This has just been posted elsehwere in Boot Camp
It's straight of the bat, unedited, take it as it comes. IMO it's far more fun, more real and true than a carefully edited, "constructed" article where the truth is slowly edited out. (EDIT) I shall now remove typos!
Three Writers are walking together and they see a small dog in the rain,
perhaps waiting patiently at a closed door, or trotting miserably down the road.
They all physically see the dog.
Writer 1 couldn't give a sh---. It's just a dog in the rain.
Writer 2 feels sorry for the dog, and vaguely thinks of a story and wonders if he can use the image...
Writer 3 feels a blow in his stomach. Something rises somewhere, a heat, the vaguest of memories.
It feels as if the dog, its predicament, the image WAS SENT TO HIM.
IT PHYSICALLY HURTS. IT ACHES.
Dorthea Brande argued that when we are "tweaked" by something like this
it's because the image, the something, the snippet of conversation, a smell,
a colour, a sunset, whatever, CONNECTS TO SOMETHING INSIDE
Something old, something deep and possibly painful, something forgotten
or suppressed... we are feeling the power in the image of the dog but it is
actually the power of the vaguely-jostled deep memory. We might write in
the now but the power is in the way back then.
We do not need to ever KNOW what the original thing was, or the pains
if they were pains, but we "revisit" the swelling darkness of it, and allow it
to work its psychic dark magic on us.
What the memory or memories is or are is hardly the point. A common error when
reading this is to imagine that we must REMEMBER, actually recall the specifics.
WE DO NOT
In fact true so-called remembrance might well spoil the swelling story.
Memories that have been forgotten or suppressed may well have been forgotten
or suppressed for a reason. Trying to go there, trying to switch on a light and
understand the SPECIFICS is almost certain to be unsuccessful.
The writer does not need to know or remember or understand the darkness,
he or she merely needs to sense it, let it wash over, let its weight and truth
and hot winds affect today.
TWO WAYS OF ACCESSING
The Slow Burn, the Fermentation
We see something, our dog in the rain, for example. It thuds in the gut or the heart
(or the soul if we are lucky.)
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it. We must WAIT. We must allow the opening to open more, the weight and smell and pressure
to be combined and the NEED to grow until it forces its way out and we can no longer resist writing.
But of course we must not rely on memory to hold the idea safe. We need to have a way
of maintaining the faint connection and revisit every day, poking it with a stick, BUT
this but is important
BUT WE MUST NOT LOOK AT IT BECAUSE OF THE SENTINELS.
We need to tickle, prod, coax, but in the most minor ways. We absolutely
MUST NOT sit and think, stare at the problem, ask ourselves questions,
go left-brained, "wrack our brains" trying to remember.
It is NOT the incident, it is the emotional response we are looking for.
Let us make up an incident that happened to us when we were barely three. The obvious suppressed memory might be physical or sexual abuse, or perhaps “you” as a child saw a man beaten badly or a father beat a mother, or a dog cruelly run down and abandoned. There are a million possibilities including irrational childhood fears that have no connection to actuality.
IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT IS.
This is so important and few believe me. I say again, if there is or was a specific event (such as a beating, a murder, rape, a fire, a terrible illness, stumbling in on a parent having sex with a stranger, or merely some horrendous dream) IT-DOES-NOT-MATTER. You do not EVER need to recall the specifics, or even “know” what the incident (now fuzzy) was approximately.
Let’s say there was a dog in the rain and “somehow” way back when that image was associated with something awful (any of the above)… If it was suppressed by your psychic defences (I call these the Sentinels) why ON EARTH do you suppose they would just roll over after forty years and say, “Fair cop, guv, you remembered, we give in, what happened was this…”
Do you think the Sentinels are that dumb? Do you think, nearer to the events they didn’t have to deal with the memories? They know every trick in the book. Uh-oh, she’s sniffing round, better give her a “memory”, side-track her.
The harder you look, the less likely you are to discover truth.
Psychiatrists have known this for a hundred years. You have to sneak up on the truth and trick it.
But even now I’m misleading you or your getting the wrong end of the stick. I say again, it is not necessary to dig through and find the awful treasure.
It is not THE thing but the response to the thing that matters. To write with deep power does not mean you have to dig into the horrors or joys. What we seek is the heat of dark memories, the things that make us what we have become.
In this case, remember we saw a dog in the rain. We were Writer 3. The others didn’t have any connection triggered.
We write on our white board, “Little dog in the rain” or something similar. Maybe we have a photograph, or find something that is close enough that we can re-trigger the gut-feeling. DO NOT WRITE ABOUT IT.
Instead look at the white-board, THIS dog in the rain, and “think without thinking” just FEEL the image. The soft tendrils reaching back will feel for connections, and eventually they will be made. It might take 3 days. It might take months, years.
In the same way as the dog didn’t touch Writer 1, interested Writer 2 and blew away Writer 3, so it is with books, poems, short-stories, films, plays, TV shows, news reports, adverts. Different things hit us with differing intensities, BECAUSE OF WHO WE ARE and because of our deep pasts, especially the first twenty years.
If we re-awaken (and look away from) our dog in the rain connection, slowly “down there” deep in the soul, other things begin to connect.
Maybe for me (I’m making this up) I will see this trigger-dog, the similar-but-not-the-same photograph, keep hearing Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, remember (what?) a sad advert featuring a wet dog, think of a poem by Blake, a play by Pinter, almost remember my first wife and the dog we found, combine a story a poem, a TV serial, The Railway Children, 2001, then for some reason remember “Steve” from the children’s home and how he got angry and pushed the home leader down the stairs, oh and I broke a snooker cue, and there was the day I stole the rugby money, and and and…
Whether any of these things emerge clearly or merely in their essence is neither here nor there. The point is MY connections, what connects to what will be different from YOUR connections and probably driven by different deepnesses.
All we have to do is keep prodding, very, very gently, and with our eyes closed.
At some point, words, images, feelings, maybe lines will “want to write themselves down”. DON’T.
Just as we shouldn’t dive in Day One, so we shouldn’t dive in after a one-month pregnancy unless the story is screaming to burst from us like the Alien from John Hurt’s belly.
THINK maybe (not AT ALL about the original driving force, still probably unseen) but about this sense you have, this story that keeps rising up, something about a piano, a dog, a gas-fire. What’s that sound, that tone of voice? Who is the woman? Is it her dog? (All these questions and half-answers should be RIGHT brained, vague, NOT an interrogation…)
But there’s a line that keeps coming, something like Jennifer Merridrew, unmarried, but not a maiden, hides behind her piano, her fingers still…
THERE IS NO LAW THAT SAYS YOU MUST WRITE THAT LINE DOWN NOW!!
So why did it come, where’s the dog? I dunno. But the stars are aligning for you, some wormhole through space is forming, you have found (almost found) a back way past the Sentinels. Remember they look IN THE LEFT BRAIN not the right. Put anything in that left brain, think deliberately and they are back on the case.
Maybe you write “Piano” beside the dog on your white board. Everything should be, MUST be, vague, loose, unspecific, open-ended. Go to your surgeon and ask if you can have your left brain removed.
PLAY with the words, sounds, tone, feel and start thinking ONLY of the opening lines. That opening contains the whole of the story, all the deep connections, the tendrils, the connections to the darkness. Slightly different openings will start to feel sort-of right, others righter. It’s like trying to find Radio Luxembourg on your transistor radio that you sneaked into your bedroom. Tune in. Eventually, often very suddenly you find the channel, the signal is perfect. THE OPENING WRITES ITSELF.
It takes me, sometimes, YEARS to persuade a single Boot Camper of the power of this approach. Few TRULY believe me when I say that 98% of the time the ONLY thing I know when I start a story, finally start it on the screen or page, is that opening and that I simply “know” that the whole story will fall at my feet.
Of the stories in Ballistics, of all my first-prize winners, at least 80% will have been written like this. Now ALL my stories are “written like this.”
And I a fully aware this appears to be the total opposite of the principles of flashing.
It is not. Flashing, as will be explained, is a cheap-but-effective-trick, a sneak-in-the-back-door way of APPROXIMATING all that I have just talked about.