Monday, 27 September 2010

Plots live flamingo mallets

John Tenniel illustration, coloured by Fritz Kredel

The plot of my current short story keeps squirming around like the live flamingo mallets in that croquet game in "Alice in Wonderland". Very provoking, as Alice herself might have said.

This story began as a humorous short dealing with a young man coming to terms with the increasingly confused behaviour of an elderly relative. As I wrote on, the plot started subtly remoulding and contorting itself, like the flamingo's neck twisting to look Alice in the face with an expression of puzzlement.

The plot looked back quizzically into my own face and demanded  a detour into the undergrowth! The reassuring humour gradually leeched out in twists of more savage irony. Then the characters started to jockey for new positions within this adjusted panorama. I kept coming up to high hedges in the maze of my original idea and then turning to see a stunning new horizon for which I hadn't thought to pack a map, let alone sandwiches.

As I tried, like Alice, to adjust my grip so as to take control again, tucking the body of the plot firmly under my armpit with its legs hanging down, it would spring back into another attitude and skip off down an alleyway I hadn't foreseen.

Sitting back with a coffee at "half-time",  I replotted for some pace and drive within the new focus of the plot. I set off again, determined to finish before fluttering around editing my words, stalling and second guessing the finished story.

So far I've found the plot path has changed from springy turf and warm meanders round sunlit bends to a stark gothic stairwell falling away into a bleak gulley between terror and tenderness.

Flipping heck! I've just got to hunker down and finish it now; then lay it aside for a while until it's uncurled its tatty toenails for trimming and see how I can polish it till it bowls through the home hoop and into the reader's life.

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