I took part in #flashfriday for the first time this week – it was kind of an accident, as I happened to post a version of Ghosts on Friday and I thought I might as well add the hashtag to my tweet. It was fab! I got some really cool comments on my story and read some excellent stories by other people. I’d recommend you have a look…
Portfolios, curse them
I’ve spent most of the last few days sorting out my portfolios for three courses: Editing Skills, Writing the Short Story, and Techniques. Need to get them done and out of the way so I can concentrate on the poetry course, which starts tomorrow… I’ve done the first two, now tackling Techniques… don’t suppose I’ll get round to writing a proper blog post for a couple more days. So I thought people might be interested in the reflective piece I wrote about Ghosts.
Ghosts – reflective piece
Ghosts was based on a nightmare I had many years ago. The initial version was short and stark, written almost exactly as I remember the dream. I found I’d instinctively pre-edited to remove the ending, where the mother runs to the living room and sees the dead bodies of her children. It was much more powerful to end when the mother realises that her children are ghosts.
To turn it into a story, I needed to add some background. Finding a reason for the man to attack the woman was easy – he’s her ex-husband who was sent to prison for abusing her, and now he wants revenge. This is only implied in the story, it felt important to keep the immediacy of the action and not clutter it up with backstory.
I also had to make some sense of the change in viewpoint – in my dream the narrator outside the door was the same as the mother inside, but as I wrote it down the narrator outside became the killer. However, I didn’t like the resulting single shift in viewpoint.
All the creative writing textbooks (implicitly or explicitly) seem to recommend the use of one viewpoint, particularly for short stories…
Creative Writing workbook – ed Linda Anderson
Linda Anderson – ‘First-person narrative requires the creation of a compelling, single voice telling its own story in a way that produces a strong sense of realism.’
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes – Jack M Bickham
‘…if you have found more than one viewpoint, get it out of there! Rewrite, if necessary, to make it all a single viewpoint. […] without good handling of viewpoint, your readers may forget whose story it is…’
I decided to write it from varying viewpoints, just to see if I could make it work. What can I say, tell me I shouldn’t do something and I’ll go and do it.
The next draft was written in sections from the viewpoints of killer, mother, child, killer, mother, killer, mother. I went back to the textbooks for advice:
The Creative Writing Coursebook – ed Julia Bell and Paul Magrs
Elleke Boehmer – ‘So one of the first things that a writer needs to confront in taking on the ‘I’ is that this voice is as much of a projection, a character out there as well as in here, as any other. That it is as much of a construct as the third person.’
I revised to ensure I had constructed distinct and realistic voices for each character. The killer is clearly mad, out of touch with reality but driven by a desire for revenge. The mother is scared but determined not to let him defeat her. The child is confused and doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation. In theory, if I got it right the reader should be able to follow the story and be helped rather than hindered by the shifts in viewpoint.
I tried the final draft out on several people, they didn’t seem to have any trouble following it. Some of them displayed milder versions of the emotions I’d felt when I first had the nightmare, which must mean I’ve conveyed the story effectively. Personally, I’ve loved writing this piece because it enabled me to play around with something that’s been in my head for a while, and to experiment with doing something writers ‘shouldn’t do’. And I’m very pleased with the end result.