Critical Self-Reflection

So, while uploading Catch the Troll just now, I realised that after writing it (about a year back) I had to add an exegesis, or critical self-reflection about the process, the story, etc. I thought it might be nice to put it up here and I’d love to hear your own reflections and stories and such, as well. It also goes to show that I do put some thought into this haha, I think we all do.

Critical Commentary

This story is a surrealist narrative, one of the hallmarks of my writing style. It’s a style I grew fond of first with the reading of Rose Madder by Stephen King as a boy, but more recently and with far greater impact and emphasis, Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl. Each of the three mentioned play with reality and fantasy, usually with sinister effect. Quite often, Gaiman and Dahl toy with fables and myths as well, with the intention of twisting a well known tale into something modern and dark.  Dahl and Gaiman – I mention these two prominently as they tend to use the devices and themes I do, within the short story whereas King is more of a straight genre novelist – usually employ a gradual shift, that is, to begin with seemingly normal circumstances and situations and only slowly slip into the supernatural and surreal.

It is, to a lesser extent, what I’ve done here. I say lesser as they are more obviously horror than this piece – rather than create what could easily have been horrific (more-so because of the nature of the story and its relation to the classic children’s tale Three Billy Goats Gruff) I opted instead to create an uneasy atmosphere, an old world feeling harking back to oral storytelling traditions and I think because of that, the piece is more distinctively mine. I have found, in recent times, my writing style as it pertains to short stories, has become fragmented. Stories, I’ve found, are made up of pieces. Being selective about what to show and when, presentation-wise as well as structurally speaking, is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there is limited time and space within the short story framework. Tying an entire narrative into one linear piece isn’t easy when constrained to a small word count and indeed with a story of any complexity, nigh-on impossible. More importantly, making short, sharp and effective jumps allows me to play with narrative chronology, with character and with plot. It is especially helpful if, as with my own writing, the nature of the story and the events therein are meant to lead to a sense of mystery or ambiguity. In some senses it marks a departure from my most recent material, in that it is more deliberately lyrical than my usual (current) stark form, while at the same time containing hints of that.

In workshops and through other forms of feedback, it has been mentioned that the ambiguity I like to use works to the detriment of the story at hand in that while there is some evocation of unease, the inherent confusion and seeming lack of cohesion leaves the reader feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  To strip a series of events or exchanges to their barest and allow the reader to build some scaffold of meaning around it – while at the same time being equally sure of what it is I imagine happens – is exactly what I’m aiming for however. Nonetheless, I eschewed that approach in the redraft and made the nature of the events more apparent and less subtle.

There are drawbacks to this and I’m not convinced the approach has been for the betterment of the story. This is because the background from which the request has been made, is one of linear narrative, of story and in this piece, the focus is not on that at all – it is about capturing an experience, about focusing on the natural (on anything in essence) to the merest detail, obfuscating all else until character, literary devices, and even dialogue fade into the background; making the everyday and the obvious transcendental, or supernatural. I used this effect in concert with the ghost of a story – the hint or shadow, use what metaphor you will – that highlighted nature and its relationship to fairy tales. The actual basis for that shadow-story is implemented within the piece now, as a deterrent to ambiguity and ironically enough, exists as the most ambiguous excerpt.

That, however, works well within the fragmented style – as discussed before, it allows me to play with narrative and voice, past and present and so double the tale back in on itself as the point of origin and future reflection both. I can discuss what certain aspects of the imagery meant to me, the strong symbolism – of naked trees and dark places (the womb beneath the bridge) –  but there would be little point I feel as the inherent meaning was completely instinctual and will have no bearing on the reader. Furthermore, to layer meaning on it now would be to undermine the obsessive focus on setting that I spoke of earlier and so detract from the strongest aspect of the piece as I see it. Whether I will continue to use this structure of storytelling, with its abrupt shifts and poetic layout, is doubtful. Some stories just demand to be told in a different manner and this was one such.

What do you think? Yes to ambiguity? Or no? Linear or non? I could wax lyrical about my own shit all day, haha, but I’d much rather hear about yours! Let me know.

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