The CuriousPages Sketchbook

Writing: Daniel and the Wine Stain

Now that this story is finished, I find that when I read it back, I’m not sure what I think about this work. It starts off well, but then, when it becomes clear what the content of the story is, I find myself wondering whether people will be interested in reading such content, whether it is appropriate for a work of fiction; yet, I find that I am drawn in and cannot stop reading.

I feel that the story certainly is powerful and the story-telling seems competent. I am pleased with the work technically. The main drama seems to come from the collision of these two tormented characters, who, perhaps, both seem mad, and yet are both also recognisable, everyday characters (to my eyes, anyway—but then perhaps I am also mad, so who am I to judge?). The madness in most people lies only just beneath the surface, and is ill-concealed at the best of times.

I still don’t know what I think about this story. I don’t know whether other people would be interested in reading it and would enjoy it. So, as usual, any feedback is welcome.

The story, characters and plot

The starting point of this story was a simple idea that I wanted to explore—the idea of revenge, and particularly the way that many women go about achieving their revenge.

I had noticed this phenomenon on many occasions, but there was a particular incident from my own life that I had been recalling recently, and so I felt the need to write about it. It had happened about six years ago, or so, while I was at acupuncture college. There was a particular female student in our group who was a bully and always felt the need to dominate other people and to try to dictate to them how they should behave and what they should be doing; in short, your regular run of the mill “control freak”.

Over the three years of the course, there were a number of us that felt that she had destroyed the experience of being on the course; it was a small group, of between six to eight students, and her habit of wanting to dominate every situation and have other people organized according to her desires, stifled everyone else and ruined, what would have perhaps otherwise been, an enjoyable course. Because of her behaviour, all the other student’s had hated her since near the start of the course.

At one point in the final year, the other students elected me as their representative and then continuously requested that I do something to correct this bully’s behaviour (all the other students on the course were women, so there was continuous plotting going on, and nothing was ever handled in a direct way). I started to do what I could to correct the bully’s behaviour. Then at one point, she managed to notice that something was going on (yes, she was thick, but not that thick, so she managed to notice that something was afoot). But the only interpretation she could manage was to simply imagine that I did not like her. She wrongly assumed that all the other students did not have a problem with her. Being women of a certain sort, the other students were always two-faced in relation to K (the bully) and to her face, they would smile and be pleasant. Hence, K assumed that her relationship with them all was perfect, since she was too insensitive, or perhaps just too slow-witted, to work out that these other students hated her. I could not bring myself to be at all friendly towards her face, since it was not appropriate, so I guess this was why she jumped to the conclusion that it was simply me who hated her.

Anyway, she came to that conclusion, and then worked out a long, complex scheme to get her revenge on me.

There was a particular female member of staff, who acquired a nickname similar to Adolf Hitler’s name, and was not blessed with intelligence or sensitivity and was even more of a “control freak” than K was, and K worked out a complex plan to manipulate the delightful “Hitler” lecturer into carrying out a particular attack on me. Of course “Hitler” had no idea that she was being manipulated and fell for it. K had also managed to draw in another student into her plot for support; the other student was the most bullied student on the course (bullied by K) and was one of the main students who was continuously requesting that I did something about K, but as soon as K’s plot came to fruition, this other student (who was one of K’s main victims) then abandoned me and reinforced K’s position. She did this because her will was simply too weak for her to ever handle a face to face conflict, and she would adopt whatever position appeased her attacker, no matter how wrong that position was, or how much she secretly disagreed with it.

Such was the politics of being on that course—surrounded by women of a certain sort.

This experience kept coming back to me, so I decided to use this incident as the inspiration for a short story:

The starting point of the story

The central character would be a woman who was plotting revenge. She would be an abusive person, a bully, and when one of her victims attempted to defend himself against her, she would misinterpret his behaviour as an insult against herself. She would then use against him some perceived weakness of his. There would be some weakness that she had seen in him, and to hurt him, she would work out some way to reveal this to other people.

This was the outline that I started with.

Daniel

I needed some weakness in Daniel, something that he was self-conscious about, and something that Wendy could accidentally become aware of.

I then recalled an incident from my childhood. I had a friend called Mike. Mike was always mocking other people. One day I accidentally saw something that explained some things in his personality. I had noticed where he lived. He always kept this quiet and did not invite friends to his house. One day, I noticed his father pulling up outside the house. He drove one of those dated, blue “invalid carriages”, and I later discovered that he had a steel prosthetic leg. Another time, Mike was talking with a group of friends, in front of a row of shops, and I heard this invalid carriage pulling up at the end of the shops (it made a sound like a moped), and Mike quickly disappeared, making no excuses; he just legged it. His father then limped passed the group and said, “Hello, lads.” I realized that Mike had fled so that he did not have to acknowledge who his father was. On another occasion in the news agents (we both worked there, making up newspapers for delivery), the manager, a Mister Ford, said to Mike, innocently: “I didn’t know your father had a false leg; you’d never know from the way he walks,” and Mike’s face transformed into a shade of vibrant red and he walked into the back room, saying nothing.

All these incidents made it plain to me that Mike was intensely embarrassed about this father, because of his disability, and that he would go to considerable length’s to keep this fact secret. Perhaps he imaged that people would mock him or think less of him in some way, and perhaps that explained why Mike was always mocking other people—perhaps, but who knows…

And this situation was what I used to give me all the details about Daniel’s father. And this also provided me with the incident of Daniel seeing his father in the Town Hall and fleeing in embarrassment, which was the exact behaviour I had seen in my childhood friend Mike. And Wendy took my place as the observer. Once she had seen this, this gave me all the material I needed to supply her with her perceptions about Daniel, and to imagine that he hated her simply because she had warts, and to also give her a weapon that she could use against him to hurt him, for the purposes of getting her revenge on him. This provided me with the bones of my plot.

Wendy’s character

Her “whisperer” characteristic was another trait that I took from one of my own past experiences; this one was with a woman who was also called Wendy. She was a “strange” person, as most people are, I guess. If you had any dealings with her, business wise, she would behave as Wendy in my story did. The real-life Wendy was a homeopath who had assumed a “management” type roll. This was not an official roll; it was one she had assumed simply because she decided that the other practitioners who also worked in the same practice as her, needed to be organized and managed. But there is a certain type of woman who, though she might otherwise be a perfectly likeable person, once they take on a management roll, they become monsters. A number of women have also made this observation to me about other women that they have had to work with (it is not just a man’s point of view). And Wendy was one of those types. Her principle “modus operandi” was to make up any lies she could think of in order to manipulate people into behaving in the way she wanted them to, rather than simply saying what she wanted or what she thought. Everything would be done in this roundabout, manipulative way. I personally came to loathe the woman because of her behaviour. And it was this trait that I gave to Wendy The Wart.

Incidentally, this is also why I am now biased against all homeopaths.

The story’s theme

Though “disability” became the theme of the story, I had not set out to write about disability. It just so happened that I remembered this incident featuring my childhood friend, Mike, and this fitted the plot requirement exactly, so I used this incident, and then ended up making a feature of disability; hence Daniel then acquired his own disability (his stammer), and Wendy became defined by her disability (her warts and her feelings about having them; and perhaps you could also say that her inability to manage, was also a disability).

Once this theme started to develop, I realized that I should depict Daniel wrestling with his own feelings about both his parents and their disabilities, and trying to work out why he felt that way, why he found them embarrassing, and describing is turmoil over this. This would have provided some further content of substance, and would have been required, I feel, to do the theme justice, but within the restricted length of a short story, and the amount of plot that there was to cover, there was simply not the time for me to even mention this aspect, let alone explore it, so I had to leave that out.

So, I found myself writing a short story about disability. And when I read it back, I was, as I said above, not convinced that it had worked.

But why? What was it that I was unsure about? Perhaps it was that I felt that many people might simply be put of reading the story because of its theme. Or perhaps it was because there was something absent, something that all appealing fiction should have. Perhaps if I had made a feature of a romantic connection between Daniel and Gail, the story would have seemed to sit more easily in the reader’s mind. But then, there are plenty of sympathetic characters in the story—both Daniel and Gail are sympathetic from the start, and even Wendy becomes sympathetic in the end, despite her “evil” plot against Daniel, and there is plenty of mystery to draw the reader in; so, I just don’t know why I am uneasy about the story, why I am unsure that, as a piece of fiction, it has worked.

 

22 October 09


Having slept on it, I’m still not sure why I am uneasy about this story. I could add more content to show the characters interacting on a more ‘humane’ level, such as a romantic involvement between Daniel and Gail. But then, the fact that Gail is also romantically disabled, is unable to function, apparently, in a romantic relationship, is perhaps also an expression of the story’s theme. We are all disabled, in one way or another, and perhaps that is one of the points of the story. So, on the one hand it is appropriate that there are no “deep” interactions between any of the characters, that none of them really “make contact” with one another; yet on the other hand, I do feel that all the interactions could have been portrayed in much more detail. The interactions, generally, are portrayed in a superficial way (in comparison to how I would sometimes portray such things, perhaps), and I suspect that this is the only reason why I am still uneasy about the story.

But then, it is a short story and space is limited, and the story is, apparently, about disability, in all its forms, and in a short story you cannot write to the same depth that is possible in a full-length novel. And yet again, I also suspect that perhaps I am uneasy about the story because some elements of it are too near to the truth of my own history. It could simply be that.

So I have to conclude that I just don’t know what it is that troubles me about the story. I will look again at it in a few weeks, or months, and perhaps I will be sufficiently distanced enough from it then to be able to judge…. perhaps.

 

24 October 09


 

All the above comments refer to draft one of this story, which can be read here.

I have since added a lot of content to the first half of the story to address all my misgivings mentioned above:

Read the edited version here.

[also see: Editing: Daniel and the Wine Stain]

 

7 December 09

 

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