Falling Flat, and Powerfully – Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain September 2014

Hi, I’m delighted to be back on the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain. This month’s prompt is:

“What are your favorite book beginnings and/or endings?”

As a reader, I feel most satisfied with a less-than-satisfactory ending. Don’t call the contradiction police yet! Let me defend myself!

           1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Now, you’re never going to plough through a 1,449-page tome knowing your destination, so I mustn’t give it away—maybe that’s the thing I love so much about this book. Mitchell takes you on a journey so unpredictable you can’t tell where it’s going to end. I mean, every twenty pages an unforeseen plot-twist grabs your insides and twists them into a colonic knot. And then the culmination of all this is a damn anti-climax!


The first edition cover.

Some readers would feel betrayed. It’s as if the writer gives up, not only on her intricate plot, but on the readers who’ve religiously followed and felt alongside Scarlett O’Hara. The non-spoiler version: Scarlett’s goal has been changing at the same rate it’s been slipping away.

Spoilers: Throughout the entire book, Scarlett has an immature desire for her childhood friend Ashley. She meets and marries Rhett Butler, the only man who understands her worldliness, though she doesn’t love him as he does her. A thousand pages later, Scarlett realises she loves Rhett after all, and Ashley was never worth her obsession. But by this time Rhett is bored of her pining for Ashley. His last words, spoken so heart-wrenchingly by Clark Gable in the 1939 film: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, are so completely the opposite of what the reader has been willing all along.

I guess that’s it. The characters’ motives are at odds with the will of the reader. We know if they ‘just’ surrender their pride and fall into one another’s arms, everything’ll be okay and they’ll live happily ever after. That’s all anyone wants, right? But they don’t, because sometimes it’s genuinely impossible to retrace your steps through traumatic events like those shrouding Scarlett’s life. Anyway, that discrepancy is what I love. It’s so…human. And so tragic.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the beginning of GWTW. The first hundred and fifty pages were so stuffed with insignificant details, I guessed they had to be foreshadowing (it gave me a kick later when I was right). But the moment the book took off, I was lost.

         2. Cutting Loose by Carole Lloyd

This book changed my attitude to writing. It turned up under my bed—by providential means, I believe—pages browned as if with lentigos, cover blanched from untoward exposure. A Contemporary Bildungsroman set in the nineties(?), it basically tells the story of a girl’s crappy Christmas, alternating between her looking back from December 28th/29th and progressing with the New Year festivities.

It begins with the protagonist, Charlie, resenting the relentless tone of the telephone and the control it has over twenty-first century human beings, and believing herself irreparably changed from her rubbish Christmas. But over the next forty-eight hours, as she reflects on what has changed her, she realises she’s as selfish and hypocritical as ever. It’s a journey through levels of maturity, condensed into a small time-frame to augment the intensity and inconstancy of human perception. Charlie easily convinces you she has nothing left to learn, until the final chapter where she goes back on all her judgements of the past days and…well, takes the advice of her enemy and buys ‘some whacking great earrings’.

When I first read it a year or two ago, it resonated with my own teenage moroseness, insincerity and pretensions to maturity. Now, even though I pay more attention to the way it’s written, the ending still echoes something comfortingly lifelike. I can only describe it as a sigh of resignation.

          3. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Again, classic. Again, anti-climax. Again, Bildungsroman. Next time I read it I have to count the times I expected Holden to get laid…and he didn’t. Not once. I mean, we didn’t even get to meet the girl he periodically mentions (Jane Gallagher). The entire thing is a ball of wool-fluff expectations that amount to nothing. That kind of book ignites my internal fires far more than a high-stakes fight scene.

Again, first edition cover.

Again, first edition cover.

I suppose, by using Holden as an example, I’m also exhibiting something masochistic. The informal, authentic (albeit unreliable) way Salinger writes draws us into Holden’s mind in a faintly disturbing manner: we share his suppressed angst and rampant hormones, his stream-of-consciousness-style evocations, and the seemingly far-fetched connections so true of our own thought processes. Reading Holden is reliving the tragedy of our own special human madnesses, loving and hating them…and now I’m in danger of getting poetic without point, so I’ll leave it there.

As ever, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. But make sure you check out everyone else in the chain, too:

7th – http://vergeofexisting.wordpress.com/

8th – http://zarahoffman.com/

9th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

10th – http://www.elizamcfarlish.weebly.com/

11th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

12th – http://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/

13th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

14th – http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

15th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

16th – http://magicandwriting.wordpress.com/

17th – http://ttkesley.wordpress.com/

18th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

19th – http://www.freeasagirlwithwings.wordpress.com/

20th – http://roomble.wordpress.com/

21st – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

22nd – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

23rd – http://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

24th – https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ – YOU ARE HERE!

and http://www.paperdaydreams.com/

25th – http://write-where-you-are.blogspot.de/

and http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/

26th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

and http://anmksmeanderingmind.wordpress.com/

27th – http://semilegacy.blogspot.com/

and http://dynamicramblings.wordpress.com/

28th – http://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/

and http://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.com/

29th – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

30th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/



Music: Robert Fripp—New York, New York, New York

(After six weeks of toil I have finally finished exams, so even though schoolwork is mounting again, I have time! Yay!)

WARNING: long post. Can I excuse it on the grounds that Saturday was my blog’s one-year anniversary?


Miss Alexandrina asked me the other day whether SINGULARITY, the title under which I entered CAPTAIN’S PAPER/TRUMPING HEARTS/Drina’s story in PitchSlam, is a Shakespeare reference.

Here I attempt to explain the tenuous links which led to that title.


  1. Star-Cross’d Lovers (Shakespeare)

I studied Romeo and Juliet at GCSE, so multiple references crept into the first few drafts of Drina’s story. One passage in particular, when I was brainstorming titles last year, came back to me. Romeo meets Mercutio and Benvolio (finally) and they tease him by insinuating that the ‘important business’ that had delayed him was of a sexual nature.

The exact quote (Act II, Scene IV):

ROMEO         Why, then is my pump well-flowered.

MERCUTIO   Sure wit, follow me this jest now till thou hast worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing solely singular.

ROMEO         O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness.

Note that ‘pump’ is a double entendre, as are the ‘flowers’. Beyond that, Mercutio is saying the joke is poor and no longer amusing. Romeo then invokes the low joke and I like to think he is berating Mercutio not only for the joke but for assuming he was with Rosaline (or any girl, for that matter). In the event, Romeo is planning his wedding to Juliet, has just received a hate note from Tybalt, her cousin, and is keeping his marriage secret from his best friends.

How in the world does this sordid passage relate to Drina, besides her tendency to bandy about words?

"O Garden Clogs!" - yeah, they're so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

“O Garden Clogs!” – yeah, they’re so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

First the play. Garden Clogs are one of my motifs (‘pumps’). In Drina’s very first scene they are broke-soled, but it is implied that the antagonist will salvage them. Later they reappear as a threat (pretty much a hate note), and as an icon of corrupted richness, with sexual connotations.

Like Romeo, Drina engages herself to someone she’s only recently met, and conceals it for fear of the repercussions. A major plot-point is her crushed, inebriated deal with her fiancé’s brother, and the speculation surrounding it. Assumptions being one of the two major themes, joking over something so untrue—yet, notice, undenied by Romeo—seems apt.

Regarding other Drina-Romeo parallels, Act II, Scene II is the famous balcony scene, in which Romeo begins to mature from the antisocial, melancholy Rosaline-lover. Similarly, Drina begins to mature after meeting Chas—realising the Captaincy isn’t the glory everyone made it out to be, foreshadowing how many times it will betray her over the coming months. Chas, like Juliet, is the more mature member of the pair—though Drina, like Romeo, likes at least to feel that she’s the dominant.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

Drina and Chas’s families are old friends; not feuding factions. However, with Chas’s mother’s dementia and Drina’s mother’s problems (I’m beginning to think PTSD), there’ll never be a good time for the young ones to prioritise elsewhere.

Then there’s the famous line about a rose of any other name still having the essence of a rose. This exemplifies Drina’s dilemma: she feels inextricably bound to her mother’s history and fate, which I believe come under ‘name’. The definition of a Montague is one who fights with Capulet, and that of Capulet fights with Montague. Juliet denies that the ‘children’s teeth be set on edge because their fathers have eaten sour grapes (Jeremiah), opening up the debate that our forefathers are not responsible for our actions as we are not responsible for theirs—we have no obligation to repeat our ancestors’ successes (or failures). ‘Independent’ Drina likes this idea, but struggles to free herself of liability to her mother’s state; like many children in such home environments, she half-believes the instability is her fault, whether directly or indirectly.

Anyway, the cyclic nature of generation: good or bad? #2 suggests another approach thereto.


2.   The Singularity of Life (Shakespeare)

Is it not the singularity of life that terrifies us? Is not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance? Shakespeare over and over demonstrates life’s singularity — the irrevocability of our decisions, hasty and even mad though they be. How solemn and huge and deeply pathetic our life does loom in its once-and doneness, how inexorably linear, even though our rotating, revolving planet offers us the cycles of the day and of the year to suggest that existence is intrinsically cyclical, a playful spin, and that there will always be, tomorrow morning or the next, another chance.” ― John Updike, Self-Consciousness

What can I add? Tragedy and comedy are two fundamental layers of this life—intermixing the two is allegedly a ‘British’ habit. That’s one of the things Shakespeare does best: in King Lear, one daughter refusing to admit her father’s ego leads to half a dozen bodies on the floor. I hesitate to use the word ‘comedic’, but there is something acutely disturbing about the boundary between life and death: it is not nearly so solid and straight as we like to think. Perhaps amusement is my coping mechanism when it comes to such realisations.

Drina’s demise begins with her best friend insinuating that perhaps she’s just as arrogant as gossip tells. From there, an arrogance complex develops into distrust and withdrawal, prompting Drina into a series of progressively less wise decisions. One parallel relates her mother’s similar fall from glory—through an accident, it is worth saying, coupled with her inability to accept the singularity of life—though in fact it is Drina who gets the second chance; there’s something satisfyingly sacrificial about the climax, if I say so myself.

Anyway, unlike a Shakespearian tragedy, Drina gets another chance, flinging away the ‘solely singular’ Garden Clogs. There’s a reason it begins with Chopin and ends with Mendelssohn.


3.   Infinite Compression to Infinitesimal Volume

In terms of physics, the idea of an infinitely dense, infinitely voluminous point excites me. Lots of people believe black holes are some kind of portal to oblivion. A singularity is a point; sometimes it’s described as a ring. Get this: gravity deforms space-time to prevent ANYTHING from escaping. (Also, singular matrix in mathematics is an arrangement of terms with no inverse. That basically means it’s difficult to manipulate.) Contrary to #2, this singularity is infinite.

so beautiful

so beautiful

Drina is fundamentally self-interested, so you could be forgiven for thinking Drina is the singularity, the dense point at the centre of everything—gosh, Drina herself thinks so! She believes her success will attract her mother’s love.

Midway the set-up is flipped. Realising she’s just another galactic object, Drina alters her trajectory to accelerate her travel towards the black hole that is her mother’s ruination.

Warping space-time

Warping space-time

There’s something so cool about an inevitable path of fate, and a horizon only crossed in one direction. So, singularities warp space-time and quantities become physically infinite, they are weighty, powerful and at the pinnacle of destructive efficiency; ambitious physicist Drina, in the race for power, would definitely aspire such qualities—and definitely fall short of her aspirations.



4.   Individuality versus Community

A singular is a distinguishing quality or a peculiarity. Drina’s is that she has the capacity to become School Captain, and nobody else has that. In fact, that’s all she has that can possibly win her mother’s affections. But it also ignites the conflict between individuality and community, which composes the second major theme—not just in terms of whether to please oneself or those for whom one has responsibility, or grappling with standing out from the mob (or not!), but reliance on a significant other.

Drina’s self-esteem is dependent upon fulfilling her mother’s aspirations. The first act charts the drift and unvoiced betrayal of Drina and her best friend. While fearful of placing her welfare in the hands of another, whom she cannot control, Drina gradually surrenders to romantic love. Everyone might fancy her superwoman (including herself, at the beginning), but by the end she realises she can’t survive without other people—her power is not intrinsic, but channelled through those with whom she associates.


5.   Singularity and Suffering (Austen)

Singularity often makes the worst part of our suffering, as it always does of our conduct.’—Persuasion, Jane Austen. So that is our crudeness, single-mindedness, egotism, independence, vanity, conceit, ambition, obstinacy and power, our cyclic, infinite perception of life, both our overestimation and underestimation of our own significance. Maybe she’s even talking about singleness; her very voice seems to exalt the kind of community Immanuel Kant called the ‘Kingdom of Ends’ (I can’t think of another way to describe it). Austen ridicules society and abhors human selfishness, but there’s something undeniably unifying about reading her work.

You can almost breathe this guy's ego. (Oh, it's Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

You can almost breathe this guy’s ego.
(Oh, it’s Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

Anyhow, I like to think Austen’s equating singularity to suffering, and blaming both upon our conduct, but there are many many interpretations.


BONUS: ‘trick of singularity’, the Twelfth Night quote Alex was thinking of originally, is equally pertinent; when I first plotted the story, back in 2011, the tenor-changing plot-points matched the thirteen tricks of a bridge hand, and one of them I named ‘singularity’ (as discussed in #4). Sparknotes tells me ‘singularity’ in this quote means ‘free and independent’.

Hey. THE TRICK OF SINGULARITY. That might even work…


I may just have written an analysis of my own novel’s alternative title, and for that I very genuinely apologise! To make up for it, I’ve written another post for today. I promise it’s short!