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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Book Planning Pt. 2

I am quite taken with plans on the theme of hell and this is one of those.

Sadly the plot questions and other aspects highlighted in the last post have been lost such that I just have the beginnings of a plan.

I still find myself quite fascinated by this idea so perhaps at one stage I’ll evolve it out and see what happens with it.

In the meantime I hope that you enjoy it.

This follows on from the first entry on book planning https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/08/book-planning/

It turns out that I have further book plans which were prepared (presumably with the aim of expanding them into books) and which got no further.

Start of the Plot

James is an ordinary auditor. He likes to be well turned out; takes his time in Marks and Spencer; likes suits for the fuller figured man, even though he might make a waif look over-fed. James likes to spend time in Clarks examining shoes. These are always size 12 (even though he might be considered to be an 11), wide fitting, and lacking any high shine. James selects his ties from John Lewis and always opts for something muted in a diamond pattern or occasionally a pale stripe.

James is diligent in his work, each day carefully noting the time that he has taken and striving the very next day to better his performance. He ticks off each stage in the audit that he has completed and reports his progress weekly to a demotivated boss in a tired and dusty office.

He departs each evening on the 06.35pm bus and sits an exact 3 seats from the rear on the right hand side. In 25 years no one has yet felt the need to sit near to him. He scans the headlines of the day’s Guardian newspaper in silence before alighting 20 minutes’ walk from his uPVC front door.

James in fact is perennially dull. From his mousey-brown hair, the washed out ash-coloured eyes to the greying pallor of his skin there is nothing remarkable about him.

He arrives home each night at an unremarkable 7.07 pm. He takes out the tin of whiskers, today the tuna; tomorrow the chicken. He strokes the cat a regulation 5 times before turning to the freezer for something in the Tesco-finest range.

James turns to the BBC and watches the weather before turning in each evening at 9.30pm without variance. He reads a chapter of his book on audit and governance – the latest from the institute before extinguishing the light.

People like James; he is invisible. He listens carefully to what they have to say, nods appreciatively in the moments where it is expected and then passes on. Whilst they like James, they do not remember him. James in fact has no friends, no companions and no one has seen the inside of his house since he took up residence 25 years ago.

People who James audits find themselves confessing all the aspects of their working lives they should conceal from auditors. They tell him where the frauds are committed, who isn’t monitoring their budgets, where the money is wasted. In fact James is very effective at his job.

There is no sign at all in fact that James is a demon.

Of course James is completely unaware of this. He is unaware that 25 years ago he emerged into the world fully-formed, already moulded into the perfect auditor. He received a house at an impossible price from a distracted estate agent. He walked into a job at the local bank without interview, job description or Curriculum Vitae. James is as ignorant as his down beaten manager.

James in fact is not a demon that one would wish to have conduct audits, travel on the bus with one, or shop in one’s store for tins of Whiskas.

If his true self were to be revealed it is unlikely that the lady at number 22 would talk to James about the weather, smile in a distracted way or return inside (forgetting completely that she has ever spoken to anyone).

It is likely in fact that the lady at number 22 would be screaming in rank hysteria. Thankfully for her briefly as the experience would be almost instantaneously fatal.

James in fact is a career demon, member of the high council, noted for his abilities in the infliction of pain and the manipulation of terror.

In any other circumstance James would be wandering the corridors of horror. He would monitor the efforts of minor demons to make the suffering of the damned more intolerable. He would administer random acts of cruelty just to keep his hand in.

It is in fact fortunate that when walking out of hell 25 years previously James managed to excise all memories of his former existence. Fortunate for everyone else that is.

Sadly, today James will not be catching the 7.24 and purchasing the Guardian from a kiosk on his way to work. The lady in Accounts, who had revealed that the budget for Christmas entertainment was completely unmonitored, need not fear the arrival of a report from James pointing out her error.

It was easy, too easy in fact, Moloch had no need of sleep and wandering the flame lashed world he had plenty of distractions. There was always new tortures to devise, new accounts to be kept, level of suffering expressed, depth of despair that sort of thing. Moloch of course rarely sullied his hands with those details now. He had been in the business so many millennia that he had only to think a request and leagues of minor demons would hurry to do his bidding. Encouraged no doubt by memories of what happened when they were less willing.

Moloch in fact was bored; it had been 50 centuries at least since he had really enjoyed what he was doing. This morning for instance he had a man repeatedly impaled with red hot pokers. There was the screaming of course, the pointless pleading, the whimpering, but what was it all for? He began to wonder what was the meaning of it all, what was the purpose in his existence?

If tomorrow he simply had to cause the suffering of another few million lost souls, why was he even here? Surely there were demons equally qualified, perhaps better qualified to do the same thing. Moloch sighed.

Moloch had thought often in the last few hundred years of his lack of mortality, often he had wished that it was possible to die. It wasn’t the constant pain; Satan knows that he had grown used to that, many centuries ago. No amount of extra torture could really make things any worse for him. No, Moloch had developed that most self-defeating of needs, unique so far in the demon race. The need for a purpose in his existence; Moloch wanted to know why he was here; he wanted it all to mean something.

The need had been growing in him. Growing like the cancers that he sometimes grew on the damned for the amusement of it – what little amusement could be had nowadays.

It had started as a small seed of discontent; a feeling that perhaps he was not as good at the job as previously he had believed himself to be. Each day brought many thousands to him, several really adept at the task. Encouraged by pain it was often moments before the mild started to behave like psychopaths with a penchant for mutilation.

Moloch was not immune. He had gained the job himself by demonstrating the inefficacy of his predecessor.  His predecessor was now welded to the walls using his own flesh.

In fact the discontent brought him closer each day towards an ever more intolerable eternity. As the years progressed, it was apparent to Moloch that he could not bring himself to care.

He began to experiment with doing less, with being absent more. At intervals he took to daydreaming and not about new methods to terrorise the inmates.

The vast libraries of hell were accessible to him. He began to research items that were not in his job description and that he couldn’t have accounted for if anyone could be bothered to check

Moloch saw to it that self-monitoring regimes were instituted. Failure to perform was rewarded with disproportionate acts of cruelty. These regimes ran completely without his interference. In fact, he realised that if the methods were available he could absent himself entirely for lengthy periods and no one would regard it as strange.

During his researches he began to read of the human act of suicide. It was something he had a passing familiarity with already. Several of the inmates had arrived via that route. Amongst their pleas for mercy would bemoan the act that brought them there, sometimes in great detail.

Eventually Moloch began to seek out those who had chosen this way of ending their life. He encouraged them in some quite inventive ways (even though he said so himself) to relate what had happened, when and why.

Nine centuries passed in which Moloch could be said to have taken an interest in anything but his work. He occasionally looked in to ensure that the full meaning of hell was being explained to those in his care, but these visits grew less and less common.

Eventually Moloch came across Michael; Michael had been a suicide, a soul with the misfortune to come into contact with Moloch. When Moloch explained to him the nature of his researches Michael was very willing to explain his whole life story in a very detailed and helpful manner. He would do this often in high screams or deep despairing sobs. These were the communications that Moloch was used to and they suited him.

Michael it appeared had been an auditor, a man with no friends and a deeply obsessive personality. Moloch liked that. Indeed as he discovered the nature of Michael’s former life he determined that he liked it a great deal. Michael it appeared was empowered to make everyone’s life miserable. He had no friends and was disregarded by the world. Michael lived alone with a small carnivore. This carnivore liked to torture even smaller mammals despite Michael’s best efforts to persuade it otherwise. Moloch liked that too.

Michael had become disenchanted with an auditor’s life. He failed to see any point in his existence, in which he was basically invisible, in which no one remembered to send him a Christmas card. No one could remember his name.

For the first time in his existence Moloch began to draw comparisons with his own experience. The years spent engaged in pointless activity, the lack of any options, the inability to escape. All of these rang true for him, Moloch was so enraptured with the tale he almost forgot to drop Michael into a vat of boiling oil.

What distracted him the most though were the things he could not understand, despite endless repetition. Moloch had been forced to skin him – purely for the sake of form of course. Michael had maintained that just prior to the end he had not cared if he lived or died. Moloch did not understand this. One morning Michael had slipped down to the platform. Instead of catching the 5.38 to Kings Cross had instead jumped in front of the express train destined for Edinburgh.

Moloch had heard many million such tales and dismissed them as the normal hubbub of souls desperate for surcease. But this time, intrigued, he began to wonder if it could be true. How could anything vested with life not care about that life? Look what happened when you didn’t care – Moloch came to visit – often.

Moloch finally had what for him was a defining epiphany. If a human could arrive in hell merely as a result of not caring whether he existed – maybe the gateway to hell could be opened in exactly that way. Of the millions of souls he had encountered not one had not cared. In fact by the time he had spent a short time with them they cared a great deal. Normally they cared about the agony they were in, how wretched they felt, about the inability to escape. In fact he could not remember one soul that simply did not care.

Then there was the act, the symbolic severing of the soul from that which they no longer cared about. For Michael it had been straightforward, any number of lethal devices lurking about on earth. Moloch reasoned that if a train hadn’t been available a large truck or even a suitably high building would no doubt suffice. People of Earth really had nothing to complain about in terms of the methods available for symbolically calling it a day.

Of course calling it a day simply caused them to change plane of existence, today an unregarded auditor tomorrow a soul in torment. Simple translocation, not much in that, the challenge was to cause it to happen in the opposite direction.

Moloch sat a long time meditating over that, deliberating and calculating, as the centuries passed he finally reasoned that he would never be able to abandon all caring, no matter how purposeless the existing had become. However there was nothing to prevent him using the experiences of Michael to his advantage.

As for the thing that would be the act, the symbolic act to end his existence in this realm? Moloch had come to that as well. To attempt to depart the gates of Hell was the daemonic version of suicide. The beings that people that pathway would render him into innumerable fragments. They would populate the passageways with his suffering. No demon had ever ventured that way and not one would ever consider it.

Moloch was ready; a simple matter to collect Michael from where he had hung him on a meat hook for safe keeping. Using a technique learned in the long years of study in the library he merged the two of them into one. Critically for Moloch, one in which the memories of the two beings remained.

Travelling to the gates would not be straightforward. The governance of Hell was absolute. No demon could wander far from his designated paths, to stray into other sectors of hell, to attract attention, this was unwise. Moloch was aided in that now he had the appearance of a soul in torment. It would be straightforward to wander if he was prepared for the many innovative tortures that they would have ready for such a soul.

Many centuries elapsed, many tortures were meted out, but Moloch had been through so many it was hard not to yawn. It intervals it became hard to show an interest. At these intervals he let Michael surface and rode along on his more expressive approach to suffering.

Finally Moloch could see the dark passages leading down to the gates and the shadowy figures that peopled them. This was it – the ‘Suicide’ he had planned. Finally he delved into the depths of Michael’s mind and pulled to the foremost the experiences of his last day. The utter hopelessness of it, the pain, the need to escape, the worthlessness the conviction that existence was not worthwhile. At the same time he wandered straight towards the largest and most brutal of the guardians of the gates.

The guardian turned, grasped him, and tore him apart in a shattering agony. Impressive in that despite the many agonies he had suffered this still got his attention. A being emerged from the fragments; striding unseen, unregarded from the steaming maw of hell.

It had worked! James now emerged into the damp and misty autumnal dawn and caught the 07.24 for his new job at Michael’s old bank. Sadly for Moloch the translocation was not complete. The shattered fragments still held nearly all his memories (and most of those of Michael). He was alive in a new plane of existence but unaware of what he had done. For a short time, this was what saved him. That lack of awareness, that empty-headedness meant that the demons that walk the earth observing, manipulating, destroying could not determine that there was anything remarkable about him. Occasionally something remarkable would happen. James could cause incidents to happen (such as house available for a month’s salary) which should not be possible. But these incidents barely rose above the normal criminal activity of the average day.

In fact James briefly had the life which he had hoped for, mundane, unimportant, with sufficient malice to make it just interesting.

That was until Wednesday…

As you can see there is just the start of the plot so far. If any of these plot ideas cause people to think they might want to read more let me know and I might put some more work into them.

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Book Planning

Planning a novel should follow the monomyth.

The character is boring unless they are also wrestling with conflict. The conflict should have a purpose – the character returning to life transformed by it. To maintain interest conflict should start early in the book.

When working out your book plan – planning around 20 chapters is a good average to start with. The plan should include the basic plot which you then use to write the book from.

In previous blog posts we have considered the seven basic plots https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/23/seven-basic-plots/ and the framework of the novel https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/06/the-framework-of-a-novel/. So we have covered the monomyth and the seven basic plots already.

Choose which of the seven basic plots you would like to plan and work out your plot.

“Work out your plot” sounds a bit too easy. So it proves – these are some questions I asked about my attempt from the writing course:

Plot Questions

Start with the premise of someone who will not/cannot adapt to society.

In what way can they not adapt?

(Work, rules, joy, happiness, communication, memory, interest, importance, holiday)

Perhaps they have a sense of isolation –a self-constructed cell that has no walls but which permits no escape.

What kind of a world should it be? Not too different to this one.

It sounds like an illness – what kind of obscure illness should it be?

What are the sanctions to this person? Where/who do the sanctions come from?

Why do they have to hide?

What if people find out about them? (Will they be concerned? Will they betray them?)

What do they do if they still don’t adapt?

What kind of lack of adaptation would cause complete shunning of them by the rest of society?

Where can you run when the whole world is owned? What if the effort to own is too much? Where can you go with that? What if the competition is too much?

As you can see working out the plot causes many questions. I only had time to list some on the course but the longer that you spend the more questions you will have. I also think that having lots of questions will fill better fill out the plot and lead to more interesting characters.

Start of the Plot

Given the above preparation I arrived at this as the start of a plot:

At the age of nine comes selection. Thomas had always regarded himself as different and shuddered now in the line.

He saw the days before as carefree. Days in which games and laughter as much filled the playrooms as the careful instruction to comply, to serve, to address the ills that an unregulated and unconforming world could only bring.

Thomas has been raised like all children (since a time that no one alive would now remember) in a crèche away from interference and distraction. Loved and managed by Nana who’s warm smoothness had sheltered them when babies. At night time she ushered them to sleep as they grew.

Nana was the kindest machine Thomas had so far encountered and he loved her as he loved no one living.

Thomas had never felt the same about the others, those his own age with which he shared a nursery, sleeping, eating, playing. To Thomas they were all different, something he always kept closely to himself. Thomas never wanted to fit, he didn’t want to be selected, but when he told Nana this she had dismissed it. Everyone had to be conditioned – why wasn’t he more like his crèche mates.

He had learned to speak no more of it.

He had wondered if he was special and in darker moments if his parents had been criminals – the few for whom conditioning would not take.

The future – after nine – had sounded so dead, without play, without Nana…

The other children were so happy that they would be allowed 21 days a year to go to the sun, to sit on beaches with other conditioned people. They were happy to fit a normal life, performing their function.

Thomas couldn’t imagine any future could be worse – all of life given to a function, no more games, no more Nana.

With the selection he would be one of many allocated to a discipline for which he was best suited. His brain activity analysed, his aptitudes scanned and evaluated, it would not take long – Nana said it wouldn’t hurt.

So far Thomas had to agree, it was boring, staring at the back of someone’s head. He was wishing in that he would not get taken inside, they’d forget somehow, that he wouldn’t have to serve.

The selection booth seemed quiet, apart from a muted background hum. Thomas didn’t feel happiness, didn’t feel peace. This chamber felt like a threat to him. He felt fear trembling in his legs and thudding with rapid repetition in his chest.

The door behind him closed, there now seemed no way back – only forwards.

He slid to the ground and began to cry, would he have to work? Would he never be able to run around Nana screaming with happiness?

As he sat the helmet levitated from the inner room – the place where he was to arrive – but he had resisted. It passed unseen overhead as he huddled inside the door and descended onto his bowed head. With a puff of anaesthetic the electrodes engaged.

Thomas was conscious of the analysis but felt no need to attempt to dislodge the device. His body now lifted and set in a chair. Electrodes strapped over him reading wishes, desires, aptitudes.

Somewhere behind it all was Thomas. He wanted to avoid allocation, to be without work, to run outside again, free.

The machine reading the purpose for which he was best suited. It engaged the first stage of programming – coercing the mind into a path which was most suitable.

It hadn’t taken long. Thomas emerged now. A technician – training downloaded, programming embedded. He was ready for a contented life in service, keen to embark on a lengthy apprenticeship to fulfil his true purpose.

Machines are not perfect. The design of the programming helmet is to smooth neural pathways. It is to direct the growth of learning and to remove old memories. In fact to remove anything that would hinder the future happiness of those who came within its attention.

Outwardly Thomas was now a keen young technician destined as he was for 10 years of training, acclimatization and conditioning. Life much easier than ever before: regular breaks, true holidays and downtime. He was programmed to meet those which similar machines had designated appropriate. With some of whom Thomas could produce future generations of adapted technicians.

The machine though had missed something. One of the thinking traits was out of the ordinary. Thomas’ great faith that he did not fit had produced a self-fulfilling circuit…

Thomas had the neural seeds of discontent sowed within him.

Outwardly the smiling face of just another happy employee but in fact gradually that seed would grow, and each night emerge in dreaming.

The Thomas not in technician’s uniform. The Thomas not working at all, running along a rainswept shore. The Thomas unlimited by 21 days of annual leave; the designated holiday-destinations in approved-hotels. The hotels where Thomas would meet with those who reaffirmed the importance of a technician’s life.

How vital it was that he put in those 39 hours a week monitoring, maintaining, fabricating.

Hidden to those around him, Thomas’ growing awareness that this life was not for him.

 

 

This is just the intro to the process which might give you a few pointers but as you can see there is quite a bit more to it.

 

 

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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

Photo by Dom J from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/notebook-writing-pencil-start-45718/

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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Five Minute Writing

My blog article https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/18/free-writing/ on Free Writing shows how the following story was written.

On one of my courses I was set 5 minutes to write as much of a story as I was able.

As I mentioned in the above article some people do this as an independent art form. And it is surprising when put to it just how much you can accomplish in just 5 minutes.

I haven’t put this through any kind of editing process so here it is warts and all. I hope it proves interesting to someone reading.

“One of the man animals has escaped Siltha”

“What? How old?”

“This one is 18 – prak458”

“Mother save me – a dangerous age; set the mechdogs on his scent and restrain him before any damage is done”

“I think that it maybe too late”

“Who?”

“One of the volunteers, from the last group, we hadn’t time to psychologically scan them all, this was one of the ones we hadn’t got to yet”

“How old?”

“She is 21”

“Underage, unlicensed, the penalties are more severe…”

“It is a pity, this man was the result of selective breeding, we had hoped …”

“How did he get out?”

“Well the suspicion is that she released him”

“That must never be divulged. Is she from good family?”

“Her mother is a major benefactor to the programme”

“Justice must be seen to be done. In normal circumstances I would specify gassing, but I think in this case – lethal injection, recorded for public viewing. It is regrettable, but an example is needed and protracted death is indicated. Ensure that a screening is specified for the monastery.”

Prak was certain that no man had ever been outside of the monastery in his lifetime. Of course there were dreamers, the old men who spoke of half-forgotten days when it was possible to run out in the fields. There were few men now and none left their cells unescorted. The monastery was a prison, but Prak was now slowly realising, also a refuge. There was already a shrill whistle from unknown flying machines which scanned the monastery from overhead. There was little time.

Why had she done it? He was in the programme, almost certainly would have been licensed in another 7 years, as long as he proved docile.

She had come to his cell at evening prayers. He shouldn’t have, it was only afterwards that he remembered he should first have checked the birth records. He should have been licensed. He should have been medically screened. He knew all of these facts. His actions were unforgivable. He had only a vague idea of the death awaiting him, but he did not imagine it would be swift or gentle.

And then when they were finished she had turned on him, screamed at him, struck him, raised the alarm. The change in her was as instantaneous as it was unfathomable.

Until he had started to panic, looking for an exit, then she had sat, calmly and watched . He wasn’t certain but he thought that he had seen a small glint in her expression. It was as if the pleasure came not from experiencing him. The real pleasure was in watching his fear, watching him run.

No man was ever free at visitor time. This fact had helped him as he fled the bright corridors and out into the darkness. It was impossible for a man to escape – so complacency let him run, and run, and run yet further. Till the gasps came in quick succession and the pain in his chest finally overcame the panic.

The alarms were quieted now; he had found a hiding place, deep in the rubbish holders. The smell was diabolical, but there were no alternatives, no cover, no escape routes. The site around the monastery kept clear, to allow the aerial spybots and the mechdogs hunt more effectively. The lights of a settlement far down the valley side, too far to run. And when he got there; how would he survive – one man animal – alone.

The induction – when they were still whelps – the mechdogs films. They had shown there was no way out. The mechdogs were efficient, empty, ruthless – no one could escape.

He remembered the film of the last man that escaped. That film so old now, long before the monastery. That low servo-whine as the mechdogs set on the man’s trail. He almost imagined he could hear that whine now…

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Do It

What You Waiting For.

I was reflecting today that older people keep trying to tell younger people things are a certain way and younger people don’t listen.

This seems to have been an issue for many generations.

I remember that there was a saying when I was a child “he has to learn the hard way”.

In which the hard way was to insist on learning by experience when someone had already told you what the outcome would be.

When you have twenty years or so left to exist it comes to mind that learning the hard way is too time-consuming and painful.

It is clear that spending a lot of life relearning lessons that others already know, which they have learned already and are trying to show you is a waste.

It took until my fifth decade before I began to get a picture of what other people were trying to tell me. In many respects when it is too late.

One of these is nicely documented in the song Time by Pink Floyd “No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”.

I found that I waited and then kept on waiting for someone to tell me when was the proper time to begin.

For example since I can remember I have wanted to write a book, there seems no reason that makes sense.

Perhaps once it was an escape from a 9-5 job or something that seemed better than dealing with members of the public or whatever was right for the time.

But as boring jobs ended, and life improved the ambition remained.

It is now plain that I gave myself excuses: no punctuation or grammar background; gradual loss of imagination; daunted by the task and so on.

But mainly I was waiting, waiting for a time to start.

If there was ever a way of passing a message to someone four decades younger. Then it would be: do not wait, do what you want to do – now.

There may not be a tomorrow for you to try to do it in…