, artists and objects named are real.
  8. As faithful representations of the present, our texts will avoid all improbable or unknowable speculation about the past or the future.
  9. We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality.
  10. Nevertheless, our aim is integrity of expression, above and beyond any commitment to form.

A Writer’s Manifesto

I guess my most important aim is to entertain.

First commandment of popular fiction of any kind is (as the lovely Claudia Carroll once said): Thou shalt not bore. Quite right too.

Second aim – to say something.

I know this sounds a little vague but sometimes I read books that don’t actually say anything. They just potter along, telling a nice story, but not really going anywhere. I think books should have something solid rooted at the heart of them – a theme if you like. Sometimes that theme doesn’t make itself fully known until you finish the 1st or 2nd or even the 3rd draft, but it’s often bubbling away under the surface of your words, slowly rising to the surface. For example in the first Amy Green book I wanted to tell readers it’s OK to be yourself. In fact it’s pretty darn cool to be yourself. It’s a theme that runs through all the Amy Green books.

My third aim is to write with passion and with confidence.

I’ve been writing for many years now and I’ve started to understand what both these things really mean and how important they are. Write without passion and you’re doomed. The confidence bit – that can be learned over time. But if you write with both passion and confidence – then you might just have a pretty good book on your hands.

Tips for Producing a Manifesto

  • What are your aims when you write?
  • What symbols reoccur in writing?
  • Prose vs poetry?
  • What do you want to glorify?
  • What do you want to eschew?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What do you declare?

The manifesto is a mechanism for recognising why author’s write.

A manifesto is a declaration of intent – a public declaration of policy and aims. It will help your focus as you need to know why it is that you are writing.

A manifesto states what is important to you in your writing. The best place for your manifesto is on the wall somewhere you can see it to remind you why you are writing. In the first place the manifesto is for you.

At the time the manifesto I came up with was this:

Phil’s Manifesto

I write to enjoy the process

I write to enjoy the output for myself

I write so that other people will read my writing and will get enjoyment from reading it

I want to make a living from writing

I am keen to write novels

I will write of things in psychology that interest me

I will write of people in conflict with themselves or with others

I will write of people who escape “real life”

I will write attacks on the mundane, the boring, the routine

I will write prose rather than poetry

I will glorify freedom and escape

I will write of people with complex thought patterns

I will write of people who are small and boring

I will write about anyone who is protesting

I will eschew tediousness and boredom

I will eschew too much sanity or saneness

I will eschew routine

I will eschew “real life”

I wish to be published – a real book with paper not an e-book or a blog

I believe in rebellion as a method for change

I believe in not sticking to the status quo

However all these years later I think I would make a few changes to this manifesto now. Perhaps if there is sufficient interest I will write a new one.

 

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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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Failure

Throughout my life I have liked writing, but I have never understood writing.

Someone my age once said that she felt that during our time in the school system there had been some great social experiment in which the basic rules of punctuation and grammar were avoided as if we would ingrain them though some process of osmosis.

Certainly I can only remember being told to add a full stop when I needed to breathe and commas were just little breaks in between.

As for concepts like verbs and adjectives I remember a conversation about doing words at one stage but little else. So in many ways I am ill-prepared for a blog, a book or anything involving the written word.

So it is that when reading that this offends people http://theeditorsblog.net/2016/12/19/please-learn-the-rules/ I feel like a failure.

I considered that a person writing a blog should try to understand something about writing. The only method that I can conceive of is to read accounts written by other people who have tried it. To this end subscribing to blogs written by people who have been writing for some time seemed an obvious avenue.

It is surprising therefore how often these successful bloggers start to write about failure.

For example:

https://writetodone.com/10-ways-to-stop-feeling-like-a-failure-as-a-writer/

It seems that failure is a pain that can afflict those who genuinely know nothing and those who really should be feeling great about their success.

I read a great deal about counselling now. (I need to do this because I am a volunteer counsellor). Failure is something that will feature in this reading.

Attitudes to failure can be shaped by a person’s upbringing.  But no counselling literature I have encountered maintains that anyone is a failure. Hence when working with someone who perceives themselves to be a failure the first technique is encouragement.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) Austrian psychiatrist

I studied Adlerian Counselling and I think that some quotes from Alfred Adler may be relevant here:

“No experience is in itself a cause of success or failure. … We are not determined by our experiences but are self-determined by the meaning that we give to them”.

“No one need remain inescapably bound by the limitations of their brains all their life”

“We will always find in all human beings this dominant theme running through their lives – the struggle to rise from an inferior position to a superior position, from defeat to victory”

Failure 2
Photo by Alex Smith from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/naked-baby-sitting-813616/

It seems however that fear of failure is not constant throughout a person’s life. For example children learn to walk and in the process fall over many times. However this is not seen as a barrier to learning to walk.

Similarly on the way to becoming adept at speech children make mistakes and this causes them no pain. I remember that my Nephew said ominge for a while on the way to saying orange.

There is no doubt many paths from a child that embraces failure to an adult that has to get it right first time.

Failure 3

High standards (either from parents or schools or some combination) may have had a role to play.

“Over-parenting” may teach a child that they are incapable.

Failure 4

The simple act of labelling a person as a failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; worse still if the label is derogatory.

For this reason I dislike the term “loser”. A label such as “loser” is easy to apply but is going to discourage the person it is applied to.

A person is not a failure. They can fail to perform a specific task but that does not make them intrinsically a failure.

In fact each failure is a chance to learn and to apply the learning when you try again.

Failure 5
Photo by Amaury Salas on Unsplash

Many enlightened businesses now embrace failure as a fact of life.

Some regard failure as a pathway to success; if you haven’t succeeded yet then you haven’t failed enough.

Fear of failure can lead to undesirable side effects such as perfectionism and procrastination.

Fear of failure can lead to avoidant behaviour. Whilst avoiding the problem alleviates the fear it also removes any chance at having the experience. This ultimately means that you have no chance to succeed.

Failure 6
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The only way to develop as a writer is to fail. I have no doubt that in some years I will look back on the items I blogged today and wonder at how inelegant they were.
But unless I keep on trying I will never get the chance to get to a better place with my writing.
The lessons of a child are the ones we need to recapture; it’s ok to fall over when you’re trying to walk. Later you can get up and have another try.

 

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https://www.adler.edu/page/about/history/about-alfred-adler
https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/06/23/why-we-all-have-fear-of-failure/
http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/overcome_fear_of_failure_be_aware_and_take_action
https://amotherfarfromhome.com/how-to-erase-your-childs-fear-of-messing-up/
http://thebrainflux.com/how-fear-of-failure-affects-learning/
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/sep/05/parenting-tomorrow-why-should-let-children-fail
http://opencommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1074&context=srhonors_theses
https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/loser-how-labels-stick-to-your-child-and-affect-behavior/
https://willyac.wordpress.com/everyday-articles/dont-fear-failure/
https://www.arrkgroup.com/thought-leadership/fail-fast-fail-often-explained/
https://webstandardssherpa.com/reviews/breaking-the-perfectionism-procrastination-infinite-loop/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/overcoming-self-sabotage/201005/avoidance-anxiety-self-sabotage-how-running-away-can-bite-you

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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