Writing On Writing Pt. II

(Author’s note: The selections of writing mentioned in this article are all available for reading on this site. Use the search bar or key tags to track ’em down.)

A reflection
by Chris Hibbard

Writing on Writing – Part Two

So you’re making us write about how we’ve improved as writers since the beginning of this class, something which I am hesitant to do. You probably recall that I did the same thing last semester in an essay called Writing on Writing, and any information that I could put into a similar essay this time around would likely be more of the same. So, in order to keep this interesting for both of us, I will focus this paper on this semester, and try to provide you with just a little bit of insight into how and why I wrote some of what I did.

I have enjoyed many of the ‘tasks’ that have been assigned to us this semester, because they forced me to think about what to do and how to do it. They gave me some restrictions that I otherwise would not have used, and inspired some interesting rants. With this being said, some of them I just didn’t do. I admitted last year that I hate journals, I hate self-monitoring and doing things a little bit at a time.

I am also a chronic procrastinator who thrives under pressure and fast-approaching deadlines. This class is difficult for me for that reason. You allow us to leave everything to the last minute, and that is exactly what I do if given the option. I leave everything to the last minute and then have to whip up a whole shitload of creativity by Monday.

This semester I tried some new things. I had never really written a monologue before, especially one with ‘restrictions’ of character relationships. That took me some time, but ended up being fun. Once I nailed down the facts that Horatio’s favourite colour was tan, he had a foot fetish, and a transvestite for a girlfriend, the ball was rolling. You were totally accurate in calling it ‘film noir-style’ or whatever you said, because that’s exactly what I was going for – a jaded, bitter, private detective type of dude. It was fun. I like those movies, those books, those characters, and this was my first time consciously incorporating one into my work. I enjoyed this ‘noir’ style so much that I attempted to use it again in the story “Inspiration”.

Personally I don’t know any cocaine dealers (and pot dealers are a much more casual breed) but I liked taking my worst flaws (a writer who sometimes loses confidence in himself and has a love of all things beer) and expanding on them, allowing the main character to be all the things I hope I never become. My uncle Floyd has a beautiful 1977 Chevy Nova which he has brought back to life in his garage, and I ‘stole his car’ so to speak, and turned it into my murder weapon, the dealers were based on all those people you see who dress real nice all the time. People who dress up formally all day every day make me nervous. Give me a criminal with a t-shirt and jeans anytime – I’ll trust him more than a lawyer or businessman who is dressed to the nines.

The chapter of the book/story that I wrote called “The Line” was inspired by a late night drink & dial phone call from my ex-girlfriend. I think it’s kind of cleansing or purifying to write stories when one is upset. You can fictionalize non-fiction events, put things into context in your own mind, and can choose afterwards to keep what you’ve written or discard it, shred it, throw it away.
“The Line” was pretty autobiographical. It included my time in the Crowsnest Pass as a reporter, meeting her at a heavy metal concert at a local pub, and living in close proximity to the Lost Creek forest fire of 2003, a truly beautiful yet frightening experience.

One of the tasks you wanted us to try and write about was someone elderly. I did this task, and wrote about an old man I sat across from on the bus one afternoon while my car was in the shop. The minute I got in the door I wrote the poem about him, but I was even more inspired by the time I was done, which is what led me to write about the old man and his friendly ghost in “Simon Says.”
I fell in love with this character as I was creating him, taking parts of my grandfathers (the onset of Alzhemiers in one, the Arthritis of them both) and mixing them with my imagination.
This also became my latest ghost story about half-way through writing it. I’ve always been fascinated by the supernatural, by horror movies, by scaring and being scared. Fear is a powerful emotion if it is used properly. Whether I managed to use this or not, I’m undecided. My neighbour really liked it. She thought Simon was cute, which is funny, because he’s invisible.
In “Simon Says”, I tried to utilize a gothic style, with some British sensibilities thrown in. Jeanne’s character, or at least her appearance, was loosely based on my sister. My sister was quite a mousy bookworm of a girl, who was actually very pretty, but never dressed like it or acknowledged it. She hated her hands. My sister passed away from cancer nine years ago, and so I felt kind of strange incorporating memories of her into a story, but I think I did her justice.

Now for “The Agreement”. I admit it’s not particularly related to Native Studies, not like my chapter last year of The Bridge, but this time I started something and I wanted to really finish it. I’m from a Christian background, but I’ve always been more fascinated by the darker side of life. I find the whole dynamic relationship between God and the Devil, and the humans stuck in between to be quite fascinating. I suppose, since Natives were Christianized in residential schools and beat over the head with notions of God and the Devil that it does apply in some ways, especially since I ended the piece with the notion that Christianity has its flaws.

I chose to make a full short story, and write it from beginning to end. The fundamental notion of the story is age-old, a man sells his soul to the devil, but as I was writing it took on a life of its own. “The Agreement” became a science-fiction story, a cautionary tale of ‘be careful what you wish for’ and a scathing social commentary about humans and how we’re so consumed with pleasure-seeking that we’re voluntarily killing ourselves and not even realizing it.

I twisted the basic concept of Selling One’s Soul to make it happen before the unfortunate soul was even born. I altered the concept even more by making the Devil get tricked by the mortal man. Of course, the Devil may have lost this one soul (Curtis Hunter = Chris Hibbard) but Curtis Hunter unintentionally gave him a whole lot more.

I have never really written science-fiction before, though Lord knows I’ve read a lot of it, and I was trying to incorporate those influences into the tale – Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Arthur C. Clarke and even the humour of the late great Kurt Vonnegut (R.I.P.). This story could not have been written were it not for these authors, and their lasting impression on my then-teenaged mind. The section of the tale where I am describing the inside of his mansion was inspired by Stephen King in a way. That guy can go on for four pages just describing a chair – impressive in a terribly boring way.

Again, I had my neighbour read it over, and her favourite part was Arthur, the cross-bred cat/dog/weasel pet. She thought the whole idea of him was hilarious and was rather sad that I killed him off. I thought that it was essential to the plot that the horrors of genetic engineering and mob mentality would come back to Curtis’s mansion – back to haunt him in the one place he thought was truly safe. The death of his beloved pet, his only real friend, was necessary to pull this off.

I really like this story. I’m very proud of it and I am pleased with myself for writing a full short story, rather than just the beginning of one. I hope you enjoyed it too.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

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