Sunday, 15 April 2012

A363 TMA 05

A363 TMA 05

Tutor-Marked Assignment
  • Task 1: Write a 1500-word piece of fiction or life writing, or 2-7 poems totalling 80-100 lines.
  • Task 2: Write a 750-word "commentary" about the process, reflecting on form, structure, and style.
  • Due date: 15 March 2012
  • Mark: About 86% overall. Actual mark is temporarily unavailable on a dead hard drive!

I have no idea why the line spacing changes part of the way through the commentary after being pasted into Blogger! :-/

 Option 1 – prose. Genre: Fiction

Title: The Three Prisoners

This story has been removed because it has now been published in the anthology Here's One I Made Earlier, available from Amazon here.


The Three Prisoners is an extension of a true story described by a magistrate as ‘one of the most extraordinary cases that have ever been brought into a Court of Justice.’  In preparing to write it, one of the most important processes was the selective omission of details which, though arrestingly dramatic in reality, were so fantastic that they would probably have destroyed the reader’s suspension of disbelief. An additional benefit of making these omissions was that the fraudster’s crimes were not so extreme that they eclipsed the story I wanted to tell: That of three of his victims still feeling irrationally beholden to him.
Beyond the date of his conviction, the fraudster’s life is not well documented but I was not free to do as I pleased. For example, a German lady could not meet a German man from a British prison in 1917. (They would both be interned.) I therefore took a liberty with the dates, choosing December 1918 to keep the change as small as possible. This change had direct consequences for the narrative I had already written (e.g., the crowd in the Sawyer’s Arms had to find something other than the war to talk about.)
 My choice of form was no choice at all: I learned from A215 that the skill and time required for creating poetry are both far in excess of what I can supply.
My choices regarding structure and style were dictated by what I hope was logic. Firstly, since the story is intensely concerned with the perverted relationships between characters, I was keen to keep settings in the background. For this reason I deliberately avoided applying film technique to fiction, as described by Anderson (2009), to evoke settings. I did, however, mimic cinematic ‘cuts’ (Anderson, 2009) when transitioning the narrative viewpoints. I did this by establishing visual anchors (e.g., Anna’s red face, Joseph’s grin, etc) ahead of the cut and then referencing that anchor after the cut (and from the next viewpoint character’s perspective.)
Wanting a surprise ending I had to walk the tightrope between dropping in enough clues to make things fair and giving so much away that the effect was lost. My original synopsis had the travellers having a conversation into which I could insert exposition and backstories. However, I found I could not sustain this for seven or eight pages, even by ignoring my pet hate of supposedly ‘real’ people delivering narrative prose in dialogue. Therefore, I reluctantly chose to split the viewpoint between the travellers, knowing that, like flashbacks, defies the conventions of the short story form. Although my approach has an arguably positive aspect – in that ‘[unlike a movie] it probes the inner workings of the mind’ (Anderson, 2009) I am aware that it forces the story to rely rather too heavily upon the ‘telling’ of backstory which would, ideally, have been revealed better by ‘showing’.
As I already knew how I would go about ‘splicing the strands’ (Neale, 20091) in my final scene, the only structural issues still to be addressed were the order in which I would present those strands and how long each would be. My chief concern was maintaining the illusion that they were going to meet three different people, so I decided to separate the women’s sections by placing Joseph’s between them. I hoped to reduce the risk of the reader inferring that both women had married the same man. In order to play down the bigamy somewhat, I called the fraudster a ‘scoundrel’ in the section I heading, reserving the word ‘bigamist’ for section III. The strand lengths were influenced by my desire to avoid boring the reader. I reasoned that by the time the reader reached the third strand, the unfolding pattern would be evident, so I endeavoured to make each of the second and third strands shorter than its predecessor.
I found myself acting ‘as an impersonator, mimicking the various voices’ (Neale, 20092) in the story by adjusting the language according to which viewpoint character I was writing for, while trying not to get too bogged down in dialect.
My last conscious style choice was made very late in the writing process: I decided to switch tenses, using the present tense to describe the viewpoint characters in the trains. I did this to reduce the danger of their past-tense reminiscences (flashbacks, in essence) being confusing to the reader. I also switched to the present tense for the final few paragraphs of action, but for a different reason: Dramatic immediacy.

[Word count: 750]

Anderson, L. (2009) ‘Film technique in fiction’, in D. Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A & C Black
Neale, D. (20091) ‘Splicing the strands’, in D. Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A & C Black
Neale, D. (20092) ‘Voices in fiction’, in D. Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A & C Black