Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Answer Thing part 1

So I started writing a short story as a break from writing the novel and now the short story is looking similar to the novel in plot, character and theme, only a little sassier in style and with more dialogue. What is more, I am a little stuck with the narrative on both of them. What is the answer? The short story itself is entitled The Answer Thing. It is about a woman, about my age and class - she may as well be me, and she needs answers. But she is not looking for answers. The moral of the story is that she should, in fact, be looking for answers. There are only two characters and they are both women - like in my novel, except there are other characters in that one too. The second character is a mystery, opening up lots of questions for the protagonist and, hence, possible answers. It's a bit existentialist. So what has writing (present continuous) two similar bits of prose taught me about my interests and about myself?

  • Themes. I like these. They are my favourite part of forming prose. They are also possibly the least useful aspect on which to focus. I once had a conversation with Iain Banks at a book signing and he suggested that a writer should start with the characters and from that the plot and themes will follow. He seemed to think that the themes take care of themselves. But what if the themes are what drive you as a writer?

  • My themes seem to be about:
    - the diversity of belief systems - coping mechanisms which people adopt and adapt in order to survive as individual agents.
    - preconceptions - that people are quick to judge and pigeonhole others but sometimes they ignore the ones who are a bother to them the most.
    - fear of the unknown and working out how to deal with it. I suppose that's the same as the first theme above.
    - the soullessness and directionless of the post baby boom generation. I'll go into this more in another blog post.
    • Characters. I like these too. I wonder if my characters are just different streams of my personality, exaggerated and expanded upon. At the moment, they don't tend to be based on any particular people in my life, at least not consciously.My characters seem to be about:
    - women
    - of the age where they are expected to be bearing children, getting married and pursuing a successful career. This has become a bit of a slapstick, chic-lit cliche, post Bridget Jones. I'm not interested in writing chic-lit. And I don't see it as particularly funny. This post-modernish plight of my characters is more influenced by Douglas Coupland's GenerationX, alongside my own observations (I studied Sociology, you know!) Anyhow, things becomes cliches for a reason. There is definitely an issue with this age group in the 21st century -  underachieving, overeducated and underpaid and being loveless in an age where lovers are sought like brands.We see them as products on the production lines of online dating sites and endless binge-drinking nights out. But they rarely live up to our standards. We keep buying into them, before discarding them and looking for a more robust product.
    - supernatural entities. In both my stories there are characters who are not entirely human. In the short story the second character is ambiguous and a bit mystical. In my novel there are actual spirits with whom my psychic protagonist communicates. Are they really there though? They are ambiguous too. Ambiguity is good for the reader; it gives them the opportunity to make their own mind up - to seek answers. But why am I interested in the possibility of the supernatural? Well, isn't everyone?

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