The stories you ignore

I’m sure I’m not the only writer who can say this, but I come across a lot of story ideas which I will turn over in my head for a while before deciding to ignore them and happily leave them behind. I’m not just talking about those helpful story ideas which friends and family so generously offer (provided you split any income you might make out of it with them –I’m happy to give them that $2.50, so I never debate that point).

No, I’m talking about those tangents of thought sparked by a newspaper story, an overheard conversation on the bus (yes, everybody, I am listening) or some random act of strangeness you see when you are out and about. Those moments set off the tendrils from the ether which weave their way into your subconscious and leave behind a story which whispers at you, complete and ready to be written.

There are many reasons why I will ignore a story, maybe it is too far out of line with what I normally want to write, it is not original enough, not logical enough, not scientifically plausible enough or I just don’t have enough interest in it to do the research that would be required. Sometimes I just don’t think I’m the right person to write that story.

I’m a big believer in the collective unconscious, and I think anyone who has written fiction regularly will have at least one experience of a story writing itself, revealing the twists and turns only as your fingers put the words to the page. It is as if you are channelling the story, not making it up.  

This collective unconscious is the place to which (I think) ignored stories return, ready for someone else to pick-up. Unlike my dearly loved but unwritten tales, which I keep turning over in my head, the ignored stories are released, never to come back and haunt me again.

Sometimes I wonder what it says about a person, the stories they choose not to write, but as this is a highly private thing I guess we’ll never know. Besides, with so many stories that I do want to write still unwritten, I guess I should just forget about these ones I have turned my back on.

Writers write

Sometimes writing is like pulling teeth. You clear out your requisite two or three hours of you day, you make sure the room is warm or cool enough, the tea supply plentiful enough and all your housework is complete so it won’t nag at the back of your mind…

And then you stare blankly at the screen for the next two hours. You are unable to squeeze out a word, more importantly, the next word. The word that will lead you to the next sentence which starts the next paragraph that takes you effortlessly into your next 1,000 words. And no matter how many false starts you make, that word eludes you for your entire writing break.

Don’t panic!

Maybe all those false starts needed to happen. And if there were none, I can promise you the thinking around what should happen next DID need to happen. It also sends a message to your subconscious mind that you need an answer, so could it please go off and work on it while you do other things.

This time is never wasted, but it does prove one point which I learned a long time ago, but still do not heed; you need to give yourself more chances to sit and not write.

You need to make writing a priority. A couple of hours every Sunday morning is not going to cut it if you want to do more than short stories. You need to say no to the needy partner, to the social invites, the dirty floor, the Master Chef inspired dinner for friends, and most importantly, to the TV. Explain what you are doing and you might just find they support you. Well the TV won’t support you, but its complete indifference should indicate where you are in the TV’s priority list (the floor will always support you, dirty or otherwise).

And right there you have the difference between those who write, and those who want to write. Writers write.

The art of the implied

I’m sorry, but I will be on my soap box for this post.

There is a trend, which I’m sure has been going on for much longer than I’ve been walking the earth, where our TV shows and films are getting a lot more graphic. Watch any prime time cop-style TV show at the moment and you’ll see more graphic scenes of human mutilation than ever made it into any R-rated film when I was a kid!

What I want to know is why do we need to see this gore? Why should we be made to be desensitised to violence? I think the only groups of people who should not be made highly emotional by the site of such violence are medical and police professionals, who need to function with a clear head in the face of these traumas, and psychopaths. The rest of us should get upset!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in denial about these things happening, and that they will always be a magnet for stories, we have and always will be morbidly drawn to these topics (and indeed I have written quite a few horror stories myself, so I know the fascination). But there is a difference between seeing the gore in detail and using the art of the implied. A spray of red across a wall, the bloodied knife dropped to the ground, or even the expression of pain moments after we hear a gunshot can all get across the fact that a dastardly event has taken place. Seeing it should not improve the story!

I don’t want to see the graphic violence. I want to be able to sit with my friends or family and watch an action, drama or thriller without having to feel horribly uncomfortable about what is happening on screen. I don’t want to have to tell a friend when they can look again at the screen. I just want to enjoy the show.

Probably a lot of you are thinking that I can just make the choice to not watch the show, but this is my point. I enjoy horror, thrillers, dramas and action stories and have done for years, but it is now getting to the point where I can’t watch any of those without risking losing my lunch. I’m not getting a choice any more. Game of Thrones was not released in an M-rated version, if it had been I would have got it. So as a fan of the books, if I want to watch the show I have to sit through horses getting their heads sliced off in front of me, people getting daggers stuck in their eyes, and dismembered bodies littering the ground.

I have an imagination, it is amazing how well my brain can fill in the missing pieces when all the TV show gives me is a groan –and that’s the way I like it. My imagination will provide me with as sanitised or graphic a version of what is going on as what it knows I can handle. The same cannot be said of the people who produce these TV shows.

It all just leaves me wondering why do people want to see this violence in all its gory detail?

Why you are not the every-man

I feel I need to explain something a bit further that I said last week. I mentioned that unless you had been through an extraordinary experience you were too normal to be of interest to the average reader. Then I went on to say you are also NOT the every-man (or woman). These ideas seem to be in opposition to each other, so let me explain…

The every-man is completely normal; there is nothing special that makes him stand out from the crowd. You, on the other hand, look at yourself as someone special, at least I hope you do! I’m the only me I’ve got, so that makes me special to me. As a result of this exalted position in your life, you have a greater sympathy for your motivations and are somewhat blinded to your faults. The every-man abounds with faults, that’s why we like them.

Let me give you an example:
About a decade ago I went on a drive with a group of friends. One of them had gone out on a blind date the night before with a girl called Rose and it had gone very well. He was terribly shy, and didn’t volunteer any information about the night to us, but when he was out of the room, before we took off, his flatmate filled us all in.

During that drive I loudly observed a beautiful ROSE in someone’s garden, the smell of someone’s perfume had a distinct hint of ROSE and I mentioned that I had to look a long time to find a jumper in exactly in this shade of ROSE. Every mention of ROSE brought a glowing red burst to this poor boy’s cheeks. Ten years ago I thought I was being hilariously funny, not intending any harm. Now I realise I was being a bitch, causing awful embarrassment.

If I had written about that incident back then, it would have been from the point of view of how funny I was being, because my sympathies were squarely with me. A writer, however, can (with enough skill) take the wider view and let the reader in on the impact of the lead character’s actions on others, even if you are in deep first person, without your every-man character necessarily seeing their fault for themselves.

If you are writing with yourself in mind you cannot do justice to this view, in fact you probably won’t even be able to see it. Instead you are more likely to explain why your character was not being a bitch, stressing that they never meant to be one, it was just a misunderstanding.

So as much as you may be an every-man, you cannot be your every-man. You could be the motivation for someone else’s, but until you learn to completely divorce yourself from the sympathy for your own motivation, and look more at the reality of your actions, you cannot be the one to render yourself sincerely in a story.