Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Writer's Circle Post - September 2011

Having taken on board some of your comments from the last few months, I decided to work on character and voice this week. While I personally am not comfortable with swearing in writing, I've had to give it a go because this character is a swearer. If you're offended by casual swearing, please don't read this. Members of the circle, let me know if you think the voice and character are distinctive. Comments are welcome and encouraged!


Service station

I guess the first time I realised I was in Hell was when I saw the price of the burgers. Up until that point I figured I was just having a mental breakdown. Or a blackout. I'd taken a lot of pills that night, not all of them had smiley faces on 'em either. I've had blackouts before. No big deal. And fits. Something about the brain firing off random electricity that makes you see all kinds of weird shit. Last fit I had was when I caned three grams of speed just after I'd started taking my meds. The hallucinations were wild. I could hear colours and smell shapes. It was fucking sick. I got sweats in the night and I kept thinking there was this woman with a kangaroo's head locked in my bedroom. As I recall she had fourteen breasts, more tongue that a girl should and pretty low self esteem. Not a bad experience, even if I was in a coma for six months. Doctors reckoned I lost fifteen percent of my brain cells that night. Fuck knows how many have gone this time.

I started my night in a hotel room in Soho, nestled between the thighs of some bitch I'd picked up in the bar. She was about as lively as cold salami, but I didn't have nowhere else to be and besides, I felt like I was doing her a favour. The poor bitch looked half-starved and I was gunna offer her free run of the mini bar, post-fuck. Then, mid-thrust, I'm suddenly here. There's this blinding white light all around and I'm lying face down, mouthful of lino, nursing a painfully unspent load.

The floor was fucking cold. That kind of squeaky, plasticy shit that sticks to your trainers so you have to tear your soles away from the surface, like you're doing some kind of shit dancing. Like the floors you get in cinemas. Christ, it was revolting. All I could smell was the stink of re-fried potatoes, bleach and vomit. A total buzz kill. I sobered up pretty quick and lost my erection even quicker, I can tell you.

I read somewhere that in dreams you can't feel pain – and my neck was fucking killing me – so I guess I should've realised then that something wasn't kosher, but my head was fucked from the blonde in the hotel and all that whiskey. So I didn't clock that something was wrong. I just figured I was having another 'episode' so I might as well enjoy the ride.

I flipped over on my back and all I could see was this massive white space, reaching up out of sight above me. Like the building was taller than it was possible for me to comprehend, you know? And the whole place was painted white, like a fucking sanatorium or something. But it was a dirty white, like there'd once been a flood, proper biblical-like, that'd left a thin film of shit over everything.

There were lines of neon strip lights built into the walls, just pumping in this sickly, white light. It kind of made the walls look even more dirty, like teeth stained with nicotine. And there was this buzzing, like the sound of air conditioning, but the weren't no breeze. Like someone was playing the noise of AC without bothering to actually blow any God damn air through the place.

After a good few minutes, I thought I better get up and take a look around, see if there was any lager in this shithole. I got to my feet, a little unsteady. If I was hallucinating, then my imagination had been fried along with the rest of my brain.

First thing I noticed, once I was on my feet, was the arcade. Some small alcove on the opposite wall filled with those massive arcade machines like they used to have in the Trocadero. Next to that there was this tiny shop selling skin mags and bottles of water. There were a few plastic tables and chairs clustered together in the middle of the hallway between me and the arcade. No people though. Not a fucking soul.

Behind me was a row of three fast food joints, selling disgusting shit – burgers, fries, kebabs – real down-market shit. They weren't fucking cheap either. And I hate to pay over the odds for shit that I'm not even gonna fucking enjoy anyway.

So it's clear that I'm in some sort of weird motorway service station. And the burgers cost too much and there's no sign for the bathrooms and I walk across to the shop and even the women in the porn mags look miserable and bored. And I can't even play the fucking slot machines coz I left all my money in my other jeans.

It must be hell. I must've had a heart attack while screwing that blonde. I can't believe this. I'm only 32. I was only 32. Christ, I'd got some much shit left to do. I never even had a threesome!

Still, if this hell, then it's not as bad as the Sunday school teacher said. No fire and brimstone, no demons with red hot pokers. No enforced sodomy. At least not yet. Ha, just had a quick look round, in case some fucker with his cock out was creeping up on me. Nothing yet though. Just that God Damn buzzing. It's pretty hot in here too.

I don't even know how long I've been here. Maybe they've buried me by now. Maybe that bitch ran out on me in the hotel room, left the maid to find me the next morning. What a way to go. I never liked waiting for shit. Instant gratification, that's what the therapist called it. He said it was one of the traits of my disorder. What a prick. There's nothing wrong with me. Just a bit of temper. Can I help it if people get on my tits? Christ, I wonder how long I've been here. It could have been days.

I guess it must be my own private hell. It'd explain why there's no one else here. And why I'm waiting. Fuck, I hate waiting. I told him, 'I hate waiting. If you make me wait, I'll make sure you regret it.' I fucking warned him. You can't say I didn't warn him.

The light doesn't change, you know? It doesn't get dimmer in the night time, or brighter when it's day. So I can't even tell what time it is. There aren't any windows. No exit either. The shit in the kitchen of the burger bar is bland but edible. I still haven't seen anyone else. There must be someone here though, coz the fridge is always full. Unless it's some kind of weird hell-magic. I guess that's it.

The video games aren't even working. On the screen on each one is some weird little message: 'Loading, please wait.' I stood in front of one machine for hours, but the fucking thing didn't load. It didn't even load when I kicked it. Stupid fucking machine.

I wonder how my mum's coping without me. She's probably relived. I was a total fucking nightmare. We hadn't talked since I went back inside. Even when I got out in 2010, she didn't call. I guess there are some things even a mother can't forgive.

I barely notice the buzzing now.

12 comments:

  1. Hello!

    This was good.

    I like it.

    Write more.

    I want to know what happens next.

    Happy?

    Didn't think so! Read below for the real deal

    Hooray for you and your ambitious attempt at doing something different. Your rather special monthly contributions never follow characters quite as vile as this and its great to see you experimenting at working behind the eyes of someone entirely loathsome. Writing Steph from month to month, I can sympathise as empathy for such leading roles is hard to achieve. And I feel as though my main characters gutter mouth has corrupted you somewhat! But yeah I am very pleased to be granted the opportunity to fine tune your dive into the shit and piss with me.

    Now, that did not come out right. Fuck it.
    First big question, because I’d caught myself assuming why – problem with swearing in your writing eh? Why?

    Now then Moden, on with the piece!

    So you’re dealing with the lowest common denominator and he reckons he’s in hell?’

    Maybe I’ve been influenced by too many existentialist books/movies/plays but I’d like to believe that your character is in fact the victim of rather elaborate daydreaming or to put it plainer still – the man is bonkers. Look here:

    ‘Last fit I had was when I caned three grams of speed just after I'd started taking my meds.’

    And there is the odd similarity between his perspectives on women, they are even in his hallucination, objects to pity, have sex with medicate with alcohol. Was this a plan of yours or an interesting accident?

    ‘As I recall she had fourteen breasts, more tongue that a girl should and pretty low self esteem.’

    Now compare this to:

    ‘I felt like I was doing her a favour. The poor bitch looked half-starved and I was gunna offer her free run of the mini bar, post-fuck.’

    ReplyDelete
  2. And here is part two of three of my fucking comment that Googlemail won't issue in full!

    Hello!

    This was good.

    I like it.

    Write more.

    I want to know what happens next.

    Happy?

    Didn't think so! Read below for the real deal

    Hooray for you and your ambitious attempt at doing something different. Your rather special monthly contributions never follow characters quite as vile as this and its great to see you experimenting at working behind the eyes of someone entirely loathsome. Writing Steph from month to month, I can sympathise as empathy for such leading roles is hard to achieve. And I feel as though my main characters gutter mouth has corrupted you somewhat! But yeah I am very pleased to be granted the opportunity to fine tune your dive into the shit and piss with me.

    Now, that did not come out right. Fuck it.
    First big question, because I’d caught myself assuming why – problem with swearing in your writing eh? Why?

    Now then Moden, on with the piece!

    So you’re dealing with the lowest common denominator and he reckons he’s in hell?’

    Maybe I’ve been influenced by too many existentialist books/movies/plays but I’d like to believe that your character is in fact the victim of rather elaborate daydreaming or to put it plainer still – the man is bonkers. Look here:

    ‘Last fit I had was when I caned three grams of speed just after I'd started taking my meds.’

    And there is the odd similarity between his perspectives on women, they are even in his hallucination, objects to pity, have sex with medicate with alcohol. Was this a plan of yours or an interesting accident?

    ‘As I recall she had fourteen breasts, more tongue that a girl should and pretty low self esteem.’

    Now compare this to:

    ‘I felt like I was doing her a favour. The poor bitch looked half-starved and I was gunna offer her free run of the mini bar, post-fuck.’

    Sometimes I feel that I use specificity through products WAAAAAY too much and so chancing upon your use of a shared cultural memory made me think twice about my October piece’s (SPIDERFINGERS: The Show) use of description.

    ‘The floor was fucking cold. That kind of squeaky, plasticy shit that sticks to your trainers so you have to tear your soles away from the surface, like you're doing some kind of shit dancing. Like the floors you get in cinemas.’

    Man this shits supreme! I know the kind of floor you’re talking about and so yeah, I literally put myself in the characters position here. You have a natural flair for this kind of character although, I’d say that sometimes the swearing seemed a little arbitrary. There are times when I detect that there is an education in the man and it jars with his vernacular. To illustrate my point:

    ‘Then, mid-thrust, I'm suddenly here. There's this blinding white light all around and I'm lying face down, mouthful of lino, nursing a painfully unspent load.’

    'Mid thrust? Painfully unspent load? This is the same man who says:

    ‘The hallucinations were wild. I could hear colours and smell shapes. It was fucking sick.’

    So I’m not sure. It might be your own voice slipping through. Find a way to suggest this man knows what an alcove is or that he is the type of criminal that would work for a guy who knows what an alcove is. Yeah? My suggestion would be to casually mention an instance where he was working with someone else and that it was his brains that they depended upon. Or maybe you could have the man admit to pissing away his time at school and that the teachers tried to reach him, maybe more than they should have, because he might have shown promise? Give him an intellectual hobby maybe, something that would help improve his vocab? Anyone else have any ideas regarding this point? C’mon speak up/disagree/say I know everything, whatever – don’t be shy

    ReplyDelete
  3. ‘FAV BIT: But it was a dirty white, like there'd once been a flood, proper biblical-like, that'd left a thin film of shit over everything.’

    The above sentence is a great way to base his ‘experience’ in a Christian understanding and yet keep a more than concrete lodging in your setting. If there is one thing I look out for in my own work, it is the ability to provide mundane springboards for much broader statements. This line could easily be something Spiderfingers says in Steph’s Gold Medal. Hey, hang on a minute…

    Another question:
    WAS HIS MOTHER RELIGIOUS? DOES HE BELIEVE HE OUGHT TO BE IN HELL PERHAPS COS OF HER BELIEF? I want answers. NOW!

    ‘Even when I got out in 2010, she didn't call. I guess there are some things even a mother can't forgive.’


    ‘And there was this buzzing’

    THE FLIES OF BELZEBUB RIGHT?

    Recommended reading? Hmmm…I’d say you find the best gutter trash talkers in adult comic books and since it’s the voice we’re helping you with here, you could do much worse than to check out a Hellblazer comic since its main character is educated and pretty much associates himself with the people and places I believe your character would. Then of course there is our man chaos…

    In summary then, a good effort and with the grounding of a more clear educational background, characters like this from you will have a resounding and truly consistent voice

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the Comments John; fragmented and chaotic, Spiderfingers would be so proud!

    I'm glad you spoke about the following points:
    1. the hints at madness. I was hoping to bed in a few clues that reference his instability as a character. You how I like a bit of mystery and I want the reader to have a genuine confusion as to whether this guys is actually dead or whether he's in a padded cell somewhere dribbling. What I'd like to know is whether that comes across at all, or whether my hinting is subtle enough?
    2. The religious aspect that underpins his thought processes. He did indeed come from a strict Catholic household and, although he rejected it as a teenager, the language of penance and sin still colour his world view to a certain extent. I wanted to hint at an inner conflict that was within him, though still very much hidden, especially from himself. Again, I wonder if this comes across, or whether it's a little too blatant?

    I can see what you mean when you say that sometimes the swearing's a little arbitrary, I'm still finding my feet here, taking on a completely new type of character, so do bear with me! My aversion to swearing in fiction stems from some pretty awful trashy novels I read as a teenager. Gratuitous does even BEGIN to cover it dude. However, I've come to see that, in the right context, it can be a great way to convey character, context and even a sense of place. But there will need to be a re-write to try and straighten out some of the places where, like you say, the vocabulary is at odds with itself.

    Basically, I'm hoping that experimenting like this enables me to develop skills like tone and description and sense of place, and plot development and all that important stuff, to make all my writing stronger as a result. I must admit I really beat myself up over the fact that the tone of my zombie story was way off the mark. But it's all a learning experience, so that's great.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Also, I'd never even heard of the flies of Beelzebub, but reading up on it, it's one of the best accidental references I've ever made! It's times like these that make me think that maybe Shakespeare didn't even write in iambic pentameter on purpose! Although somehow, I doubt that one.

    ReplyDelete
  6. John? I don’t know what you’re talking about. My name is Stephanie Tent.
    I think that you could aim for more subtly regarding the validity of the guys dreaming as I figured it out straight away from the meds. PLUS the premise of him doing that crazy fight club thing (once you figure it out) might feel a little stale for some as it’s become quite a popular narrative convention of late.
    I would say the religious aspect is subtle enough. Truth be told, I thought I was being overly creative and had imagined this aspect of the tale. Either I’m psychic or your writing was adept at being playfully suggestive yet ambiguous in the communication of its intention.
    So glad you take on my points with the mind-set of a learner. That john guy who I’ve seen comment on your pages? He’s such an arrogant tosspot. Don’t listen to him.
    I read your zombie story and I liked it. Having a potencially good story doesn’t qualify it as being ‘way off the mark’. You seem to be in a good circle of pals who’ll steer it a little closer to the course that’ll do its contents justice. If you like these comments please, feel free, check out my own story here: www.spiderfngers.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well, well. Another very well written piece, my dear. As expected.

    Well excecuted ambiguity supported by an unreliable narrator. The reader wonders if this story has arisen from (yet another) headfuck, or if in fact, he has been transported to some metaphysical realm. And yet it ends with a certain disquiet.

    The steady build up of religious referances undermines the superfluos drug references, the progs' (or should that be antag'?) blustering anger gives way to a creeping, almost confession.

    The relationships he has with women is interesting almost fearful rejection of deferance, made even more interesting by the fact that the crime (whatever it may be) was agianst a man.

    And yet 'loading-please wait'. Is it a hellish limbo, or drug induced coma? Deeper reading still doesnt supply the answer...you fiend.

    Some good shit;
    "There were lines of neon strip lights built into the walls, just pumping in this sickly, white light. It kind of made the walls look even more dirty, like teeth stained with nicotine."

    "No enforced sodomy. At least not yet. Ha, just had a quick look round, in case some fucker with his cock out was creeping up on me. Nothing yet though."

    I did, however, feel that your segue was a little stilted."I guess the first time I realised I was in Hell was when I saw the price of the burgers." The rejoiner to this;1st "Behind me was a row of three fast food joints, selling disgusting shit – burgers, fries, kebabs – real down-market shit. "

    2nd "So it's clear that I'm in some sort of weird motorway service station. And the burgers cost too much and... "

    Then later there is a sudden jump forward in time (previously quite a linear narrative); "The light doesn't change, you know? It doesn't get dimmer in the night time, or brighter when it's day."

    The previous i dont know how long Ive been here could easily apply to hours or mins, whereas the suggestion of days and nights shows a significant amount of time.

    I feel that the narrative would be tighter if the second mention of expensive burgers took place in the mention of days and nghts, eating being a reference point in time,emphasising the notion that his existance in hell is persistant.

    The use of language works well for this character, though I find it interesting that you associate swearing with criminality and drug use. ;) You have maintained your style, but have the narratrs voice as firmly that of your protag'. There are a few niggles 'As i recall' is unnecessary, and a bit outa chra." Her fourteen breasts had sagged and she had more tongue.." Would be a move believable sentance structure.

    Swearing. Swaering is fine here but I do think you have limited yourself a little, be adventurous, use diff swear word in diff ways, and use more slang. Make him a lazy speaker, ya know?

    "Then, mid-thrust, I'm suddenly here. There's this blinding white light all around and I'm lying face down, mouthful of lino, nursing a painfully unspent load" I dont have a problem with this except to take out nursing and work in big hairy balls.

    Some parts of this remind me of Ben! ha!

    Catholic vs kosher; this jarred for me.

    Coving, John, coving...not alcoves. Go practse your artexing.

    ReplyDelete
  8. 1. Mad or in Hell? My impression was that he is (or was) incredibly mentally unstable and is (or was) rocking back and forth in a padded cell somewhere. But because of his Catholic upbringing he just believes that where he is now is Hell – mostly ‘cause his brain can’t entertain any other ideas at this point cause of the drugs. Plus, you know, he took pills at the beginning and not all of them had smiley faces on them. And: “Last fit I had was when I caned three grams of speed just after I'd started taking my meds...” ... did I guess right?

    2. Wait... did I cover this point in one?

    I agree with Ashley with her point about making him a lazy speaker and mixing up the use of swear words a bit. But I guess you’ll find that hard to write cause you such a well-spoken lady. ;) Also, I love the fact that you manage keep your own style in this but using someone else’s voice. This is what I meant about your Zombie story (I’m sorry if I didn’t explain it well). Also, why did you beat yourself up about that? It was still as excellent as ever.

    Also, did you ever read Point Horrors as a teen? I remember them being the ‘thing to read.’

    Some favourites:
    "Still, if this hell, then it's not as bad as the Sunday school teacher said. No fire and brimstone, no demons with red hot pokers. No enforced sodomy. At least not yet. Ha, just had a quick look round, in case some fucker with his cock out was creeping up on me. Nothing yet though. Just that God Damn buzzing. It's pretty hot in here too."

    “I never even had a threesome!”

    “I could hear colours and smell shapes.”

    In other news: the commenting on this story has confused the shit out of me. I need to lie down.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, some really strong pieces this month. As a connoisseur of the macabre of the mundane I loved this. I can think of no better form of modern purgatory (goddamn that word took a long time to surface in my brain) that a grey and desolate off-brand service station.

    The constant diatribe and thoughts of the main character, an uncompromising proper bastard, is joyfully aggressive and bitter. Loved his descriptions of previous drug use, his general tone. The one thing I would say is that a few of the non-sequiturs or uses of language didn't quite gel: Using the word erection/women/god damn rather than a crude alternative. Liberal use of fuck and shit was all good, but I reckon you could have really upped the ante with the colourful language, whilst still maintaining that this is an educated man, even if he is vulgar, as it is the social form he has chosen rather than a lack of ability to interact wit the environment. Watch some Lock, Stock... and you'll appreciate an educated man trying to sound like a rough bastard.

    I liked the fact that he becomes more introspective and melancholy a the end, the 'hell' stripping back his aggression and frustration at the world, finally making him look both inward, but towards those that he has wronged. A great concept, a great piece, just think you could have gone further.

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  10. I agree with everybody above - this is another strong peice of writing - kudos!

    Right down to business.

    You have a good opening chapter, I really like the description you have used, I really gpt the sense of who this guy is and what type of life he leads.

    One typo(?) paragraph 6 you have "And there was this buzzing, like the sound of air conditioning, but the weren't no breeze."
    Should it read "but there weren't no breeze" (keeping in with the "cockney" slang, don't change "weren't" to "wasn't" - make sense?).

    Now onto my favourite subject - swearing. I like the use of it in here and I'm a big fan of swearing (as you can see from my work!) But I feel like you should "space out" the swearing, or use it to show extreme emotions or make it part of his everyday vocabulary (like you have done in some paragraphs) so it seems like he has a basic grip of vocabulary. Make it either or (I do feel he is a swearer) because middle ground isn't convincing, especially when you have set him up to be a certain type of character and when you use such good description.

    Did any of that make sense? I wrote it all down in note form and trying to peice it back together has made it all higgeldy!

    I do hear a bit of you voice breaking through (like John said) this isn't necessarily a bad thing but work in a bit of your characters voice to make it more realistic.

    Two fav bits: "At least not yet. Ha, just had a quick look round, in case some fucker with his cock out was creeping up on me."
    That actually made me giggle out loud.

    And "Hell magic".

    If any of that didn't make sense I'm happy to clear it up!

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  11. Thanks everyone, these comments are very helpful. I actually tried to model the swearing on my boyfriend, who is one of these people who just uses 'fuckin' as a filler word. I think I will need to re-do this and make the language more consistent (both the swearing and the other vocab) in order to really get the sense of character to come through. Gah, voice and first person narrative are hard! I'm just writing a story from the perspective of a six year old girl, so I will take on board all your comments for that (though hopefully she won't do much swearing in her story!)
    Thanks again guys -x-

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