How the story began

As my previous posts have mentioned, I was trying to play around with my writing and had used commas, alliteration and hyphens to make my writing more poetical and flowing in its style. In the lead up to Christmas 2015 I had a few days spare and with no writers group meetings scheduled until January I decided to use a few black and white photos from Google as stimuli for short pieces of writing. With these I continued to experiment with the writing style. One piece was based on a photo of a man, dressed in a 1950s suit, walking away from the camera down an American street with snow flakes fluttering down. I wrote about the man going into a bar, described the atmosphere and setting and then threw in the idea that the man was having an affair with one of the waitresses and ended with him leaving the bar having made up his mind about something and fumbling with his gun in his pocket.

A couple of months later I decided to read this out at a meeting. As it was only about 500 words long I wrote another 500 words describing the man going home, arguing with his girlfriend and then shooting her. When I read this complete piece out it garnered quite a reaction, some people liking the use of language, others not so sure. The fact that the writing had caused such a lively discussion rather than the usual platitudes, no one liking to be too critical of others’ writing, I was encouraged to continue both with the style and the story. In fact I continued the story for about another 40,000 words spread over the rest of the year. It turned out the story was begun about a third of the way through so I didn’t go back and fill in the first third until around December 2016 when I was nearing the end of reading out the rest of the story at the writers group meetings.

One aspect that changed over time was the importance of making the plot more evident and driving that plot forward. The early pieces were quite dense in description and with the hyphens etc could become heavy going. Gradually I brought the plot, hastily put together, to the fore and filtered out the unnecessary elaboration. The main character, who was narrating the story, spoke in the hyphenated style and narrated in it too. He also began to adopt particular characteristics, such as making references to Greek mythology and issuing laconic asides. These began to replace the edited out words.

The importance of getting feedback from people was very evident in the story’s development. If I had been writing this all by myself at home I think it would have ended up a very dense, unreadable text. I cannot speak too highly of the input from the group members who kept my attention on the plot when it was so tempting for me to see how many clever hyphenated words I could create and insert in a sentence. Some people wanted me to remove more such words and phrases but I was concerned the writing would end up like my uninspired previous style and the story just another tale about a PI in America in the 1950s. On average I reckon I use hyphens in every four out of five sentences. Sometimes there are two such words in a sentence which I think I can get away with most times. As I have begun editing the story I have removed some of the phrases, especially if the meaning is obscure or not helpful.

Around Christmas 2016 I started on a sequel, in the same style. In fact I now find it very hard to write in any other style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hyphenation

The last two posts explained how my writing began to change, using more commas to elongate sentences and make the writing more ‘poetical’, and the introduction of alliteration. A couple of writers group meetings after I presented my ‘On The Road’ piece I wrote a flash fiction extract  in which I included a hyphenated word and it turned out to revolutionize my writing. Since that piece just about everything I have written has been centered around this use of hyphens and inventing new words by using hyphens.

One particular hyphenated word drew much discussion at the meeting when I presented the writing and encouraged me to continue developing the idea. The fact that it was causing such a discussion, with people arguing fervently for and against the use of such made-up words, made writing much more exciting for me. It certainly was a change from getting the usual platitudes that fill up so many writers’ groups meetings. The word was ‘tyre-roared’, or since the story made more sense to be set in America, ‘tire-roared’. The two characters in the story were a modern day Bonnie and Clyde and I had them ‘tyre-roar’ away from their latest crime. As people said, and I realized too, the use of two words joined with a hyphen drew a picture which otherwise might require a whole sentence to create in the reader’s mind.

I also used ‘cry-laughing’, again the idea being to create in one word a complete image of what the two people were doing. The word also helped to create an idea of a poetical edge to the writing.’Dead-dropped’ was another – this time simply by reversing the word order I was trying to add interest and something unusual to the reading experience. The phrases were beginning to become as important as the plot of the story – maybe a good thing, maybe not.

This writing was read out at the last meeting before Christmas 2015 and during our break I wrote a series of short pieces based around black and white photographs I found on Google. Each saw me experimenting with using longer sentences with commas, alliteration and hyphens. One of these pieces was, in a couple of months time when read out at a meeting, the stimulus for a writing project which is still going on today. More about that in another post.

On The Road

This is the piece I referred to in my last post.

‘In the rear view mirror I saw Marylou touch the envelope in her pocket, her mouth replaying my last words instructing her not to read this letter until she sees my car turn right and disappear from sight.

“Dearest M,

Watching the leaves fall from the trees late yesterday afternoon made me realise I have to move on. What is the point of staying together; any memories, any experiences we build up, will become like the dried up confetti leaves drifting on the wind from the ash and the oak. Only so long as one of us remains in existence will those moments continue to be played out, somewhere, sometime. But when we are both no longer here, those recollections of love, hate, desire, hope, success, failure, expectation, life and death, will cease to be, and cease to matter.

So, I am off, to the next road, the next journey, the next sleep curled up in some motel close to Nowhere. The hours of endless driving, straight and undeviating, hypnotising in their unreachable horizons, teasing with their mirage of a meaningful destination, will sustain my life. Somewhere the car will coast to a halt and deposit me in a single room, with the necessities of life – bed, window, table and chair, a temporary family awaiting in the nearest bar or saloon, the blood ties of rye and malt as thick as any household bonds, the erratic beat of improvised music echoing through the heads of assembled jigging masses, lost from their, and my, responsibilities and relationships and obligations, living the moment which has no past and no future. I will find consolation there, new brothers and sisters and lovers, discussing the non-meaning of life across a cigarette-induced smoke, thoughts spiked by bennies whose cracked containers are scattering across table tops and littering the floor, pages from the Diamond Sutra and Ulysses fluttering back and forth, fingers searching for relevance as self-consciousness surfaces and drowns.

And so how can we settle for house, family and convention when they are but a dream, an illusion, a shadow. To let four walls determine my existence, to constrain my mind like a prison stockade, is no option. You have the children, the centre of your universe, there is no need for me. Every gurgle, every step unaided, every word half- spoken conveys a reason for your being; to me they remind of limitedness and responsibility. The dinners of smiling faces, small talk from small minds, salary and automobile comparisons outdated as the moment they are spoken, the latest kitchen technology purred over like a newborn, encircle me like chains. One drag and release and I hide behind a veil of cloud, positioned on the outside gazing down on this phony entourage of normality.

The office drudgery, dictated by morning alarms and static moments of food consumption, deadlines and contractual obligations, looms like a marriage in shape and form, empty egos always hopeful of moving up, moving on, ambition limited by levels of remuneration, dead men’s shoes a stepping stone to promotion and reputation, profit the new god to serve in a godless society, no time to disagree, object or offer alternative reasoning, correctly shaped handshakes the only bond allowed.

Fear not for me; the road will carry me away, east to west, west to east, Damascus tantalisingly just out of sight day and night, companions hitchhiked like new drugs to fuel and burn my thoughts, lost souls joining the meandering caravan, to be digested and spat out; motels the staging posts of life, the knowing stare of righteous receptionists recognising another pilgrim looking for a religion, her rooms the temporary holding pattern for travellers wishing never to arrive anywhere; a Purgatory of freedom.”‘

 

(Inspired by On The Road, 2012 movie based on 1957 book of same name by Jack Kerouac)

 

Changing writing styles

In 2015 I joined a local writers’ group. It had been several years since I had done any serious writing and I had just begun getting back into the swing of writing something each day when I noticed an advert for the group in a free magazine. For the first year I took along short pieces which I had written over the years and sometimes wrote about one of the suggested topics listed for a meeting. It was a really excellent set of writers, with a range of abilities although fairly close in ages. It became the highlight of my fortnights.

After a while I began to feel my writing was becoming a little staid, especially when I attempted to write longer pieces, say up to 1500 or 2000 words. Grammatically my writing was fine, but the sentences seemed very ordinary to me. I was fine writing 500 words with an unexpected twist at the end but trying to develop ideas and characters further seemed to be beyond me.

The turning point was when I watched the movie ‘On The Road’, only made a few years ago but based on Jack Kerouac’s book from the 1950s. I wanted to write a piece about the movie for the writers’ group and initially I was quite pleased with my attempt. I had put in a lot of the ideas and atmosphere I’d seen in the film and yet it didn’t seem to flow like the movie did. The film was about a group of young people driving backwards and forwards across America looking for a reason to their lives, my writing seemed to lose that sense of movement.

So, I began to play around with the sentences. I removed many full-stops and inserted commas instead in an attempt to increase the sense of flow to the writing. As I did this I realised the writing was becoming more poetical in its form. I had been impressed by one of my fellow writers at the group who used alliteration so effectively in her poems so I began to add similar words in my writing about the movie.

When I presented the piece at the next group meeting I was very pleased with the reaction. And I felt I had written something different, something in a style which was mine, something more than just stitching a stream of words together into conventional sentences. I continued adapting and developing the style in the next few pieces I produced for the meetings, some worked well, others less so. There was one more change to take place, and it occurred in the last piece I wrote before Christmas 2015. It would change my writing life and lead to two novellas being written about a subject and a location I could never have foreseen.

Lucida’s kiss

This book – more of a short story to be honest – was an experiment in uploading a manuscript to Kindle. I’m not the most technically able person and when a friend asked if I could help her put up a collection of short stories I was embarrassed to find I had to say no. So I determined to have another go, having given up on the lengthy instructions a year earlier. This time I found the process very straightforward, maybe Amazon had simplified the instructions or the process, or I was just in a better frame of mind. The only piece of longer writing I had was this story of Lucida which I’d first started writing way back around 2009/2010. A quick edit and up it went. I even found the design of a simple cover easy to achieve. Since then I have spotted various errors in the text and have edited the story further and found out how to simply re-upload the manuscript.

The story of Lucida began as a one-off piece for a blog, intended to answer back another blogger who was getting on my nerves. There were meant to ‘messages’ in the post which he would understand. Anyway, other followers of my blog, actually written under an odd false name, asked me to continue the story. For two weeks I wrote about 400 to 500 words a day and posted. I was delighted to keep the plot going as I had not written anything of any length for many, many years due to my work draining me of all creative thoughts.

A month of two later, after persistent reminders from my small army of followers, I agreed to finish the tale off to a fuller conclusion, having left various questions unanswered. Again I wrote every day for a fortnight. There are still a number of plot lines unanswered and strange, powerful characters hinted at but never explained. Maybe if any interest is shown in the story I will write a sequel, or even try to rewrite the story as a full length novel (I did start the first chapter once, several years ago…).

That’s the background to Lucida’s kiss – if  anyone buys it I hope you think it was worth paying for such a short tale – about 12,000 words. I am now editing two novellas set in the late 1950s/early 1960, both much longer at around 40,000 and 30,000 words.