Friday, December 24, 2010

A Race Against Midnight

Welcome to my “televised” attempt at writing a short story.  Hopefully, it will work and we’ll have something to read at the end of it.  But that’s not really the point;  it’s just an exercise that I quite like to do.



Typical.  When you need to use your computer and time is a factor, there are updates to be installed.

First things first: music.  I’ve already done this as I prefer to operate a computer with music playing.  This year it’s mostly bluesy, rocky music with a lot of Nick Cave and BringTheWarHome.  With that sorted, we can move onto the actual writing.

All stories basically consist of: a beginning, a middle and an end.  They needn’t come in that order, but they all have to be present.  Stories tend to conform to archetypal structures, as well.  The most famous of these is the monomyth as described in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces.

The shortest description of this is Star Wars (the old ones, not the new ones) which adheres to pretty much this exact map.  It also appears in the classical hero stories, Wizard of Oz and myths from around the world.

But it’s a bit unwieldy for a short story, so I’ll just be using Georges Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, which are a little more condensed.

The decision making process I’ll be using means drawing a Tarot card (from a Colman-Smith deck,) looking at what images appear to me, referencing it to A.E. Waite’s The Pictorial Key to the Tarot and then making my decision on that.

So, I’ll draw the first card…



The first card drawn is the Page of Pentacles, reversed:


My first impression was an image of a young man, hands raised as if in offering, between a copse of trees and a hill.  Pages are traditionally female cards, but the shadow of the jaw creates the rebus of a goatee beard when reversed.

Arthur Edward Waite describes the Page of Pentacles reversed as follows:  “Prodigality, dissipation, liberality, luxury, unfavourable news.”  After looking through the 36 Dramatic Situations, this seemed to fit closest to Number 35:  Recovery of a Lost One.



This dramatic situation only includes two characters, One Who Is Lost and a Seeker.  There is no specific conflict between them; it is the situation that they have to overcome, rather than each other.

The next card I drew was for The One Who Is Lost:


The Moon represents the tension between the mind and the soul, the intellect and the spirit.  As stern (and solar) as the Moon looks, she is waxing and offering hope.  The scorpion represents a “nameless and hideous tendency that is lower than the savage beast.”  The path leads between a dog and a wolf, between civilisation and the wild.

Again, synchronicity rears its head and returns us to the themes of Teratogenesis…



The card I’ve drawn for the Seeker is the Knight of Swords:


Sometimes, harmonies and correspondences appear between the card that appears and its place in the story.  The Knight of Sword is the prototypical questing knight and a perfect card for our Seeker.

He represents all the qualities of the chivalric hero, both good and bad:  “Skill, bravery, capacity, defence, address, enmity, wrath, war, destruction, opposition, resistance, ruin.”  He is someone who is willing to not only brave death but also to deal it in pursuit of his goals.



The card I’ve drawn for my beginning is Strength or Fortitude, reversed:


This isn’t a physical strength, as suggested by the  taming of the lion, but a strength of faith as per the chain of roses which bind the beast.  However, it is reversed and suggestive of a loss of faith and an unleashing of the feral instincts.  This ties quite nicely into the image of The One Who Is Lost that we already have.



The card drawn for the middle of the story is The Emperor:


The Emperor is not just a temporal king but a manifestation of the will, of exerting ourselves onto reality.  This is often in simple ways, like making and discarding, but goes right up to the stage of life or death decisions.  In many ways, he is the direct opposite of the previous card, showing a recovery of the self.



Hmm.  I seemed to have missed out the Emperor in that last post, but he’s back now.

The final card I’ve drawn is a Minor Arcana, the Two of Wands:


Another appropriate card, as the Two of Wands indicates that through hard and difficult work, success is likely.  However, it may not bring the pleasure or satisfaction that we wanted…



So this gives us a condensed plot that looks something like this:

Someone has given into their baser instincts and become lost. Someone else, capable and ruthless, is sent after them. When they find them, they have recovered themselves but are not necessarily able to come back.

Now it is time to essentially wrap this up in the uniform of a ghost story.  Currently, the story could be about anything: a kitchen sink story of infidelity, a two-fisted war story of guilt, a romance, anything.  But the goal of the exercise is a ghost story, so that is how we’ll dress our set.

Now, the hard part begins, the actual writing…



The story is wearing its ghostly robes, the characters are all named and the scene is set.

Time to splice the main brace and move onto the first draft…



We have a title: Dependence.

All of the Christmas ghost stories have one word titles:  Harbinger, Sacrifice and Dependence, which remains unpublished because its not very good.



This is turning out far darker than I expected…



First draft done in 6 hours and 5 minutes, not bad going.

But the balance of horror and terror isn’t right.  This isn’t a ghost story, it is a horror story.  Horror is a much more visceral thing, while the creeping sense of terror is far more subtle.

Time to let it rest for a few hours and then the second draft…



There’s so much to change  on a second draft…



Decent templates make formatting so much easier…



And there we go!

Dependence, a Christmas horror story written and posted in nine hours and eighteen minutes.  Available from Scribd formatted for screen and mobile devices.

It’s far more gruesome than I expected and falls well short of the definition MR James used for his ghost stories, but it’s done and it’s up.


Thanks to everyone who’s been following this, I’ve enjoyed and hope you have too.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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