Another old piece while I’m working on other things. I’m tossing the hard copy and saving it electronically for posterity 🙂 Who would have thought when I wrote it that the writing and publishing world would be tossed on its head? Ah, well, a cautionary tale. Both fiction and non-fiction can date. Check out and analyse those that succeed before putting typing finger to keyboard.
Civilians will sometimes corner me and ask where I get my ideas. Always willing to oblige, I reply, ‘Coles Supermarket, second aisle on the right. They’re having a sale this week,’ I add. ‘It’s detective fiction.’
When I’m doing it hard, and each word is like an extraction minus the anaesthetic, or a string of words become ‘mere sound,’ the answer is unprintable.
They’re sure I’m holding out on them. The consensus is that there’s a wholesale outlet on the outskirts of town, disguised as an orthopaedic shoe shop. At this secret place, known only to aspiring writers, a defrocked novelist sells ideas at ten dollars a kilo to those in the know – and they want in!
I’m letting you in on the secret, civilians. Ideas are free. Ideas are easy. Really. Anyone can catch the disease. The nasty germs lodge themselves in your brain-cells and stick there, like those grains of sand that aggravate oysters. They invade your days and haunt your subconscious at night.
‘Do your ideas turn into pearls then?’
‘Only after a dozen scotch and sodas,’ I explain to the more persistent, ‘a lot of soul searching and pen chewing – and even then it’s a swine of a job – just ask the oyster.
Engraved on a cracked and pitted footpath in inner suburbia is a faded heart. ‘Peter loves Amanda forever.’ A teenager’s forever is generally fifteen minutes, so who does Peter love now? I don’t remember enough about that state to write about it. What about Peter and Amanda meeting again in middle-age? They can outdo each other in the ‘what if’ stakes – in a misty eyed attempt at recreating a past, warped by time and regret.
Bernie Denton is a lothario who hates women. He doesn’t see the two terms as incompatible because he considers himself a businessman. He is the product – and vulnerable elderly women are the clients.’ Supply and demand, hon, supply and demand,’ he tells disillusioned clients – and his mirror confirms that he has the goods.
Shirley, a middle-aged housewife notices a logo on a passing van that says Mistresses – no Mattresses Galore. That is a Freudian slip, or is it something darker, deeper?
What about making the central character a man who wonders how he can juggle and support both a mistress and wife at seventy. What he saves in condoms and chocolates, he can more than make up in geriatric aids.
Let’s make the woman young. A twenty-first century kind of woman. Would she take this shit? No, you think. She’d be out the door in a short, or sleeping with his brother, his father or his best friend.
These scenarios are the stuff of mainstream fiction.
Let’s inject a little fantasy and turns Shirl’s husband into a woman then stuff him / her in with the mistresses in the van.
The Bard had ideas, or stole ideas- who cares. Let the intelligentsia fight that one out. I doubt they would have survived without his lyric prose to back them up, or universal truths to light the way.
I don’t want to appear sacrilegious, but there were ideas floating in the ether before Shakespeare contemplated on whether ‘to be or not to be.’ Caveman used to spin tales around pictographs in cave walls. There was a lot of grunting, miming and pointing that might have translated as ‘See that big hairy thing with sticks on head? Well, let me tell you about the one that got away!’ The story had all the ingredients necessary for a good yarn: love, lust, adventure and a recipe for mastodon soup. The masses lapped it up. There wasn’t terribly much to do after sunset, and storytelling killed time in between bouts of procreation. The teller of tales knew how to put over an anecdote in those days. He had to – the term critic had different connotations back then. Critics may not have had the verbal skills to get across their meaning, but their expertise with hefty clubs made their intentions as clear as that of the contemporary critic’s most scintillating prose.
So, dear civilian, the question isn’t where but – what? What do you do with your ideas once they dig in for the duration?
You start by exposing them to the light of day. The pathetic bunch refuse to make eye contact. You shake them firmly but kindly, and spread them on the table.
Once upon a time, a girl discovered a pea under her mattress and married a prince; kissed a frog and married a prince; wore size eight gold lame sling backs and married a prince. Not long after the honeymoon, the prince and the girl discovered that it was all hard work to keep the honeymoon going.
Then there was Annie Broughton. She married a prince, only the toad tried to bring her down. Man he was a square He stripped her of her dignity, her self-determination and her youth then left her for a younger, more interesting woman. It’s the old story about love, hate, rejection and revenge. A tale that was old even when Eddie Cantor sang ‘He’s making whoopee.’ But those are the universal and age old truths. There you have it then, that’s the story.
A scene. Annie sits on a staircase, waving a fag in one hand and a vodka straight up in the other. Terrific hook, but what do I do with her now? Sooner or later she’s got to come down the staircase.
The story could revolve around a staircase, a bit like having an audience with the Queen. People would visit then leave. The story would have to revolve around the events of one night. Perhaps I will insert a series of flashbacks that lead to that night. What would she say? How does she say it? How can I tell before I, myself meet Annie?
Never mind the plot, feel the characterization. Annie is twenty. Likes old movies. Can’s stand phonies. She will give her last coin to a busker who plays Bob Dylan songs. She lives in a one bedroom flat in St Kilda. Her father left them – Annie and her mum – when Annie was eight. There have been a series of uncles since then. Coming and going. The last uncle influenced her hasty departure. She’s now sitting on the staircase waiting for Mr Right. Despite her cynical appearance, Annie is an optimist. Sounds like a CV doesn’t it? It is. It’s Annie’s CV.
Tension and conflict. Like a credit card that shall remain nameless, no self-respecting tale should leave home without it. You know Annie; let me introduce you to Mike and Gordon.
Mike is a part time bar tender, an aspiring playwright and sometime actor – resting. He’s working on the definitive play about war. How old men send the country’s youth to die, and how those who survive become the old men who send the country’s youth out to die. Gordon is a decade older than Annie. An up and coming real-estate agent. The original Material Boy would have been Madonna’s soul-mate if they had met. You know now who to root for, don’t you? You know who the protagonists are? Or do you? Do I? Annie, Mike and Gordon – a ménage-a-trois. Which will Annie choose? Love or security? The count is still out.
Let’s sample the setting and the historical context. Take the ain’t we had fun generation, mix in a pinch of Pot, a knitted crew neck top, tight brown corduroy flares and add a touch of Beatles telling you that ‘…love is all you need.’ Simmer the concoction for five minutes and you have a gently stoned Annie and Mike handing out how to burn your draft card leaflets.
Several drafts later, the tale is done, and you dress your child in ribbons and bows then send it out into the world. ‘The pain’ you tell anyone who will listen. ‘My dear, let me tell you about the pain – it was a bloody birth.’ You now have no control and everyone else has an opinion about your child. They can hack it to pieces and send it back to you in a brown paper bag. You check the letter box each day and hope someone out there will love your child.
As you wait, you wonder if you have anything worth saying. Which leads you to marvel at how you could have the temerity to think that you have produced anything worth reading.
So, dear civilian, the next time you have an idea, a wonderful blockbuster plot that you would like to share, send it to Inspiration Lodge, a home for demented writers. They’re sure to be grateful.