Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Turning frustration into Fiction - Smalltalk writ Small

The old man approached the counter, hunched and wrapped in a two-size too big brown jacket that must have had him sweltered. “Two and plus one thanks,” he requested of the fifty-something, gaunt and blank-eyed lady behind the counter. Autopilot carried her through the day, and possibly a heavy dose of Prozac alongside it.

Lovely day out there isn't it?” she offered, without giving much away as to whether this affected her in one way or the other. “It is,” the old man replied, “how long will it last though?” “Ah we had a terrible summer last year didn't we?” said the counter woman as she printed out the Lottery details, barely glancing at him. “We did” he was happy to reply. We didn't, of course, we didn't have a bad summer, it was an amazing summer. I felt my teeth clench; I felt a desire to step forward and state this fact. It was an amazing summer last year. I got sun-burnt. Amazing! Why say otherwise?

Why do we do this, I seethed. Why do we make this inane chatter every day with every person we see, whether we know them or not? Why can't we just approach the counter, pay for our item, and walk away, happy in the knowledge that neither one of us has interrupted the other's thoughts with our banal opinions. I don't care what she says to me, I decided. I'm going to pay for my item, say nothing, and leave.

I hope it's better this year” said she. “Ah sure” said he. He took his lottery tickets. “When I win I'll come back and make ye my wife” he laughed. She laughed too. It was a strange thing to say and I wondered how many times he'd said it, and how many times money had been used as a propositional tool for this woman before now. “Sure, you know where to find me” she returned. He left, still laughing. Why would they say these things? Were they lovers? Could they be lovers? The thought made me quesy. What else was going on that I had missed? I stepped forward to buy my Snickers Bar.

Lovely day out there isn't it?” said the fifty-something gaunt and blank-eyed android in front of me from behind the safety of her counter.

It really is,” I smiled broadly, “I hope this isn't our summer! The rain last week, my god! Sleepless nights, then trying to walk to the bank, and -

Just this?”

Just that. My little treat. My little secret. I know it's fattening but you have to have -”

Ninety five cent please.”

I paid her. Bitch, I thought, as I walked away. Cut me off like that. Twice! What does that old man, her lover, that oul get have that I don't have? Fine. I'll never speak to anyone again. Mark my words. What a sour old tart she -

Your change!” she bellowed across the shop. “You forgot your change!”

I could have shouted that I LOVED her!

Twelve step writing exercise Day 10 : Go sit in a public place and eavesdrop on a conversation. Turn what you hear into a short love story (no matter how much you have to twist what they say).”


Why why why why why why why why why?

1. I like being indoors. It suits me, it keeps me away from people who, as a rule, have little of nothing to offer other than comments about the weather or stuff they're doing, which is of no interest to me.

2. This is Wexford. People in Wexford have absolutely nothing of worth to say. Sorry people of Wexford, but read any of Billy Piper's Wexford plays. Even in Wexford drama terms, they're just dull.

3. I would have to pay for coffee out in the real world. I have coffee in my house. I prefer to drink that coffee than have to pay for too-hot, bitter, two-day old coffee served by a sponge faced deli bird who tells me it's warm out today.

Twelve do's and don'ts of blogging : Don't Be negative.
It’s generally unwise to air personal grievances publicly (unless, of course, that’s the theme of your blog). You’ll go a lot further by being positive, inspirational and supportive to the community that you’re writing to.”

Oh. So okay. Real quick, sorry about all that negativity towards Wexford folk and people in general. Keep reading, it has a relevence. Swearsies.

In the story I opened this article with I was making rather unsubtle attempts at irony. Now, I have been accused in the past of trying too hard to be clever, and for using irony as a way to rise above the readers heads. I don't know, I think it's better to try too hard and fail than never try at all. Except when skydiving obviously. There it's better not to try, than fail.

And I hope that my use of self-aware irony punctures what could otherwise seem like pompous observations. I'm not trying to go over anyone's heads, I'm trying to show just how ineffectual and un-confidant I really am, out there, out in the real world, the world you people's occupies. Maybe I just wants to be loved!

I've spent the last nine days not only attempting what I have come to believe are entirely useless exercises in writing, but trying to deconstruct them to understand whether it's just me.

So in the above short narrative piece I was very unsubtly using my character's irritation with a pleasant discourse between two lonely people to show that it was the narrator who was at fault, and was just as prone to banality and human frailty.

You read this, hopefully noticed how obnoxious this fictional character was, then went into the article proper. I then opened with a full-on rant, technically still in character but seemingly writing as myself. You probably hate me now and that's okay as once again I was trying to be clever and ironic. To what end? Keep reading sir/madam/octopus sandwich.

I'm writing this having gone out and done just what the exercise told me to do. No, really. I know past precedents have been set, and you the dearest of readers are justifiably thinking ill of me, and have come to realise that I am probably using my supposed Twelve-Step blog as a Wexford-specific racism forum. But I really did go out into a public space – several actually – and I really did listen to various conversations around me, and I really did go quietly and slowly insane with the inanity of it all. The opening piece is based directly on experience, though skewed to make it more interesting.

See here's the interesting thing about writing, and specifically writing plays – something I'm slowly forgetting I do because of these intolerable exercises - if you are assured of two criticisms it's these : your characters all sound the same; and nobody speaks like that.

There are genuine reasons why both of these criticisms occur, and both are frustrating and frustratingly common.

Generally, my characters don't all sound the same, they all read the same. In other words, placed in the mouths of actors, the characters will come alive. This is a phenomenon in theatre known as “performing”. This is what plays are designed for. I write plays with the knowledge that, because none of them have been given in-depth prose descriptions as to the gravel in their throats and the devil in their eyes and the flame in their teste hair, readers will merely hear their own voices rattling around their heads as they read the characters. People read in a their own, neutral tone. It's just easier that way.

This is an unfortunate given and it is one of the main reasons why a lot of playwrites become massively frustrated with the “reading” process when submitting plays to agents or groups, even actors, and why we end up putting them on ourselves. A little hint – at the beginning of your play, include a fantasy football style cast list for your characters. In the same as reading a book changes the voices of the characters once you've seen the film, so too will the reader automatically “perform” the play in these actor's voices as they read.

If you transcribe people's real conversation, without context, what you'll find is that people all sound the same. Accents aside, you Wexford sleazes.

As to the criticism that nobody speaks like that, this is a little double-edged. Have you listened to the way people speak lately? Actually listened? I have. Went out there and did it, dear reader. Just for you. Well, for the exercise. But also for you! But mainly for the exercise. And God.

We are not a naturally witty race. We really do have to try, try to string a coherent sentence together, try to combat confidence nerves when someone speaks to us, try to remember what it was we were going to say even though we've literally just thought of it, and try to figure out what it was that person has just asked you, because you were too focussed on thinking of an answer to actually hear them. Social intercourse is hard, and generally speaking part of why it's hard is that we don't do it because we have some interesting information to impart but because it keeps us in contact with other human beings, if only for a moment. That's why we're doing it. Why we're stuttering through a conversation with a stranger or a loved one. Why it sucks in formal circumstances that we can never say what we really want to say.

They don't call awkward silences awkward for nothing.

So when we write a play, or create dialogue, we're doing so with more than just human contact in mind, we're thinking of exposition, carrying a narrative, trying to set a scene or just as importantly, a character, a set of relationships. We're truncating every aspect of humanity into a few short lines to try and get across far more than you would necessarily have to in real life in the same amount of time. Except maybe when speed dating.

So very often, it's true, people don't speak like that; but they wish they did.

And that's an important aspect of writing and of reading – fiction and fantasy. It's a wish-fulfillment, a way of escape, a way of finding someone or something that entirely agrees with your viewpoint in a cleverly articulated way, or gives you something to rail against. It's not supposed to be real. Yes, we sometimes strive for naturalism or realism but at no time is what we're creating ever real. It's a fiction.

So what's the point of the exercise above? Again, there's no context to it – it just exists as an exercise and perhaps I'm just trying to be too clever by searching for one. In fact, I would suggest that listening to the way people hold conversations is a very valuable tool in the same way life-drawing is valuable to artists. It allows us to learn the basic contours, from which we can begin to abstract, and develop our own artistic voices.

In my case, I use irony – I have created a character as the voice for my blogs, or articles. Is it me? Sure, of course. But in reality, I don't talk this way. In reality, I sound just like everyone else. It's dull but true and it's why even when I'm describing true events I try to mask and fictionalise myself to some degree or another to so that I don't feel naked.

But these purposes are not got across by the exercise. Also, why on earth do we need to go away and twist it into a love story? Shouldn't it be enough to develop a story from the dialogue? I know the idea of any exercise or challenge is to create restrictions but this is just getting silly.

In school I used to get told I think too much. I used to ask “why” instead of “how”. I couldn't just learn answers and formula off by rote, I had to analyse. I will never consider myself to be particularly bright or intelligent but I can't just accept things as they are and perhaps that is what's meant by trying too hard.

Twelve steps of addiction – Step ten : Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”


Tomorrow - “Day 11: Write the acknowledgments page that will be placed in your first (next?) published book, thanking all the people who have helped you along the way.”

No comments:

Post a Comment