The voices in my head

Stephen King writes in his book, On Writing: “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth.”

Yep, in case you wondered, big Stephen King fan.

Most of the time, a story just drops into my head, usually while I’m listening to music. It comes to me as little ‘snippets’ of mind movies, call them trailers if you want, and I don’t get the full picture until I sit down and start writing. I refer to the characters as “voices”, and it’s my job to tell their story. I have absolutely no control over it, I don’t control the characters, the plot, the scenery … nothing. I’m just the nut job at the keyboard, consuming too much caffeine, not getting enough sleep, and playing with my imaginary friends, in our imaginary world. (Don’t call the men in white coats just yet though, I’m not that far gone).

The current novel I’m working on, Beyond Repair, came to me completely unexpectedly. And it was a whopper of a voice. Sam. Poor, poor, damaged, tortured Sam. I told him to go sit in the corner and wait his turn, while I continued to struggle with a story I just wasn’t feeling, but whenever he got a chance to be heard, he took it. In bed, in the bath, while I worked, while I played, while I tried to sleep. If he saw a gap, he jumped in.

So, I gave up. I put the other piece of crap (and it was absolute shit) aside, and I listened to Sam, who didn’t care to show me everything, until I sat down and really paid attention to him. When I opened the door and let him in, man alive … I wanted to cry. He is tearing my heart apart.

It started out ass backwards. We started with his wedding night (which was just sickeningly romantic), and worked our way back, to the day he met his bride for the first time. As I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, he showed me much more than I could ever have anticipated. The story I thought would be something short and sweet, evolved into a novel. There is one image that stuck, and I’ll share it with you, but you’ll have to forgive me, it’s still rather raw, and unedited:

My heart hammered in my chest, and blood roared in my ears. Sweat poured down my body. I clawed deep scratches into my throat, convinced his hands were still there, desperately trying to pull air into my aching lungs. Elisa grabbed my wrists and pulled my hands away from my throat. Holding my arms down, her voice, calm and soothing, made its way through the fog. “Look at me.”
I had the odd sensation that I was looking at her through a hazy curtain, and realised I was crying. She let go of my wrists, and wiped the tears away, holding my head in her hands, she forced me to look at her. “It’s just a panic attack,” she said. “Breath with me.”
She took my hands in hers, and brought them close to her chest, keeping them there. I breathed with her, trying to calm my mind, trying to put the flashing memories way down deep where they belonged.
I breathed, and my heart slowed.
I saw myself, lying naked and bloody and broken and torn to pieces on the bathroom floor, too scared and hurt to move, clutching a teddy bear to my chest. Crouching in a bath, because it hurt too much to sit, bleeding into the water.
I inhaled and exhaled with Elisa.
I felt the deep, burning stings of the cigarette burns on my chest. Heard the swish of the strap, and felt it connect with a loud, wet smack. But mostly, I felt him behind me, smelled his stinking breath, felt the blister of the foul air on my skin, heard him grunting. Groaning, I hit myself against the forehead, trying to stop the avalanche.

Sadly, that is not Sam at his worst. He had a rough life, and sometimes it catches up with him. I have tried to put this story aside. I have tried to ignore him. I write horror, damn it, not this stuff! But, in a way, this is horror. Tear your guts out, make you want to hurt people, horror. This is real life, which is often so much scarier and more painful than we can ever imagine, and someone has to tell his story. Might as well be me.

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3 thoughts on “The voices in my head

  1. This is a wonderful insight into how you write and (not) plan, and much as I know about Sam and his story…it is gonna be an awesome, terrific and terrifying story that will definitely touch people in more ways than one. Thanks for letting us participate in your struggles and those of your characters. Looking forward to the finished piece!

  2. Thank you Sarah! Your kind words of encouragement, the kick up the ass I sometimes need, and guidance is always appreciated and welcomed.

    For those who read this and don’t know, Sarah is my writing buddy, one of my closest friends, and without her, I would be lost! She’s a great author, and you’ll love her work as much as I do, so drop by her site

  3. Pingback: Approaching your writing - Elaine Coetzee

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