Honouring the work: IWSG

InsecureWritersSupportGroup2

I’m sure most people have heard of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG), but this is the first time I’ve taken part. The purpose, as stated in the IWSG website, is: to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

As writers it’s only natural that our personality influences our work. I’m not talking about the voice every writer hones, I’m talking about the little quirks that, at times, can be a detriment to the story.

Take my obsession with happy endings. I know that bad things happen, that people suffer loss and deal with pain but, in the end, I still find myself hoping for the happily ever after. I know it’s unrealistic, but I can’t help being a sucker for a good survival story and often, I use fiction as a way to escape everyday life. The only problem is, this translates to my work.

In my latest WIP, a character has just been mortally wounded and I can’t bring myself to write his final scene. This, in part, is because I love my characters and I’ll feel the loss. But it’s also that, deep down, I want it to end differently. Not me the writer, but me the hopeless romantic who just wants everyone to be happy. I know it sounds crazy, and I’m exaggerating to make a point, but it’s no less true. And the fact remains, if I change it, I’m not doing justice to the work, or my responsibilities as a storyteller.

I deal with some tricky issues in my latest novel. This time it’s human trafficking and it put me through the ringer. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling a little sensitive about the subject. It’s bound to have an affect.

I’ll write the scene eventually. I’ve done it before. In one of my earlier stories, a character died in the first few chapters. I accepted this. It made sense to the story, though it made me sad. Later, when I learned more about the character through the eyes of his family and friends, I wanted to go back and rewrite it – to bring him back (if only we could do that in real life). I didn’t. I resisted. But the fact remains, my natural compulsions can often mess with my head.

I’m a strong believer in allowing my characters to tell the story. But they can’t do that if I interfere all the time! Like I said. I’ll write the scene eventually. It’s just something I fear. This particular short-coming is one I’m consciously be aware of. There will be others that affect the story and I don’t even realise it’s happening.

How about you? How do you handle death scenes? What kind of things affect the way you write and interfere with the process itself? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for stopping by.

Mel

Let’s try a little experiment

In my last post I gave tips on writing comedy, gathered from resources I’d found and felt worthy of sharing. Armed with these tools I began to experiment. I’ve hit a few snags. Mainly my reluctance to plan, because comedy, it seems, is a genre which requires careful planning.

The next problem relates to finding a suitable sounding board, and then I thought of you –  my audience. What better way to gauge what works and what doesn’t than seeking the advice of my WordPress family.

So, I would welcome advice and feedback on what I’ve got so far. I must warn you, I’ve fallen into some of the usual traps, but I’m confident I can turn it around with your help!

The Sequel

“It’s me. Again. If you’re trying to make me paranoid it’s working, because now I’m convinced you’re ignoring me. I’m tired of talking to this machine, Mikey, the Schwarzenegger impersonation can only go so far. Right now I want to hasta la vista your ass, and the fact you’re forcing me to make such a terrible joke just pisses me off. I’m not kidding. You might be the funniest thing since sliced bread right now, but I’m far from amused. Pick up the god damn phone and CALL ME BACK.”

The machine stuttered a little before it succumbed to the silence. It was probably age, either that or a deep-seated loathing for people who hung up in the midst of a temper tantrum.

“That didn’t even make sense,” I muttered to the machine, my new-found friend and fielder to the world, or at least my agent. “What’s so funny about sliced bread?”

“Exactly,” I said to the ensuing silence.

Unhealthy perhaps, but then I was living like a poor man’s Howard Hughes. I’d spent days, or maybe it was weeks, barricaded in my office. My only goal – to write a sentence that would evoke more than an uncomfortable grimace. I was going to be funny if it killed me. At this rate it probably would.

My desk was brimming with plastic cups, each loaded with the balled up remnants of my latest manuscript – a writer’s version of beer pong, only there was no alcohol and I definitely had no balls.

I’d gained my fame under false pretences. I was a one hit wonder. A fake. The critically acclaimed comedy was a sham of epic proportions. A happy accident. Basically, I was buggered.

Now I was expected to write the sequel, and I could feel the literary sharks circling, hungry for my blood. I tried to picture the headline, but that only made me want to bang my head against the desk because nothing came to mind. Still, it would be funny, as long as somebody else wrote it.

It would detail all the ways I’d failed; the comedy fell short, the gags were old, laughs cheap. And the saddest thing of all – it was all true. My current attempt was so forced it bordered on excruciatingly and it was about as funny as a punch to the face.

The keyboard had become my enemy, my pen an instrument of failure. My eyes were burning and my stomach was rumbling from a lack of nutrition coupled with the humiliation of succumbing to coulrophobia. Only clowns weren’t the real enemy. That was all on me.

This time I did bang my head against the desk, and when I was through, I kept my head down. Perhaps sleep would help, I thought desperately. Who could be funny when they were suffering from sleep deprivation? I didn’t really want to answer that and so I succumbed to the land of dreams.

By the time the machine kicked in again, I was floating on a wave of happy.

“I’m coming over, and if you don’t have anything ready for me I’ll kick you from there to Timbuktu…”

“Who even says that anymore?” I wondered, and what made her think she could follow through on the threat. She was five foot nothing with the grace of a dancer, though granted she had a serpents tongue… “Holy shit,” I muttered reaching for the phone. Why didn’t I think of it before?

****

Thanks in advance for your comments.

Mel

Contributions

As I was updating my own blog this evening, it suddenly occurred to me that Laura and I haven’t yet posted our contributions. We’ve added a page for each section, for ease of navigation, but didn’t actually create a post to introduce the story.

You can catch up on the three instalments so far below, or press on the following links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

As we mentioned in the main page, there isn’t a title for this joint project yet, but here is the first instalment.

April Johnson was losing her mind, or that’s what they told her. The shadowing figure she saw night and day was a figment of her imagination. Nobody was out to get her. It was understandable really, that she should feel so vulnerable. Given all that had happened. She should take her medicine like a good girl, see her therapist twice a week and rest.

So why could she hear him downstairs. Why was she poised ready to strike, with an antique hairbrush in one hand, and the door handle in the other. It wasn’t in her head. She could feel every movement from the floor below her, knew every step the shadowy figure took. He was tired of waiting to take action, and truth be told, so was she.

If she hadn’t been so afraid, so full of heart-wrenching anticipation, she would have laughed in the faces of those who doubted her. It was an odd thought, brought on by her growing hysteria.

A bead of sweat trickled from her brow. She resisted the urge to wipe it away, and instead raised the brush higher. He was on the stairs now. She knew every creak; every floorboard in the small house. If she opened the door she knew she would see it; the shadow of him, snaking its way towards her.

April let out a frantic, breathless giggle before firmly clamping her hands over her mouth. The wooden handle bit into her tooth, snapping her back to reality. She had just been thinking about how satisfying it would be to prove them right, to be murdered by the man that was apparently imaginary. But she had just finished thinking that she was too scared to be hysterical. What was wrong with her?

She sucked her front tooth, trying to dispel the pain and regain her composure. The footsteps had stopped. The man had heard her. She wiped the sweat from her face automatically, no longer frozen by anticipation.

In horror movies, April scorned the stupid female leads for calling out “Hello?” and “Who is it?” in the wild hope that the psycho murderer would call back with a cheery greeting, or that it would all be a silly misunderstanding. But no one knows the genre of their own story. Besides, the shadow was clearly the shape of a man.

Her head thudded and she pressed the brush free hand to it. She shouldn’t be concerned about a mere headache when her death was literally around the corner.

No, her death was retreating, inching down the stairs with very deliberate care. When she blinked, she thought she saw him, alarmed by the possibility that she was there, that she was ready for him. Her would-be murderer was evidently very cowardly. She felt almost disappointed. Was she not worth a courageous killer? Would any old scum from the streets do?

Not that there was a conspiracy or that someone had chosen the method of her demise. That sounded too paranoid. She wouldn’t rule anything out, but honestly, she wasn’t actually crazy.

Her front door opened. She wouldn’t have heard it if it weren’t for the tinkle of the latch against the wood. She stepped out of her room, hoping to catch the stupid, shadowy man in the act.

Instead she came face to face with her real tormentor. The only person she truly had to fear; her aunt.

As she watched the leathery face crease disapprovingly, she understood what had sent the shadow-man away. The creature who stood before her. It was sad to realise she would have preferred to take her chances with a would-be killer, than face her aunt in full, bitter glory.

Gloria Littleton was a mean, wiry old woman who ruled her house with an iron fist. She usually had a bunch of tablets clutched in that fist and liked nothing more than to force them down April’s throat.

“What are you doing out of bed?” she intoned, in that accusing way she had.

“I…”

“I…I…” she mimicked, cruelly, and grabbed April’s wrist. The hairbrush clattered out of her hand, useless against this new nightmare.

“Really, child. You’re not fit to be on your feet.” Her aunt said this with an odd kind of glee, like she enjoyed her weak and vulnerable, like she intended to make sure she stayed that way.

“I heard…” The words died in April’s throat when her aunt’s head whipped around suspiciously.

She was pathetic, she told herself. She’d been ready to take her chances, to fight the haunting figure who followed her wherever she went. Yet faced with her aunt she became a mumbling, cowardly wreck; how she hated to be so predictable.

“You heard, you saw, you feel,” her aunt continued in her mocking tone. It was one April despised. She hated it almost as much as she hated herself for allowing such behaviour.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take your pills and stop feeding your imagination with that trash you read.” She pointed to the pile of books on a small dressing table. They were her most prized possessions. April didn’t even glance at them now. She knew how much her aunt would enjoy stroking her bony fingers across them.

To speed up her aunt’s departure, she simply nodded and accepted the small pills from her hand.

Her room was almost in darkness, save for a single lamp beside the bed. Next to it stood a pitcher of water and a single glass. Her aunt reached for it and forced the glass against her lips.

It was horrifying, what the light did to her aunt’s face. Her features belonged in the dark; as morbid and grotesque as her character. April suppressed a shudder, and swallowed dutifully.

She dropped her head, listening to her aunt’s retreating footsteps and counting the seconds when she would be alone.

The moment the door was closed she spit the tablets into the palm of her hand. It was her one small rebellion, and she felt a trickle of disappointment her aunt hadn’t asked her to open her mouth this time.

The mean old witch liked to stamp her authority on everything. She took pleasure in checking the confines of April’s mouth, turning her chin into the light and examining the pink flesh for evidence of foul play. She’d never found the flap of skin under her tongue; April’s hiding place. Every time her aunt gave a small nod of satisfaction, the secret feeling of triumph warmed April. It was pathetic really, such a small token, a minor victory. But there would be others.

She no longer felt weak. Her strength had returned, and though her body betrayed her whenever her aunt was in the room, it was only a temporary affliction.

It didn’t stop her from deftly navigating the floor towards her en-suite bathroom. In this room, as in any other, she knew exactly where to stand. She didn’t make a sound.

She didn’t need the light to guide her. The cold feel of the tile beneath her feet told her exactly where she was. There was only five small paces to the sink. At waist height on the right she found the toilet paper and tore a sheet from it to wrap the tablets tightly inside.

Then she dropped the paper into the bowl, and retraced her steps to the bed.

***

We hope you enjoyed the read.
Laura and Melissa

Open to suggestions

I’ve been thinking about increasing traffic to the site, and adding the type of content readers want to see. As a relatively new blog that’s not always easy, and as Laura and I both have a personal site as well, it’s an even bigger challenge.

I’m not sure what you think, Laura, but the theme is a little uninspiring. It’s clean and well organised, but does it grab you by the throat – that’s a no for me!

Do you have any suggestions/comments on the current theme or layout? Both Laura and I welcome feedback, and the advice of experienced bloggers. Do you have any tips for us; the things we should be doing with the joint site that we might have overlooked?

One of the suggestions I read online was to host a guest blog. This sounds intriguing, but also a tad complicated, but like I said, we’re open to possibilities.

I’ve utilised the poll button for this post – I wanted to see what would happen, and determine if it’s a useful tool. Forgive my experimentation with the feature.

We look forward to receiving your suggestions.

Thanks in advance

Mel