Monday, July 12, 2010

I Killed My Classmates (And Made Them Laugh)

Vampires! And Werewolves! And Halloween! Oh my!

Last week I talked about my first foray, as a kid, into the great vampire/werewolf rivalry, and how the completion of that story was a real step for me in regards to understanding the reality of the writer. Today I want to touch on another story I wrote back then, and how it was important to a different element of my formation as a writer.

Grade seven: Halloween. We had to write a Halloween story for English, and I decided to kill off all my classmates.

Yup, I did away with them. The story was called (I believe) O Hallow's Eve, and it was about a Pumpkin-headed specter who invaded the school. The specter went on to murder everyone in the class. Each student got a unique (and somewhat gruesome) death, and I spared no one (including myself).

Luckily I was a friendly, well-liked and well-adjusted sort of kid, so instead of sending me for counselling the teacher decided the story should be read aloud to the class. And, as it turned out, everyone loved hearing about their own dismemberment (especially the boys). Who knew?

Well, I suppose I did, even then. Or at least I suspected, and hoped. In the back of my head I was aware of the idea of audience, of playing to the crowd.

The act of writing is interesting, really. It is, at times, singular in its loneliness. A writer, typing away at a computer, a solitary task that spins itself out day after day. And, in truth, I firstly (and mostly) write for myself. I write not to explain something but to explore something, to discover something for myself. Writing, to me, is as much about the process as the product.

And yet we can't ignore the product. And while the process, I think, is always relevant, for a product to find relevance it needs an audience. Writing is an act of communication: first with oneself, and then with others. We try to speak something, give something, share something.

The sense of someone listening, of a meaning shared, is important. I think that's one of the attractive things about blogs: their interactivity, the sense of an immediate connection, and immediate response. Contact is narrowed between reader and writer.

And O Hallow's Eve was my first sense of that contact, and indeed contract, between reader and writer. The rush of response, of having made a connection. Everyone in my class had been so excited by that story. In hearing my teacher read it I could see a sort of joy in my classmates, a sense of suspense, of anticipation. Who was gonna get it next? And how?

I think that desire remains. I write first for myself; I look and search and hopefully find. But then I have something complete. I want to share it. I'm looking, I guess, for a response. Adulation doesn't hurt, of course, but even more I want a connection, I want someone to feel something. A story is something shared, an experience felt by many that creates a common ground. There's a sense of community --even if the readership is large, faceless and invisible. The words are like radio waves, spreading out, speaking into the darkness of each night as the world spins through day upon day.

Even murder can make friends.

What about you? What was your first experience with an audience? How did it affect your writing?


JE said...

I don't think I've had an "audience" yet, unless you include my blog and the story posted on yours.

What was amazing to me is the fact that I wrote, in the beginning, for me. Like I've said a hundred times, writing makes me feel free. It also gives me the chance to take chances, do something out of the ordinary. Explore myself.

But now, with three books done, I never thought I would get the next feeling, the one the whispers in my ear as I sleep and pursuades me to get published. In the beginning, I didn't care about publishing, didn't think about it ... it wasn't for me. Now? It's that thing that hoovers just out of reach ... the next quest in my journey. My next thing.

Because now that I write what I love, I learned I have just as much desire to share it as I did writing it.


JE said...

Oh, btw ... I LOVE that story you talked about. I could imagine the wide-eyed grins of the children in your class as they heard about how they bit the dust. ;-)

If you still have it, I think you should post it. :o)

Lenny Lee said...

hi mr bryan! wow its so cool that you killed off all your class and even killed off you. thats a scary story for sure. last year i got to read my first story to a bunch of kids and doing it myself was a little scary but when i got going cause i know all the characters personal it got easy to make them come alive and then i had fun and everyone liked it. i hope i could do that again some time.
...smiles from lenny

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I just love that Lenny calls you Mr. Bryan. :)

And your story shows how much you sense your audience somewhat intuitively - you write for yourself, but really for your-self-that-is-like-others. Your peers. Very cool that you had a sense for this at such a young age (I was trying to melt into the wallpaper at that age. I know, hard to believe).

Having an audience is enthralling, amazing, and juices your confidence or deflates your ego quicker than you can counter with rational judgement ("well, that's only one person's opinion"). For me, having an audience meant having to face all the fears early on - would they like it? Would it disappoint them in the end? Would they think differently of me? I think it drove me to constantly look for ways to write better.

For any story/book to find success, I think it has to find its audience - unless you've actually written the next Great American Novel, it is likely that your audience is some subset of the greater reading whole. Finding those people, connecting them to your book, is the greatest reward there is for a writer. Well, at least for me. :)

dolorah said...

"Writing, to me, is as much about the process as the product."

Me too, and from the very first. My english class was my first audience, back in my freshman year. We had to write several short stories throughout the year, and after the first one, everyone always asked me to read mine first. They were always full of dark humor.

With all that encouragement, I went on to write my first novel; all gushy and full of cliche's. Being brought up a practical person however, I studied hard at secretarial skills to guarantee employment, and hid away my creative side for many years to come.

I don't think I'll ever give up on writing again; even if I'm the only one who ever reads it.


Okie said...

I have some very vague memories from elementary school and junior high but nothing really stands out until High School in a creative writing class. 2-3 times each month we'd spend a class period with everybody (optionally, but for "bonus kudos") sharing something we'd written in the past week or so.

I distinctly remember a couple of times in that class where a piece I'd written struck a chord with the group.

One was for an assignment to convey a particular emotion (I chose fear and ended up with some good frightful looks at the end of the reading) and another was a dialog/satire experiment (which got a few good laughs). There were also a few readings that really fell flat...where there was just some awkward silence, a cursory "clap clap...thanks for sharing" and "who's next."

I really enjoyed the feel of actually reading for an audience. I haven't yet read for an audience of "strangers", so I'm not sure if that would be better or worse.

What's also fun is to read for an audience who will then provide critique. That is nerve racking, but also feels good. Because any general praise or critique must be followed up with solid examples, so it really helps the writing process for everybody involved.

Bryan Russell said...

I love hearing these stories. Each different, and yet each with that kernel of similarity, that sense of making a connection with an audience.

It's interesting how things shape us. I wonder how many of us would have continued without those little jolts of writerly success?

Matthew MacNish said...

I've never really had much of an audience for my writing - other than the World in Miniature on your blog - thank you again, by the way. But I did have some experience wooing audiences as a young actor and I think there are some similarities.

My dad was the Stage Manager for the Seattle Opera when I was growing up and he once got me a part as "young Siegfried" in Wagner's Ring. This is not an actual part in the real opera but something invented by the director ... a non singing part thank god. I didn't even have to say a word but there was something about looking out at that sea of faces that hooked me on being an entertainer.

That's a big aspect of being a writer too I believe. Entertaining. What are books but entertainment? Sure they educate, expand minds too, but originally only the wealthy and educated had the luxury to read, and even non-fiction can be great fun if that's your thing.

I wrote a scene once that was heavily based on a performance I did as a child. It's too long to be flash fiction but perhaps I'll share it with you some day anyway Bryan.

Thanks, as always, for making us think ... and FEEL.

Mira said...

What a great story, Bryan. I bet your classmates loved being slaughtered. :)

Adults love that type of thing too. We all do.

My first real feedback was on the web. I went onto a writing site in character (for no reason I can figure out now) and the response was amazing. I've had that experience a couple of times on different sites. Similar to yours - interactive fiction. People love it. It's totally fun.

I keep wondering about finding some new way to channel that. Maybe someday I'll figure it out. :)

Josin L. McQuein said...


It's a good thing you took yourself out, too, or some "well meaning" counselor probably would have had you in front of a competency hearing by last bell.