I had a discussion the other day with my family about writing. I commented that I had never really figured out the attraction to contemporary fiction – those bestsellers nobody you know ever seems to read, yet remain suspended at the top of those exalted lists. Who reads these books of urban intrigue, of lives just like our own, characters living in everyday places doing every day things? I’m generalising of course, blurbs and reviews being my only reference point. But what I don’t understand is why anyone would want to imagine being in a place just like they are now.
My mother had been speaking about the work of Robert McKee, and how screenplays are endless value changes and exchanges, and it is that rather than the background or the context which makes a good story. This is the opposite of what I used to do I told them – all I was ever after was the capture of ‘cool scenes’. Great expositions of combat mastery, fantastical cities and fantastical powers could not be found in traditional fiction, only the home of fantasy. Which is why fantasy was pretty much all I ever read.
I reminisced about old times in primary and secondary school, when I had written impossible tales above and beyond what was required of me in English assignments. I would bend each generic starting sentence or theme into something wild and fast; violence would need to be involved, a chase, running. Magic could have a place somewhere, explosives also. The main character would be some swashbuckling knave, or the victim of one. Somebody had to be flitting through the shadows, climbing something, stealing something, flying somewhere, killing someone. The theme didn’t matter, it was the action, the image. The singing of swords, the steel reflecting sunlight in erratic paths across the floorboards as their owners dance across the floorboards. The sound of a blade scraping ribs as it’s thrust through a man, a red spray spattering his opponent’s face as they wrench it free. Bones breaking wetly beneath the victors heel.
Cool Scenes would strike me quickly once I received the brief – it didn’t take long for the dull words of the task to spark a vivid fresco in my mind. The Scenes weren’t just limited to short stories either – poetry soon became the home of bloodied warriors, storm-swept pirates and manic visions when we were encouraged to ‘use our imagination’. And how cathartic it was to write them down! To transmute the flesh of the imagination into ink on my jotter and then back into the imagination of whichever poor bastard read it was the greatest academic joy I knew. I would smile as I saw their expressions change at the horrors I had conjured in their minds, proud of myself. There was never enough time to include the forensic levels of description I wanted, even when I took my work home with me to finish later – in secondary school my word count limited this also. Why did I long for such colourful dreams of carnage? Why did everything else have to be so dull?
I suppose it was a form of escapism. One that I’ve never grown out of either: my imagination has hardly changed since then. I have matured, and I can conjure some things in my imagination that are less…extreme. But the shadow remains, an electric abyss in my head holding in its depths no innocent lovers, no still life paintings, no trips to the recycling, no pension planning, no local politics, no travel insurance, no quarter-life crises; nothing at all but a deep black pool of blistering, brutal, unforgiving and liberating…Cool Scenes.