‘Free writing’ advocacy/’The Dinner Party’ short story example

 

 

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I would hope, and I can’t think of a way to word this without sounding completely pretentious, that any art is an organic extension of the self. I have this horrid, hippy idea I keep at of the back of my mind that to a certain extent creative expression is something channelled through you – almost something outwith your control. Wait! Come back, I’m not done.

Probably what I am doing here is attaching a romanticised ideal to the feeling that comes when everything falls into place and your ideas are flowing freely and unremitted. So far I have proven not to be a great planner when it comes to writing. A lot of the time I am pretty much going on a theme, a way of feeling, or a certain point I want to convey in an indirect way, instead of having characters addressing ideas explicitly or weighing myself down with clunky exposition which I don’t seem to be particularly good at anyway.

I find it much easier and more enjoyable at present to sit down with a vague airy-fairy theme and see what happens. Usually whenever I try to write with a gathering of plans I end up with something stilted: some kind of hellish amalgamation of disjointed drivel that spills out in tortured leaps and jerks, punctured frequently by ever-increasing checking of social media for distraction, until it collapses inwardly on its bloated self and is lost and abandoned forever, and the sum total of three hour’s writing is for me to be with nothing to show, mincing about on facebook instead.

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I am aware that the way I presently enjoy writing and what’s right are two different things: I’m not sure how well the ‘sit down and see what happens’ approach will serve me moving on, and certainly when it comes to writing longer pieces, I find I often trap myself down inescapable holes. So plenty to work on. I do feel, however, that ‘free-writing’ (as it were) is a constructive way to combat imaginative blocks. To sit down for ten to fifteen minutes, and let whatever tumbles out take shape on the page. Don’t go on for much longer than that and become frustrated again. And even if ninety percent of it is drivel, there tends to be some glimmer of hope that can propel me onwards. The rest, keep for the great drivel anthologies published posthumously. I am not a fluid writing machine, I prefer to write when I feel like writing, and quite often many hours can produce only a couple of pages at most. However, initial daily attempts at free-writing have helped a lot with being more comfortable at writing consistently, at greater length and for protracted periods of time. The more often I do it, the more organic the writing feels. The bigger the gaps I leave, the more the rising granite walls of nothingness take shape around my brain, and a ceiling of awkward, stilted writing forms over them once more.

This is a story that came out of a free-writing attempt. I think a lot of it kinda mirrors that stream-of-consciousness approach. After the opening passage I felt a theme and feeling develop, so it was easier to complete from there on. Suspiciously like it was being channelled through me…like the writing was not my own! Sorry, I’ve gone again. Here it is below, ‘The Dinner Party’.

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The Dinner Party

Towards the end of the lane the houses started to fluctuate in size and shape. Meds strode along at a hasty pace, leaping over upturned bins and weaving past idle bystanders. As his pace quickened, the pavement spread itself ever more thinly until it came to resemble a sliver on which he balanced, speedily walking along one foot in front of the other. Fellow pedestrians became ever fewer until he was beating a solitary path down the fragment of kerb remaining to him. To his left and right residential homes strained and warped themselves into unrecognisable, fluid structures. Great, spongy grey walls rose to immeasurable heights, curving over his head at the pinnacle of their rooftops and spilling back over onto Med’s tightrope walkway. During other passages, tiny figurine homes littered his path and he was forced to kick them out of his way in irritation as he flew along.

His stress ever increasing, Meds realised he had forgotten the exact address of his dinner party. Wheeling about in frustration, he knelt down and attempted to peer through the tiny windows of the current row of miniscule houses. But it would not correspond with his line of vision; his enormous eyes could perceive no human motion, or indeed any interior at all, beyond the stamp-sized glass windows. And even if he were able too, how could he explain his current gigantism? Many of the expected crowd would be new acquaintances. How was he to mingle, when his very eye was the size of the side of a house? And to greet people, to tell anecdotes over dinner? Surely his voice would boom and resonate through every eardrum in vicinity, crashing rolls of thunderous sonic noise wrenching the air itself in twine? No, I must retreat, Meds rationalised. Where were the bigger houses again, the ones with roofs that skewered the sky? But as he tried to rotate backwards he realised how fragile the kerb beneath him had become, how small it had shrunk, indeed as he gazed it suddenly seemed nothing more than a piece of string, and not even a taut piece of string, a loose, ragged length that snapped underneath his feet and sent him spinning and screaming into the empty darkness below.

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Little slivers of light pierced his eyelids as he slowly regained consciousness. Staggering to his feet, Meds assessed his surroundings. A cramped tunnel extended around him, as far as his limited vision could make out, in either direction. Dark, moist stone walls rose to meet a curved granite roof just above his head, dripping with some oily substance. Feeling his way initially along the jutting individual stones of the wall, Meds attempted to calculate how late he currently was for dinner. ‘If only this damned oil would stop dripping on my suit!’ He raged. Still, at least his size seemed relative to his surroundings now. No embarrassing enormousness to contend with.

Hours seemed to slip by around him as he pawed his way through the slimy tunnel, occassionally slipping and cursing in the semi-darkness. Each groping hand, clasping desperately at the stone surfaces surrounding him, drew Meds closer to a creeping realisation, a distant feeling of familiarity and a current of human life ebbing underneath the solid rock of the walls that penned him into this tunnel, as if at any moment the stony surfaces might come alive with their own stone appendages, arms, legs, hands, foreheads, eyes and mouths all straining through the rock, clawing desperately for attention, until the whole tunnel was a live, vibrant organism, grasping at him for contact as he fled through it.

In the distance, through these fleeting hallucinations, he could discern a light. And yet it was moving! Bobbing to and fro, playfully dancing in the hollow emptiness. But was it behind him? Meds spun back and forth, his panic spreading as the spot of light weaved its way silently towards him, reflecting off the wet stone, flickering in and out of consciousness, darting this way and that, ever stronger, ever brighter, ever closer.

Suddenly there was a face in front of him. A woman’s face, and she cradled the candle in one hand, shielding its flame with another. ‘Mr. Modell?’ she exclaimed. ‘Mr. Modell, where have you been? We have been waiting for you to arrive to begin dining – our guest speaker, after all!’

Meds squinted in the candlelight as he recognised his surname, somewhere in the recesses of his memory. He stared back at the woman’s worried expression. ‘l’m terribly sorry,’ he began slowly, treasuring the sensation of words forming on his tongue, the thrill of the exchange, ‘I appear to have gotten a little lost on my way. You see, I-‘

But at this his companion cut him off. ‘You mustn’t explain now, only we must make haste, you see. You are to be the main speaker tonight, and what a mess I find you in! Your clothes, wet and torn! This won’t do, it won’t do at all!’

And abruptly she set off at a frantic pace, carefully balancing the candle in one hand whilst dragging Meds forcefully with the other. Tired after his exertions, Meds allowed himself to be pulled along, watching the grey walls flying by until suddenly they burst out of the tunnel and into an enormous, lavish dining hall. The walls here rose toweringly high, displaying beautiful architecture, fabulous paintings, ornaments and billowing curtains, a grandiosity compimented by the astoundingly radiant chandelier that decorated the ceiling above, casting glowing light upon the hundreds of immaculately attired guests who lined the seemingly endless walnut dining table below.

With a bump the woman pushed him down into a seat at the head of the huge table, and immediately guests around him began probing him with questions. Where was he from? What was his job? Was he married? Did he have children? Why was his suit so wet? And, embarrassed by his lateness and unruly state, Meds diligently attempted to answer every quickfire question thrown his way. For each question however, a voice at the back of his mind wondered ‘Why do you have to know that?’ or ‘Why must I tell you?’ or even, ‘What does it matter? There seem to be hundreds of people here, and probably we will never even cross paths again?’

And true enough, soon the incessant questions gave way to incessant monologues, lengthy, loquacious stories on subjects Meds had no knowledge of, and desired no knowledge of. The group at his end of the table took it in turns to lecture him on far reaching, diverse, infinitely dull topics, but at such speed that Meds never at any point had time to be able to eat, for fear of looking disinterested. And gradually the individual monologues began to blend until they were all shouting over each other: words cascaded over the table, battering into other words, convoluting, mixing and reaching such a crescendo of tumultous noise, louder and louder, faster and faster, until the inevitable happened and they became a single, clear note, throbbing with a dull rumble in Med’s temples. Their faces were all turned towards him now, their eyes fixated on his own, their mouths forming little circles as they each emitted their synchronous notes.

A passing waiter forced a bunch of paper sheets into Med’s hands, and looking down he realised they were a script, a script for his contribution. As he glanced back up he noticed they all had them; everyone at the table had little piles of paper balanced upon their laps, and all had reached the same ominous note depicted on each of their individual prompts. Meds rose uncomfortably, his hands gripping the table’s edge, and began stammering out the lines allocated to him, but the words struggled to reclaim form and substance amidst the vibrating frequency wailing incessantly around him, and his speech, his keynote speech, was buried under the rising cacophony, his lips trembling and his knuckles white as they grasped tightly at the table’s end.

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‘The Dinner Party’ free ebook download

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13 thoughts on “‘Free writing’ advocacy/’The Dinner Party’ short story example

  1. First and foremost Stephen, I have to say I am delighted by your honesty in the preamble. I’ve written poetry and short stories, although my latest discipline is novels. As you will appreciate I’ve tried an abundance of writing exercises, and free-writing was one of them. It can work if you find yourself in a rut, but I have other methods of kick-starting my imagination. In your own case, I think the free-writing idea works.
    The first thing you must do, is remember not to ‘cheat’ yourself. It’s only free-writing if you set off without a pre-conceived idea.
    Now, to your story, ‘The Dinner Party’. As I found with the other short story of yours that I read recently, you have a natural desire to be a storyteller, and within you, a feeling that you’d like to be a writer. Note, I’m making a distinction between the two, because contrary to what many believe; they are not the same thing.
    I think this particular tale has promise, but it needs a ‘hook’. Instead of explaining that in detail here, I’ll give you a link to my recent post on the A to Z Challenge where I write about such things – and it’s a very short piece.
    http://tombensoncreative.com/2014/04/09/h-is-for-hook/
    I’m not going to lecture you on short story writing, but no matter how ‘free’ and ‘unique’ we want to be, it is necessary to learn the basics first, and then go our own way. If I’m not boring you to the point of smashing up your mandolin, let me know, and I’ll drop you a line with some basic pointers.
    Whatever you do – don’t give up on it, because I’m following you, and I want to see progress! LOL

    • Haha, or writing a tortured ballad on it. Thanks again for the feedback. I’m not sure how well a hook would work in something that’s pretty broad and essentially metaphorical – that said I am terribly narrow-minded and tend to write similarly to the things I read, eg. Murakami. but for sure I see your point and I’m always happy to absorb new pointers. It was interesting to read the post. I will send you my email address…somewhere…will have a look around to find a link. Nice one, thanks again 🙂

  2. Okay there should be a love button because I love this. I had no trouble following this one. I love that I have to wind down a trail and draw some of my own conclusions. Frankly, I am tired of contrived, pieced together or overdone dialogue laden books that are churned out to the masses like so many reality television shows. “We must give them what they want or they will not buy it,” that may be true but perhaps we should sometime give them what they need, and that may just be a bit of confusion, something to pull their snoozing brains up off the cerebral couch and out onto the cluttered path of real thinking! I am trying to “shape up” my own novel due to things people have told me and that I desire it to be read. But after too much of this I find my own words seeming foreign to me and the passion with which I began dwindles. But don’t listen to me. I am a rule breaker, systems buster, rebellious little hummingbird. And do read The Idiot. I think you will be delighted by his style in it. :))

  3. Apols for taking ages to respond to your following of my blog! I’m in first draft mode of novel which means I go somewhere very off-line for a while. But thank you for following and you make me aware that I must do another post soon which is a good thing. Regarding you post here, I like the idea of free writing very much, if you can catch the end of a lucid dream even better! For novel work I’m realising though it’s a date with the desk, very regularly, like a job. I think they call it the golden thread or something? That lovely vein you get when in free writing mode? Will check out your music too. I do the songs too, but producing wise so far backing for the pros. Nothing wrong with the kitchen table and garage band though too. Keep writing!

  4. First, I agree that when you write (creatively) you need to sit down and let the ideas flow. My creative writing instructor was firm in emphasizing that construction is another part of the process. I always encouraged my students to just write – no syntax, just write!
    I agree with Tom that you need a hook. This is an age for writers where we need to catch the reader around the throat in the first paragraph (or it seems so). The authors I work with can work the hook into the story after they have developed it.
    You have a dark edge which I like. Keep enjoying your craft.
    Please come back to my blog after the A to Z thing is over. I am working with a publishing group (we started as mainly horror) and yes we are looking for writers.

  5. You belittle yourself in the introduction but you actually write better than some published writers I know. This story is professionally written. The fantastic beginning has a thoroughly captivating effect and by the time Meds regains consciousness there is no opting out of the story. The dark aspect of it endears me. But I thought Meds was crazy to have such vivid, phantasmagorical experience. Only he was the guest speaker. Ha!
    Good work!

Thankyou for reading, feedback/constructive criticism always welcome :-)

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