Sunday, 10 May 2009

Controlling idea, premise, subject and theme, a love-sick finch and tractors in macs. Wednesday 6 May 2009.

Before workshopping our writing we thought again about what we were writing about; controlling idea, premise, subject and theme or world view. Nancy Kress and Robert McKee are the bods for this stuff and I’m seeing it in context now that I’ve tried to write a short story.
It seems so obvious, of course, but identifying your theme makes writing easier because you can choose scenes, events and imagery that reflect that word view. Oh yes.

I know it is obvious when Kress and McKee say it but most obvious things are a revelation to me. For a long time I couldn't understand why skirting-boards in other peoples' houses weren't like mine; defined by a ridged detail of sooty dust. One day I caught a friend at work with a bowl of soapy water and a scrubby cloth.

'Does everyone do that?'

'Think so'

'Do they? How often? Christ it’s all slotting into place now. Oh my goodness! Is that why other people have tidy bathroom windowsills too?'

Why is there this conspiracy of silence over helpful information just because it’s obvious?

With the Writer with the Writerly Name we workshopped our stories. No one was harshly criticised but we were palpably subdued by the end. I think we’ve realised that having the story is only the start; now we have to make that story believable and alive, and all before the end of May.

My office has recently acquired solar reflecting glass which is a bit mirrory from the outside. There were a pair of chaffinches out on the cement ledge a few days ago; a plain brown-job hen and a rosy cock (yes, yes, very funny). The male was peck, peck pecking at the window, level with our ankles, all day.

At first I though he was pecking at tiny insects. I couldn’t see any but I imagined they were only visible to the naked finch-eye, or maybe he was locating them by ultrasound or smell or radar or some other finchian special-power. Sometimes though, he really launched himself at the glass. A man visited the office for referencing advice and said the little cock wasn’t eating; he was defending his territory against his own reflection. Sure enough the little brown hen hadn’t pecked at the glass all day – I suppose I imagined she wasn’t hungry or she’d eaten a cracker-bread the day before.

The little brown hen hopped around on the ledge patiently all day whilst the battle raged. Around 4 o’clock she disappeared. The cock was still having it out with himself when I left work; his poor little face surely must have been sore and he can only have been exhausted. Eventually he’s going to have to concede his territory to his own reflection but it won’t matter by then because he was so busy scrapping that he didn’t notice his missus gone. The event felt like a parable but I’m not sure what the moral of the story is.

I know the photo is of a Blue Tit. I didn’t have my camera at work. I hang the bird nuts on my primeval looking monkey puzzle tree to deter squirrels who steal all of them (and demolish the bird feeder) in one go. But I feel a bit ambivalent about doing that because squirrels are only being squirrels, they didn’t be born and then think, ‘I’m going to be a pest and wreck bird feeders.’ They are just helping themselves to a yummy snack. But then blue bottles are just being blue bottles and I generally don’t feel undecided about whacking them with a rolled up copy of the Daily Mirror.

The other two photographs are of tractors wearing macs on the shore at Lytham. Very nice, very nice.


lonlonranch said...

first time I've ever felt sorry for a cock.

tee hee

I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes, when your sitting there at your computer or blank pad of paper, absolutley not writing anything, it feels like someone somewhere out there has a writing secret that you don't have, and they're not telling.

Writing a draft is hardly even half the battle. The real accomplishment is getting that blend just right. I think the answer is to try and not be too precious. Thats my problem sometimes, i trust my own subconscious too much and hope that what it writes will be what to stick with. Its better to be ruthless and cull the chaff so that the good stuff comes shining through.

Like that cock and his reflection. He's got too bogged down in letting his instincts take over that he's gone and lost his girlyfriend. Maybe he needs to stop hanging around windows...

kim mcgowan said...

Thanks David,
Your comment came at exactly the right time. A friend I trust has just looked at my first short story and suggested swingeing cuts; most of them relating to sections I'd done as part of a stylistics module, stuff I was well proud of and precious about.
Luckily I've got to the stage where I just want the writing to stop sounding juvenile, so I've culled away - you are right, she was right.
Now maybe now I need to learn to stop hanging around windows too (wouldn't see the rosy-cock then)