Monday, 19 August 2013

My Fictional Feline Fascination

Over on my Facebook page I mentioned that I've started a new story: a dark fantasy with a cat as the hero (it sounds stranger then it is, I swear). This got me thinking about how many stories I've written over the years that have centred around cats. I suppose this is due to the well-known, and mostly accepted, mantra 'write what you know'. As a young child I didn't know much aside from my family, my love for cats and my desire to play make-believe. It's no wonder then that most of my childhood stories revolved around these three topics.

My first notebook full of stories.

The other day I found an old book in my family home that was full of cat tales. I was around five years old when I wrote my first story, which naturally centred around feline protagonists. Unfortunately the story is mostly illegible as I was one of those lucky (?) children who first learnt to write phonetically before switching to writing like a normal human being the very next year. I don't quite understand why I was taught to write in a language that only a five year old would understand. My first story might be a masterpiece, sadly we'll never know.

It's about cats... the rest is a mystery.

There must have been something about this little hard cover book that ignited my imagination, begging for the pages to be filled with stories of cats playing hide and seek, cats going to the vet due to ear infections and cats flying a rocket to the moon – my personal favourite. And whilst I've purged many of my school notebooks and childhood novels over the years, I've never had the heart to throw away this adorable relic. Although I cannot understand much of what is written, I had the forethought to add handy images. These drawings take me back to the time when I wrote the stories; what may look like a large nondescript square is actually a trampoline that my cat protagonists spent hours bouncing on. Trampolines were banned from my backyard, thus they were magical and alluring to my young self, perfect for exploring in a story.

It's a trampoline, obviously.

Over the years, I developed a habit of turning all my diaries and notebooks into stories. I would tire of detailing the every day goings-on in my life and would write fictional tales instead. Filling the last page of a diary brought a sense of satisfaction, almost as if I had completed, and published, a hardback novel. This no doubt fuelled my desire to actually be published one day.

I eventually strayed from feline topics as I got older, but cats will always hold a large space in my heart. When the idea of my new story popped into my head, I knew there could be no other hero, then a cat. 

Did you write stories as a child? What captured your young imagination? Please let me know in the comments.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The dreaded plot twist

*No spoilers were harmed in the making of this blog

Ah... twists. It's a love/hate thing: I hate twists and twists love to hate audiences. Well, that's often how it feels anyway. Whether it is a complete out-of-no-where plot development, or a gut-wrenching turn of events, twists are often hard to accept, and like.

It's not that I hate surprises—in fact, I'm secretly hoping someone will throw me a surprise party one day—but I'll admit I don't cope very well with the unforeseen. My brain works similar to a bear trap, latching onto ideas and images and refusing to let go. After a twist, it's almost as though my body goes into shock and my brain replays the twist on loop. It's torture.

I discovered fairly early on in my reading/viewing experience that I don't like twists. If there is ever any hint of a twist, I'll find out beforehand so that I'm prepared. Twists are fairly common in horror and whilst I don't watch a lot of horror films, when I do, I'll always make sure to know the ending—in case there is a twist.

On one infamous DVD viewing night, I borrowed one horror movie and one romantic drama. I knew the horror movie had a twist from reviews I'd read, so I Googled the twist, making sure I wouldn't be startled. I began the evening with the horror movie—a usually reliable move—and was pleasantly surprised at how un-horrific it was. When the twist arrived, I could see it was a good one, but not completely shocking. Next I popped in the romantic drama as a way to calm down from the gripping suspense of the previous movie. About 10 minutes from the end of the romantic drama, I began to shake, realising there was about to be a twist—and the worst twist I could have imagined. I was in shock—this was supposed to be my nice, relaxing romantic movie before bed. After the film, I watched the behind the scenes clips, trying in vain to remind myself that this was just a movie: it hadn't really happened. But the twist was based on a real life horrific tragedy—what happened to the main character happened to real people. It was like being hit in the face with a sledgehammer. I was shattered.

I spent the weekend, slowly pulling myself back together. My anti-twist plan had completely backfired. Was no genre safe?

For the last few weeks the popular Australian TV drama Offspring claimed on its ads—almost gleefully—that one of the beloved characters would die, the twist was which character would befall this tragic fate. Whilst I don't watch Offspring every week, I do have this almost morbid obsession with twists. I needed to know what happened. Even with the two week warning, I was pretty shaken after watching the episode. For a show that is usually lighthearted and heartwarming, this dark turn left a sour taste in my mouth.

The twist was certainly effective in upsetting people, but I couldn't help but feel it was only to shock audiences (I later read that the actor or actress—no spoiler here—is pursuing roles overseas and needed to leave the show). For a series that is usually a one hour piece of light-entertainment, I was surprised at how manipulated I felt. I suppose that's the point of a twist: to make audiences believe one thing, then pull the rug out from underneath them. It's a neat trick, but it can be overdone or misplaced. I wonder where they'll take Offspring now that the tone has radically changed.

In storytelling, I certainly believe in the power of the unknown, in holding information back until the last moment and revelling in the element of surprise, however it needs to feel organic with the rest of the story. It shouldn't be a twist just for the sake of shock value. Of course, predictability is boring. We want and need surprises, but to throw in a twist at the last minute, undoing all the great moments that have come before, can feel like a cheap shot to the heart.

Did you watch the latest episode of Offspring? What are your thoughts on twists?