Wednesday, 30 January 2013

How To End A Story

I’ve been having some trouble ending The Stories (as usual).  In the old days, I knew how a story ended before I started writing it, and though it might wind all over the place on its way, it generally ended up where it was supposed to.  But in recent years I’ve had less clear ideas of what I want, or I edit a story so much that the old ending doesn’t make sense any more, or I start a tale that’s more nebulous idea than planned structure and I end up shilly-shallying around The Conclusion with only vague feelings and nothing concrete to put in place.

The Usual Recourse is to corner The Slayer and make him listen to The Ideas.

But he’s a busy guy, so sometimes I need another friendly ear to babble at.  And The Housemate has previously expressed vexation that I don’t share The Ideas with him.

So recently I DID turn to him for advice.  Just how should one end a story?

The Housemate’s advice was not hugely helpful.

And there seemed to be a pattern.

I think he’s mocking me.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Before I Could Write – Part 8

Welcome back to my continuing series of posts chronicling the abysmal attempts I used to make at writing stories when I was young.

When I was 13 (and a half)…

Self Portrait

...I wrote the longest story I had ever written at that time.  It had chapters and everything.  Unfortunately, the teacher lost it.  Even more unfortunately, I had no draft copy because the teacher had told me off for writing in rough before copying it into neat, saying this was a waste of time and that I should just make notes.  I found this jarring and stupid but I did as I was told.  So now all I have left of The First ‘Long’ Story I Ever Wrote are some notes.  And yes, I am going to make you read them.

We were given the premise (it had to be about a cruise ship disaster) and the structure, with chapter titles, places the cruise visits and diagrams of the boat, stuff like that.  All the boring bits.  We just had to make up our own characters and plot developments and stuff to fit into it.  I didn’t enjoy writing like this, it was too constraining.  And obviously what I came up with was arse, so its loss isn’t exactly a tragedy, but it was a lot of wasted effort that apparently I’m still bitter about.

And so here is all that remains of The Cruise Ship Disaster Story:

Planning of 1st chapter. The competition


Setting = in a psychiatrist’s lounge.  Person on couch telling story.

In a tall grey building hardly very picturesque, a man lay on a couch, a woman beside him scribbling something down in a note book.  At length she looked up.

“So Mister Corshiny, how’d it all start?”  She smiled at him.

“Well, my problems began, though I did not know it at the time, when a large brown envelope fell from my mate’s bag…

“‘Hey Mike, what’s this?  A love letter?’ I joked.

“‘No man, it’s a competition all right?  A design an outfit competition,’ he replied.

“‘In that case you had better let me do it, you don’t stand a chance.’ and with that I snatched it from him.

“For weeks I puzzled over it, then at last I had it.  I modelled the outfit on my wife Anita, I call her Nit (pronounced Neat), perfected it, then sent it off.”

“And did you win Mr Corshiny?” the lady asked propping her glasses up as they slid down her nose.

“Oh yes I won, First Prize, the top prize or should I say the booby prize.  It was a cruise from Southampton to Canaries Bermuda then finally on to New York.  I could take one other with me, so it had to be Mike, after all it was him who got me into the competition in the first place.”


Off On The Voyage

“So, Mister Corshiny, carry on,” said the psychiatrist.

“Well I said goodbye to my wife Nit, she was pregnant with our first son.  Then…”

Mike and Mr. Corshiny go on cruise with large suitcases.
Boat is called S.S. Joyfulness.
Birds eye view of cabin:

Mike Timothy Polygon = Dark bristly short hair, brown, eyes blue, jokes around, fun loving.
David Corshiny = Brown hair, brown eyes, loving but gives Mike ideas
Anita Corshiny = Pregnant with son, long blonde hair, blue eyes, loves dancing and fashion.
Two girls Nicole and Suzanne = Nicole, long dark brown hair, wears ‘Wild at heart’ on her clothes, Suzanne short bobbed light brown hair, shy.
Crew member, Charlotte = Black curly hair, smiles a lot.
Sister-in-law = Natasha, younger than Anita, red hair, freckles, eye colour is green.
On voyage Charlotte shows them around and is really friendly.

Chapter three.  Ashore.

“Then what happened Mr. Corshiny?” the psychiatrist asked, pulling her skirt over her knees.

“Well we arrived in Gran Canaria on the 19th of June, Nit’s birthday.  Sigh…”

David gets Mike to go with him and flirt with Nicole and Suzanne.  Suzanne runs off.
Go to cheap café - all they can afford.  Charlotte takes them to posh restaurant.
David and Charlotte go off.
Go to shop for postcards:
Mike buys one for his mum with a daffodil on it.
David buys three – one for his mum (a carrot), one for Anita (a man wearing nothing but a hat) and one for his unborn son (a stripy one).
They are late back but Charlotte holds the boat for them.
The evening’s entertainment is a party.  After flirting with Nicole, David gets a slap and staggers back to his cabin with Mike.
After staring at the trap door a long time, they steal the keys off Charlotte and David tells Mike to go down into the engine room.
They both go…

Chapter Four.  The explosion.

“You’ve stopped Mr. Corshiny,” the psychiatrist said uncrossing her legs.

“This is the worst part,” said David Coshiny his voice trembling.

“Well you’ve got all the time in the world,” answered the psychiatrist looking at her watch.

“Mike and I climbed down into the main engine room.  The steps were cold and they seemed to go on forever in the darkness.  Mike padded down the steps in front of me, until he disappeared in the darkness.  I hurried on to meet him, only to find him leaning over the safety rail.

“‘What’s up?’ I asked him.  ‘Scared to go on?’

“‘Yes David, I am, in fact there is no way I’m going on,’ Mike said turning to me.

“I just laughed in his face and carried on down.

“Mike turned as if to stop me, but I shrugged him off with a grin and a wave.  If only I had stopped, if only, if only…”

There was a silence and the psychiatrist crossed her legs again.  David Corshiny took the hint however much the next bit hurt him.

“I soon found out why he was refusing to go any further.

“About sixteen steps further down, the steps started getting wet which was strange, but I carried on.

“Anita always said I had a bad sense of smell, I denied it of course, but she’s right you know, very right.

“About eight more steps went past with steps still damp when on the next step I felt water soak into my shoes.  At least, I thought it was water.  I shouted up to Mike but he was nowhere to be seen or heard.  So I carried on but when the liquid got to my waist I stopped.  I thought I could smell something, so I lit a match.

“‘Nooooooooooo,’ shouted or screamed Mike I don’t know which as he jumped all 35 steps down on top of me.  The match flew in the air. 

“‘Are you crazy?’ I screamed at Mike, ‘what’s your problem?’

“‘My problem, mine?  You’re the one who’s about to blow us all to kingdom come!’ he screamed back at me.  I stared at him as if he was mad, then slowly it dawned on me.  I lowered myself and gently put my finger in the liquid muck around us.  I tasted it, it wasn’t water at all, it was a fuel like muck.

“I stood up and grinned at Mike.  ‘Sorry mate, hey you saved my life, I owe ya one!’

“We carried on down don’t ask me why, when I slipped, I skidded down four steps, jumped and crashed into the wall.  Then I fell, down and down, if Mike hadn’t grabbed me by my collar I’d have died for sure.

“‘Now you owe me two,’ Mike said grinning.  The grin didn’t last long though because all this time the match which was still alight had gone up to the ceiling and down again.  Mike and I looked at each other as it hit the fuel.  Sigh.  I don’t know how to say this next bit.”

“Well what kind of um thing was it?” the psychiatrist asked dropping the pen she had been chewing.  “Try and tell me.”

“Well, all right… BANG Mike and I flew through the air, our arms windmilling.  I hit the wall and landed on a shelf but Mike went splash into the gunk.  When I recovered my breath, I looked around.  All the machines and engines were whirring away.  Mike surfaced next to a huge piston, it wasn’t working that’s why all the fuel had leaked everywhere.

‘Hey Dave,’ he shouted up to me.  ‘If I can unjam this piston the gunk will flow back in but turn everything off first.’

I didn’t know how, but I could see a large handle next to me.  I pulled it and the whirring slowed down to a stop.  Mike started fiddling around under the piston.  I got irritated and shouted what was he doing.

‘Stop complaining, you owe me about five already!’ he shouted back.

I said that was impossible so he counted everything up for me.

‘I saved your life twice, you owe me for nearly killing me and I’m saving you now aren’t I?’

That’s only four I know, and I told him so in no uncertain terms.

‘Yeah, but it will be five, because once I’ve finished here, I’m going to have to get you down,’ he shouted back.

That got me really angry and I told Mike I didn’t need any help from him.  I jumped down, catching the lever as I went.  The machines started and I heard a horrible scream, from my best friend.

By this time all the fuel had drained away so I wondered what the liquid was on the floor.  I thought maybe a little had leaked out again.  But as I tasted it, I knew I’d killed Mike, the taste was blood.


David Corshiny was on a role, if that’s what you could call it.  The psychiatrist had handed him two boxes of tissues already.

“The explosion had weakened the side of the boat and a hole had appeared.  Water poured in washing away Mike’s mangled body and my limp one.

The water crashed around and cascaded down the walls smashing them.  I was flung around and in the next instance I found myself in the gymnasium.  I climbed up into the 2nd class restaurant then up the stairs.

I realised a fire had broken out on deck and everyone was running around in a blind panic.

I saw Charlotte and she ran towards me, just as a part of the funnel (which was on fire) fell.  It hit her and she was trapped.

I pulled it off and I knew I had to get her to a first aid room or she would die.  Only problem was it was on the other side of the ship.

I started to carry her but I ended up dragging her to the first aid room.

As I was helping Charlotte there was a second explosion and water gushed in.

I had to make a split second choice.  I chose the wrong one.  I left her.


Grin and bear it!

“Mr Corshiny?  Mr Corshiny are you all right? asked the psychiatrist looking at her patient who had gone very pale.

“No, I’m not all right, I’ve never been worse, in fact…  Oh who cares,” said David Corshiny carrying on.

“We ran towards the lifeboats, that is myself and the crew…  There was a struggle but I got in a lifeboat for ten.

Also in the lifeboat, were Nicole, Suzanne, a girl in a wheelchair called Beth, she had brown hair in bunches, a short yellow dress and a luminous yellow puffer jacket, her sister Jill who had blonde hair with a purple ribbon, a long purple dress and a long purple coat with purple shoes.
Twins Sarah and Jamie, young men called Mark, Jon-Daniel and James.  Also a baby girl called Clair.
Sarah – Has long brown hair, a pink T-shirt, and blue jeans.
Jamie – Has quite short blond hair, is very short or vertically challenged & has a red football kit on.
Mark – Has short brown hair, and a dark green-grey suit on.
Jon-Daniel – Is very tall, has brown hair, some shorts, T-shirt and trainers on.  With orange socks.
James – Has curly black hair, is African, has a T-shirt, shorts and an old pair of trainers on.
Clair – Has only a Terry’s nappy on, with a name tag.
As the time in the lifeboat goes on the others’ annoying habits start to annoy David.
Annoying habits – Nicole and Suzanne whisper until he looks at them, then they stop and they ignore him for the whole time.
Beth, who started off quite posh starts talking common.
Jill is obsessed with talking about herself or television.
Sarah refuses to eat so they can save food, but keeps on drinking the water supply.
Jamie is seasick
Mark plays with a penknife.
Jon-Daniel complains about everything.
James clicks his knuckles and does tricks with pencils.
All three muck around.
And Clair is a young baby which is hard to cope with.
To keep the morale up they start a game about what they want to be when they are older.
An argument starts and the boat tips over.
David grabs Clair and climbs back in, after a lot of struggling Nicole, Beth (but not the wheelchair), Sarah, Jamie, Mark and James are back in.

Chapter Seven The Rescue.

The ship is the S.S. Holy which was settling sail at the time as the S.S. Joyfulness.
Everyone is excited or happy except David.
The boat is looking for them.  When they’re all on board they meet some of the crew and Jon-Daniel and Suzanne.
There are interviews but David ignores them while everyone else laps it up except for the mourners.
He gets a phone call from his wife who has had their son but David leaves his wife.

Chapter Eight.

David Corshiny and the psychiatrist.

The only thing I really remember about the story is how it ended.  It was the first scene repeated (the ‘a large brown envelope fell from my mate’s bag’ bit), except this time the envelope slipped down into the bag and the competition was forgotten about, so Mike never got killed and David never left his wife and had a breakdown.  So the entire story never happened.  

It was what could have happened if one tiny thing had happened differently.  Parallel dimensions.  Yes, this was the year when I was writing Red Dwarf over and over.

Jeez.  Maybe it’s a blessing that that story was lost.  So, here is a poem I wrote the month before that nonsense above, which I actually quite like (!).

First Shopping

Mummy said we were going hopping,
I like hopping, hop, hop, hop,
But your legs get tired and you sit down,
But the floor is muddy.
Mummy said not to sit on this floor.
I might get trodden on.
That would hurt.
Like hopping.
Mummy said it’s shopping not hopping.
I hope it’s not like hopping, coz you get tired.
Mummy said no it isn’t like hopping.
But it is.
We walk round for hours and days and years.
I get tired.  Like I do when I hop.
Mummy said don’t hop in here.
I have to look at boring clothes.
Except ones with ducks on.
I like ducks, they stand in puddles.
I hop in puddles, hop, hop, hop,
Like the ducks on the clothes.
Then we go in a little room.
There’s a mirror and a seat and a hook.
I have a mirror, a seat and a hook in my room.
I have toys in my room, and a bed.
I like sleeping in my bed.
Mummy says not to sleep in here.
Mummy said to put the clothes on, with the little duck buttons.
I can’t do buttons.  It’s tiring like hopping.
I wear the clothes, put them on and take them off.  Why?
Mummies change all the time, but I like just one piece of clothing.
Except for hopping I wear wellies for hopping, hop, hop, hop,
But I’m not allowed to hop in here.
Mummy takes me out of the room.
And gives the clothes to a man.
I wonder if he likes hopping.
When I grow up, I’ll hop all the time.
When I’m about a hundred like Mummy.
Mummy gives the man some paper.
I like paper, you can draw on it.
Mummy said don’t draw on that paper it’s mummy paper.
Or money paper?
I don’t like drawing as much as hopping.
Hop, Hop, Hop, in puddles.
Like ducks, on the clothes.
The man gives me the clothes back.
Mummy takes me out of there.
Good, now I can hop, hop, hop,
I like hopping.
Till my legs get tired.
And I sit down.
But the floor is muddy…

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Works Of Charlotte Brontë

2017 Edit: I have added a little more depth since first writing this post in 2013, having since finished reading/rereading the books discussed.

A while back, as you may recall, I was lamenting…

…the lack of a favourite author.  Since then I have discovered that I own an awful lot of books I don’t even like and that even when I like, or love, a book, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like other work by the same author.

For example, Charlotte Brontë.

Jane Eyre is one of The Favourite Books…

But when I tried to read…


…part of The Brain dribbled out of The Ears just looking at it.  The Illustration on The Cover is from a picture called ‘A Sheffield Landscape (Yorkshire)’.  It is grey and brown and of some factory chimneys.  WHY WOULD I WANT TO READ THIS BOOK?

Okay, let’s let the inside of the book sell it instead.  On the very first page of The Novel, the second paragraph, Brontë says this:

‘If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken.  Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry, and reverie?  Do you expect passion, and stimulus, and melodrama?  Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard.  Something real, cool and solid lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when all who have work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves thereto.  It is not positively affirmed that you shall not have a taste of the exciting, perhaps towards the middle and close of the meal, but it is resolved that the first dish set upon the table shall be one that a Catholic – ay, even an Anglo-Catholic – might eat on Good Friday in Passion Week: it shall be cold lentils and vinegar without oil; it shall be unleavened bread with bitter herbs, and no roast lamb.’

After reading three or four chapters, I agreed with her.  There is no stimulus.  It took me weeks to read a few pages as more and more of The Brain dribbled away.

Maybe it gets better later.  Shirley isn’t even in it yet.  But if you can’t grab your reader in three chapters, it doesn’t really matter what happens after that.  Brontë goes out of her way to describe every single character in the first few chapters, all irrelevant information since the reader doesn't know who she's talking about yet and all this information falls by the wayside of the mind.  Get to the PLOT already.

I'm disappointed I didn't enjoy the book.  It's certainly trying to be a feminist story, even more overtly than Jane Eyre.  Both the female leads, Caroline and Shirley, lament the way a woman is treated in the world, one wanting to work and the other to own her own land, but there's something fundamental missing in these characters, and neither of them achieve their potential, both eventually settling down and vanquishing any power they may have had.  In Jane Eyre, Jane is a passionate, fiery character on the inside, repressed and broken on the outside, creating an all round compelling character.  In Shirley, Caroline is all browbeaten and crushed and never manages to stand up for herself, while Shirley is confident and fiery and never struggles or manages to evoke any sympathy towards her character.

In one scene, reminiscent of something similar in Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, the two women risk their lives to warn the men of danger but arrive too late to be of any use, making what could have been a dramatic and exciting and feminist moment totally redundant and irritating.  At least in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite's actions, while coming too late to be of use and ultimately actually making the situation more difficult for the Pimpernel, make Percy aware of his wife's bravery and love.  Whereas in Shirley, no one even knows what Caroline and Shirley almost did, so it's totally useless and lame.  Not to mention that it's set over the backdrop of the industrial revolution, which apparently doesn't interest me in the slightest, if how boring I found both this and Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South is anything to go by.

The plot itself, when it bothers stirring, is almost compelling.  But never quite gets there.  Caroline and Robert fall in love, but Robert needs to marry for money and Caroline is poor, so he decides to treat her like poop in order to stop himself falling in love with her any further.  Caroline, despite being young and naive, understands what he is doing and doesn't fight for him, but being poor is unable to escape and get a better life.  The pain this causes both characters is certainly stirring.

But then enters Shirley.  Shirley has money.  Robert wants to marry Shirley.  Caroline pretty much nearly dies of a broken heart and no one notices.  Turns out Shirley isn't interested in marrying Robert and the reason she acts attracted to him is because she just happens to be in love with his identical brother.  Ri-ight.  Sure.  The fact that there isn't really a love triangle at all is a real boring twist.  Caroline has been moping over nothing and Shirley has barely any interesting traits at all, while Robert continues being a massive jerk until you're busting at the seems for some retribution.

Really, really near the end of the book, Robert's brother Louis turns up and he and Shirley have a painfully irritating will they won't they relationship where they both fancy each other but don't just get on with it.  The idea that the audience could give the slightest interest about a character introduced so near the end is silly.  This is not how plot structure works!

Meanwhile, Robert attempts to apologise to Caroline for treating her like dirt and not noticing she nearly died, and she just rolls over, brushes it all aside.  What?  No.  Make him grovel!  But in the end, Caroline just accepts Robert even though he has been horribly cruel to her, while Shirley gives up her independence to some idiot, after making such a fuss about not wanting to do that earlier.

It's just not a good enough story.

And then there’s Villette…

Now, I haven’t read it in ten years, so The Memory of it might be a tiny bit off, and I was a teenager at the time and a total bum-brain, but I’m pretty sure it ends like this…

Thanks for THAT, Charlotte.

‘Lucy must not marry Dr. John; he is far too youthful, handsome, bright-spirited, and sweet-tempered; he is a ‘curled darling’ of Nature and of Fortune, and must draw a prize in life’s lottery.  His wife must be young, rich, pretty; he must be made very happy indeed.  If Lucy marries anybody, it must be the Professor—a man in whom there is much to forgive, much to ‘put up with.’  But I am not leniently disposed towards Miss [Snowe]; from the beginning I never meant to appoint her lines in pleasant places.’
~ from a letter written by Charlotte Brontë while she was still working on Villette, as put in her biography by Elizabeth Gaskell.
The whole thing feels like a parallel version of Jane Eyre.  The same situations, character-types and relationships pop up in all of Brontë's books, like you're hopping from Earth-1 to Earth-2 and so on.  Except in Villette, it's like a version of Jane Eyre where the characters are all repulsive and you can't really root for anyone and nothing dramatic happens.

And finally, The Professor…

This was Brontë’s first novel, except that nobody wanted to publish it.  Later she reworked it into Villette but after her death her publishers and husband decided it was different enough to publish after all.

Firstly, if you've read Villette, then The Professor is not different enough.  And if you haven't, well, it's clearly not good enough to publish.  Brontë's male narrator fails hopelessly to convince.  The story is turgid and has almost no drive at all.  At least in her three published-while-she-was-alive novels there are characters you feel for.  The Professor is just bland and interminable.

Although there is a certain Brontë archetype in there…

If you go from The Professor to Jane Eyre to Shirley to Villette, there's a very distinct downward trajectory of misery.  I know that Brontë had a brief, tragic life, in which her dreams weren't realised, her heart was broken and her beloved siblings all died young, and it's clearly apparent in her writing too, as each story becomes a little more hopeless and her characters suffer a little more, until finally there's no such thing as a happy ending at all, no matter how much the protagonist might suffer and strive to get there.

So in conclusion, I still don't have a favourite author.