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When nothing goes to plan



My last post, about three million years ago, it seems now, was about creating characters. So what did I do after I wrote it? I decided to enter a short story competition. Nothing bad about that, except for the fact I took all the earnest advice, I had just handed out, far too seriously, about planning and plotting and making sure everything was right before getting to grips with the story. Bad idea.

I was inspired, you see, by a photograph. Nothing wrong about that, although it was of me on holiday in Bordeaux, which seems a bit self absorbed. But I just thought how cool it would be to write a story about a woman who wants to treat her mother to a weekend in Bordeaux, only to realise that her mother knows the city really well, on account of a broken love affair long ago (get your hankies out now).

I decided to up the tension by putting the affair against the backdrop of the invasion of France in WW2. Which was where it all began to unravel. Because, if I made it a modern day story, then the mother couldn’t really be much younger than 90, and probably wouldn’t be up to trailing round Bordeaux and bumping into old acquaintances in the maquis (unless they were literally skeletons in her cupboards). And, when I started researching the history of the time I got in a right tangle. It was almost impossible to give my characters factual backgrounds without wondering if I was saying something completely wrong. All my inspiration was strangled and died. (Hankies, don’t forget the hankies).

My problem was that I let the research take over. If I’d done a bit of free-writing, say, I might have found a way round the problem. (Maybe by making the daughter tell the story to her daughter, and maybe setting it in a city whose past is slightly easier to be confident about. Maybe.).

But there you go. After writing and writing and re writing and reading more than I actually wanted to about the history of Bordeaux, and getting far too close to the competition deadline without achieving anything concrete, I screwed the whole lot up and sent in a story I wrote two years ago. Then I went to Ikea. Not exactly what Brendan Behan would have done, but then, despite my artistic tendencies, I am a middle aged woman who has cutlery needs.

Live and learn. In writing follow your instinct, not the rules.  And when in doubt, keep blogging. It’s nice to be back.

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


18 thoughts on “When nothing goes to plan

  1. It’s a hair pulling out kind of exercise, isn’t it? The more you do, the deeper you get into it, the closer you get to drowning. I love the research of historical fiction, but there comes a point when you have to ask a member of your family to pull you out from beneath the mountain of sticky notes, old journals and reference books.

    Look forward to much more of your writing, Elaine! Cheers

    Posted by peakperspective | March 17, 2014, 4:31 pm
  2. Maybe you researched that story beyond short. It must have needed limits to overcome. Now you have your backdrop aligned. With the city planning mostly done, now you can live lives in prose there in all life’s fullness. I wonder what will be?

    Or you could join SSCCA.

    Posted by MikeW | March 5, 2014, 5:23 pm
    • You’ve lost me. What’s the SSCCA? St Stephen’s Classical Christian Academy or The Sumter Shaw Community Concert Association? The trouble is I couldn’t plan anything about the city, except what it looks like. The situation there in WW2 was confused to say the least.

      Posted by elainecanham | March 5, 2014, 5:27 pm
    • Short Story Competition Catalysts Anonymous.

      (0: sorry about that…

      Anyway, if that story becomes a novella or a long or short short story or a full-fledged novel, I want to know.

      Posted by MikeW | March 5, 2014, 5:31 pm
    • I’ll keep you posted. I’m on to another one at the moment, which is also driving me crackers but in a good way.

      Posted by elainecanham | March 5, 2014, 5:34 pm
  3. Hi Elaine, I wondered where you’d been. I guess I have the exact opposite problem – I never want to bother with research and probably get the facts wrong as a result. I liked your post about characters though. Did you say cutlery needs? I think you should elaborate on this issue. Post idea?

    Posted by librarylady | March 3, 2014, 4:31 pm
  4. I guess we can get embroiled in the details and forget the heart of the story. It might come back in a different form at some point, who knows? Good luck!

    Posted by olganm | March 3, 2014, 7:56 am
  5. Well I needed my hanky! I had tears rolling down the cheek! Thanks for the advice so delightfully put!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | March 2, 2014, 3:12 pm
  6. “My problem was that I let the research take over. If I’d done a bit of free-writing, say, I might have found a way round the problem.”

    This does help me make writing go smoother. Write what you know first (or you think you know) then come back and fact check when the ideas are down on paper.

    Posted by lbwoodgate | March 2, 2014, 1:15 pm
  7. Sound advice, too much research can kill the flow. Hope the story you sent anyway does well.

    Posted by KRC | March 2, 2014, 11:54 am
  8. Nice to have you back too. Pity about the story but you can always revisit it ready for another competition.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | March 2, 2014, 11:42 am

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