The CuriousPages Sketchbook

Writing: Craig Stemford’s Imprisonment

This story is now the fourth in the series. While writing it, I felt that it was the story that had given me most trouble so far. I thought it was taking a long time, but when I checked, it had only taken two weeks from start to finish; it just seemed much longer. What caused me most trouble was Dicky Bright’s character. All his content is in his personality, and I needed to somehow conjure that up out of thin air. There is a lot of psychological content; his plot is almost all psychological; it is all happening in his personality, rather than in the form of external events, which is how most plot is expressed. It was this that made his parts difficult to write. I also found it uncomfortable to write him, because I didn’t enjoy spending time in his company; I’d know a few people in the past who were just as obnoxious as Dicky, and when you’ve been abused by a personality like this one, it is not comfortable to revisit the company of such people.

One disadvantage to featuring such a character, is that the reader might be put off from continuing. But when I read the story back, I realized that most readers will not find as obnoxious as I did when writing him, since they don’t have my own unfortunate memories which they would be associating with the character. In that situation, it is possible to read such characters purely from the comic point of view, and to even find Dicky entertaining.

Anyway, I needed him to be such a character, since Craig had come to hate him, due to his personality.

When I’d finished writing the story, I felt that it was the most satisfying one in the series so far. It seemed to have more substance than the previous ones. Yet when I read it back, two days later, my impression was that it had seemed more vivid, more real, within my imagination as I was writing it, and that now it did not seem as substantial. Perhaps I’m too close to be able to judge such things. Delusion, is one of the obstacles that any writing needs to work to overcome and to be constantly on guard against—the same as any creative artist.

Another interesting impression of the work was that it contained a lot of illicit sexual content, yet by far the most obscene content is Dicky Bright’s personality.

When first reading it back, I noticed a weakness in the story that might be considered a flaw. There were two ‘cuts’ during a scene that perhaps should not have been there. The first one was when Craig split up with Andrea and kicked her out. None of the emotional content of this was referred to. In fact this passage was handled with so few words that it might be considered as glossing over the strong emotional content that should have been there. In such a situation in real life, when someone has moved in with you and you immediately realize that it is a mistake, there are obviously many strong emotions going on, on both sides, and this type of situation might ordinarily take weeks or months for the two people concerned to resolve and split up; and during that time, all sorts of difficult emotional situations are going to have to be negotiated. Yes, of course, you find an awful lot of content in just this one tiny aspect of the story. But this is a short story, not a novel; in fact, you could construct an entire novel just from this one incident. But this was not the focus of the story, and was not really important, so it was covered in the space of a few lines, and they parted, there and then.

Hmmm. As I think about this now, some of the above is not true. This situation is pertinent to the central theme of this story, Craig Stemford’s imprisonment. Him being imprisoned in this relationship with Andrea, which he had jumped into, was yet one more aspect of his general imprisonment. So, yes, if there had been more space, if the story could have been twice as long, I could have spent ten pages or so exploring this doomed relationship between them which he had imprisoned himself within and had to somehow find an escape from. Perhaps this is a flaw in the work, and I should rewrite it, making it twice as long. But then, where do you stop? I could doubtless find other aspects of the story to expand on, and I would end up writing an entire novel. But this is a short story, and this type of editing of content is probably one of the compromises that a writer must practice to write a short story?

When reading the story back, the other ‘cut’ was when Craig had sex with Drew in the woods. This was covered in about five words originally. This, it seemed to me, was too much of a flaw to leave. This event, to Craig, was obviously of great significance. The impression from the story, is that he had rarely had sex with men, though he was clearly gay from childhood, and when he saw Drew, Drew had connected in Craig’s mind with the boy from the television advert, who had probably been Craig’s ‘first love’, his first object of real desire. So, this encounter, when he had sex with Drew, would have been of profound significance to Craig. I did go back and add a little extra content here. My first draft had just read:

and Craig began a banquet, right there in the woods, in the dark, and afterwards, they were both stood holding each other, still half naked.

So, I added the following words to this:

and Craig began a banquet, right there in the woods, in the dark; he ate the most delicious food that he had ever tasted; he savoured the texture of it in his mouth; his whole mind, body and soul sucked in those scents and sights that seemed closer to his face than he would have ever guessed possible; and afterwards, they were both stood holding each other, still half naked.

This seemed the best solution to me. The first was too much of an omission, but in this situation, there is a big technical hurdle to cross. When writing about sex, it seems, to me, to be bad writing to explicitly describe the sexual acts. Hence, my above solution. We all know what the various physical experiences of sex feel like, so why do they need to be referred to. That would be an apprentice excess. To inexperienced writers, it would seem to be powerful writing to be explicitly describing sex, but later you realized that it is not powerful at all… Hmmm, I don’t know. But for sure, this area is one where great care needs to be taken, and all things considered, it is better to avoid explicit descriptions. In the works in this series, such descriptions are only used in comic context, and that seems to make them justifiable. In the above scene, there is certainly no comic content, and nor should there be any. The whole point of the story, is that, for Craig, this is a deadly serious, profound subject. So, explicitly recording the sexual performance would not be good writing in this instance, so I’ve alluding to some of the emotions that Craig would have been experiencing. And I think those few extra words made the ‘cut’ work. But do let me know, if anyone disagrees with me.

Characters and plot

Craig’s meeting with Andrea was first mentioned in the story: Andrea Segovia Loses Control. While writing that story, I felt that I wanted to write Craig’s side of this encounter. This was the starting point. But I had to find some way to make Craig sympathetic. In the Andrea story his was not really sympathetic. For me, when I’m going to write another account of the same situation, but from a different character’s point of view, the new account must add detail that changes the reader’s perception of the character’s and situations, otherwise there would be no point in writing the new account. So I needed Craig to be a victim. And I took each of the elements of his life, his career, his expensive house, his status, and thought of ways to make these seem far less attractive to him than they do to the outside observer. This began his imprisonment. In the mean time, I wrote the third story: If only cats could speak Japanese, which featured Lorna Craig, and Drew. Drew had only a small part to play, but he was one of those small characters who leapt out and demanded to be written about. Originally, I had thought that this third story would be a standalone story, but then this connection between Drew and Craig came to mind. This would add a further bar to Craig’s prison, and would start to add detail to Drew, since, by then, I had realized that Drew would want a story all to himself, but that the story would need to transform the reader’s impression of him, and making him, at least ‘bisexual’, or ‘open minded’ would be one way of adding a different angle to Drew (As it happens, I later thought of a further twist in the Drew story, which will transform his impression in the reader’s mind even more, and I can hardly wait to begin work on his story.). So, further, discovering that Craig was a closet gay, added the finishing touches to his character. Making the connection between the boy in the television advert of thirty years previous, and Andrea and Drew, who all possessed similar looks, was a tidy way of tying all the characters together, and also of making sense of Craig’s attraction to Andrea, and therefore explaining why he took the leap to arrange for her move in with him in the way that he did. Realizing all these connections between the characters, then suggested the plot details, and gave some ways to add depth to Craig’s character.

So, my first impressions of Craig, when he first appeared in Andrea’s story, were that I would like to write his story, but that he was not sympathetic, so how on earth would I go about it? But now, I feel close to him, find him extremely sympathetic, and hope that most readers will too.

Of course, there is at least one more story to come, featuring Craig’s possible affair with Drew, and whatever might happen to Craig next.

As there is with Samuel and Andrea.

I feel that these people are becoming close friends of mine.


Read the full story here.


6 May 2008



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