Telephone – Directors Commentary

What is this? Well I rather enjoyed the discussion around the short story I posted the other month here called Airborne. After the story was published there was some conversation about how the story ended and I realised that perhaps it was uncomfortable for people to directly comment on the story posts on the blog and that perhaps it would be easier if there was a post that described the writing process and that would help attract comment.I wrote the first part of Telephone about a year and a half ago when something similar to the opening scene happened to me. Katherine and I were out at an exhibition and at the end of the exhibition Katherine was looking around the gift shop and I found a bench to rest on. It was actually really cold rather than hot and a woman sat down next to me and was desperately looking through her pockets for a phone. I suggested that she try calling her phone and she said she must have left it at the estate agents she’d been at. That was it. As she walked away I thought about how if I had offered to call her she would have got hold of my number and so some kind of kernel of a story was born.

So I had some vague notes about the story and then at some point around July 2010 I worked it into the first part of Part 1. Up until this line – “There is no ringing from her jacket. I put the phone to my ear it is ringing… Somewhere.”

I had always envisioned this as something of a four part story but I wrote that first half of part one in a night when I had written a lot of other articles and I ran out of time. I think I was trying to give myself an excuse to end it as a little bit of an ultrashort. But luckily I wasn’t really satisfied with that so I saved it in my drafts folder.

In January this year the story popped back into my head and I pulled it up while in Goring-on-sea train station. There is something nice and bleak about seaside towns in winter and that informed my writing I’m sure. I seem to remember that when I first considered the story it was going to be a scary action based thriller type story. The sort of thing where the woman turned out to be a spy or something and where our hero ended up being dragged into an adventure against his will. And I’m pretty sure, but I can’t remember the details, but I think the woman with the phone was going to be supernatural in some way. Maybe you would have preferred that story. But as chance would have it I had just written Airborne and so I was on the supernatural rebound.

There was something of the realism of description in Airborne that I’d enjoyed writing and so I kind of kept that bit. I briefly considered turning the story back to the incidents original cold but I decided that I was happy with hot oppression rather than cold isolation. And considering how cold it was I was quite happy to go on a hot holiday in my head.

I wrote the rest of part 1 and half of part 2 on the train. A rewrite of everything so far and the second half of part two happened in a pub. A pub which overlooks a coffee shop. You can, it seems, look out of the window and stare straight into the coffee shop and they don’t seem to see you – very handy for a writer. I was waiting for a friend to join me and so the waiting elements got added throughout.

And then…. Airborne was published and we started talking about it. I’m quite used to editing, I know it can cause blocks for some writers, some writers start second guessing everything. I’m one of them, I know. But in this case the pieces were unrelated and so it didn’t really affect things… But…

I had written that last bit of Part 2 just before Airborne was published:

“I’m glad you could make it.”
“I thought Sarah would never leave.”
“So did I.”

And this is what stopped me. I wondered then about what happened next. I had originally had quite a keen idea of the plot when it was going to be a mysterious adventure. But now it had turned out to be quite different. But then this last line presented a tricky question.

It invited some kind of suggestion of complicity. That had been the only thing in my mind at the time. But now I worried that this might also suggest that this was going to move into some kind of spy story or something like that. Having just published an article where we were talking about the lingering impact of last lines I thought it would be interesting to see what you thought. I wondered if this might mean that you thought they were in on something together and that that something was external to the story so far. Or if you thought it might be that, as intended, it was supposed to make you think that perhaps Sarah was right and these two were having an affair.

At this point I seem to have decided that I didn’t know what was coming next. Suddenly I was reading it as a reader. Where they complicit? Had the meeting in the shoe shop been a trick on Sarah and the reader? I didn’t know. Was that a good direction to go?

I thought about writing this article – and then realised that I would probably mention the other style of story and then started thinking about if it might have been better to make this more actiony. I had written a story with a lot of pauses in it – I thought. I reread part one and two again and decided that I liked the air in the story. The space that had been left between things. I decided I wanted to keep that and preserve it.

A question inevitably arises at this juncture – what is the point of this story? Why should the reader be interested? I try and convince myself sometimes that it is interesting enough to just live inside the characters head. Maybe I was putting too much pressure on the story? Should I just stop the story after part two?

Several people had said Airborne had gone on too long, maybe I didn’t need to add the weight of a point on the story?

I decided to just start writing part three about these two in the bar. I had liked the interplay in part one so I figured that could nicely come back. But I wanted to add our main characters detachment from part two.

This pulled things forward and I decided to avoid describing anything of a sordid nature. Which I think has to be the right way to go. Anything you say about any specifics is going to be so cringeworthy that it isn’t worth reading. Personally I included kissing in this. But I wanted that to happen while we were there, rather than between parts, so we knew something was happening while we were waiting for part four. I didn’t want you to leave having to wonder how the steps had been taken, or importantly who had led who up the steps.

But maybe you’d have rather had explicit detail, or even just more detail? I worried about cliche more than anything else, but maybe that leaves us without enough meat on the story?

I am trying to remember where the idea for the ending of the story came from but i’m not sure. I can remember finding myself struggling with how to start part three, but knowing how part four ended. I was sorely tempted to write the end of part four at one point and then somehow work backwards. This isn’t something that’s ever worked particularly well for me so I decided that I wouldn’t do that.

So I’m not sure where the idea came from exactly but suddenly there it was. I am pretty certain that I didn’t have the ending in place when I started. But I think it was there before I got to the end of part 2.

So. What did you think? How did it hang together for you? Do you feel it was satisfying? Should I have left it at the end of part 2? Or would you have rather the promise of the opening had led to an action adventure story?

Please don’t hold back.

One thought on “Telephone – Directors Commentary

  1. […] of a four part story. A new part will be published each day this week, and will be followed by a directors commentary.] GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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