Monday, 16 September 2013

The Keys to a Story

I'm proud to present Romy Wood as my guest blogger. Her second novel, Word on the Street, will be out in October. It is a darkly comic reflection on homelessness,life writing and dermatology. Take it away, Romy:

Have you any experience of being locked up? In prison, in a psychiatric ward, in quarantine? Or experience of being locked out? Of your house, your work place, your car?

Both these work metaphorically, too: you could be locked inside yourself, unable to communicate for physical or psychological reasons. You could be locked out of a social group or a way of life.

Being locked – in or out – can be very frustrating. There can be feelings of anger, panic, hatred; there could be relief, too, or insight or inspiration.

Try writing about times when you have been locked in and locked out. Let yourself scribble freely about the place, and the feelings and behaviours that emerged. Write about the people you were locked in with or locked out by. Examine the interactions and dynamics. Write about what you felt like saying or doing but didn’t. This is rich preparation for Creative Writing – fiction, non-fiction or somewhere-in-the-middle.

Now consider a character, perhaps choosing one you have already done some work with. Lock this character up somewhere s/he would really struggle with. Maybe a private, reserved, quietly-spoken character is on a prison wing with some loud confrontational characters. Or a manic character is trapped in a gloomy, snail-paced psychiatric ward. These scenarios are smouldering touch papers, putting together people with conflicting needs and unpredictable behaviour, which could lead to a domino-effect of mini-explosions.

And play with status too: a highly educated prisoner or psychiatric patient is under the direction of a guard or nursing assistant with no qualifications. The education, in this context, is suddenly irrelevant. The characters will have to find other ways to establish status. You could try a status swap with being locked out, too. Maybe the owner of the house or the business has to persuade a child or an employee to let them in. (I worked as a housekeeper for a well-known family years ago, and I didn’t hear my eminent employer banging on the front door – this was a very large house – I turned suddenly in the kitchen to find him doing an inelegant forward roll in through the window. And he had no trousers on.)

My second novel, ‘Word on the Street’ (Cillian Press October 1st) began with the question: what would happen if a disease meant people had to be quarantined & locked in together? I asked myself what type of characters would find this especially challenging, and make it interesting for the reader: a man who struggles with social interaction and proximity, a woman with a dependent grandmother waiting for her elsewhere. A posh lady and a young man who revels in being as revolting and offensive as he can. And then, to balance the situation, a young woman for whom being locked in is a welcome relief from being locked out. From that first question came the whole story.

Turning the keys in the lock can bring out the complexities of your characters – the best, the worst, the past, the weird and the wonderful.

Do let me know how you get on with this exercise and where it leads.

Romy Wood
‘Bamboo Grove’ Alcemi October 2010

‘Word on the Street’ Cillian Press October 2013 

Romy is a recovering secondary school teacher. She has an MA in The Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing from Cardiff University and lectures in Creative Writing for the Open University. She writes novels because they are easier to write than short stories and poems. She drinks too much Coca-cola, likes to win at Scrabble and walks the tightrope that is Bipolar Disorder.

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