“I cannot live without my soul”

The first time I read Wuthering Heights, I will admit, I hated it. It felt clunky and dragged out, the characters were completely unlikeable and the plot? Dull at best.

Having now studied it for a year and reread it three times, my opinion has changed. The plot isn’t dragged out, the two halves of the novel reflect each other. It’s not clunky, I just wasn’t reading it properly. Symbolism always looks clunky if you only think of the simplest thing. And the characters? Still completely unlikeable. But that isn’t a bad thing, you can see a character as a horrible person without them being an awful character.

There are many examples of this in literature throughout time, from Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff to J.K Rowling’s Snape. These are characters that do awful things and you know that if they were a real person they would be terrible, terrible people. But as characters? They can be fascinating. You just have to accept that the two are not linked. A character can be a terrible person but an interesting character. In fact, perfect characters that never do anything wrong are actually extremely dull.

As a culture, we find horrible people fascinating. Just look at how many films, tv shows and even documentaries there are about serial killers or life on Death Row. We understand that these are people that have done horrific, unimaginable things but we still find their stories fascinating. This is why characters like Heathcliff are so adored by some people, and yet abhorred by others. As a person, he is awful. As a character? Fascinating.

Anyway, this is not a post about our culture’s morbid curiousity  and odd fascination with serial killers. It is a post about Wuthering Heights and why it is important to give novels (particularly the classics) a proper chance.

Wuthering Heights is a quintessentially Victorian novel, but it is heavily influenced by the Gothic era of literature which had come before, this is clear with Brontë’s use of ghosts and spirits. It is a much darker novel than most written at the time and this is part of its charm. The plot is not dull, I was just reading it too simply. The first half of the novel is still my favourite half but I have a newfound respect for the second half now that I understand what she was trying to convey. The characters in the second half of the novel are reflections of the characters in the first. Brontë is using this to show the way that their lives could have gone, particularly at the end with Hareton and Cathy.

Catherine is obviously the reflection of her mother, Cathy, but it is also important to note that she is also a reflection of Isabella. She is a wealthy, young woman who falls in love with a ‘rough young man’ – as Isabella does with Heathcliff – fortunately, Catherine is much luckier than Isabella as the man she falls in love with isn’t using her as part of his intricate revenge plot. But Catherine embodies all of the positive attributes that Cathy had with less of the negatives. She is excitable and high-spirited but not as spiteful and vindictive. She adores her father and truly does care for Linton, despite the awful way that he treats her. This is showing the happy life that Cathy could have had if she had been kinder to those who loved her and had chosen love over money.

Hareton is a reflection of Heathcliff. Despite being Hindley’s son, he is incredibly similar to Heathcliff. It is also a reflection of Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff – he refused to let him join Cathy in her lessons and generally treated him as a servant. This is, in turn, how Heathcliff treats Hareton. He is, however, better than them both because unlike them, he is kind and loving and he begins teaching himself to read in order to be able to talk to Catherine. He has all of the best parts of Heathcliff – of which there are some – he feels passionately and honestly – unlike most of the characters! – and shows how Heathcliff’s life could have been if a) he cared less about revenge and b) his love for Cathy had been less obsessive and more, well… loving.

And Linton… I don’t have much to say about Linton. If any of the characters in Wuthering Heights are truly dull. It’s Linton – and Mr Lockwood, but he hardly counts. He is the reflection of Edgar Linton but he embodies the negative parts of all of the characters. He has Edgar’s childhood sense of entitlement and his lack of backbone, Cathy’s spite, Isabella’s frailty and submissive nature and Heathcliff’s vengeful malevolence. He is, in short, a horrible person and also a dull character. He spends the entire time whining about how unfair his life is – his life isn’t easy, I understand that, his father is awful and he is seen as nothing more than a pawn in Heathcliff’s game of revenge, but still… – and refusing to go outside for fear of the cold. He says that he loves Catherine but has no qualms about helping his father regardless of what that means for her. It is partly out of fear but also partly out of spite and his generally vindictive attitude.

When I read it for the third time after having studied it for nearly a year, I appreciated more what Brontë what trying to do and realised that actually… it was extremely clever and I had misjudged her and her novel.

So basically, despite this being the longest post I’ve ever made, all that I’m trying to say is that if you have ever started a novel and not finished it or had to read a book for a class and hated it then pick the book back up and give it another shot. Seriously, you might really enjoy it the second time! And if you don’t? Then at least you’ve given it a shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

flash fiction made simple

 

Flash Fiction –
noun

very short works of fiction that are typically no longer than a couple of pages and may be as short as one paragraph.

 

Flash fiction is an incredibly clever and nuanced art, to tell a full story in so few words suggests a skill that I am yet to cultivate. It never really occurred to me that it was possible to do so but I am learning and it is working.

My first attempt may have started as a piece of flash fiction but the next thing I knew it had sprawled across most of a notebook and was pushing 10,000 words with fully-fledged characters and a couple of subplots… not so much a short story then.

But, I persevered and my second attempt was better, it ended up at only 5,000 words…

So I decided to read some other people’s attempts and see what advice they gave for writing flash fiction, it was an enlightening experience! Apparently flash fiction only needs a couple of characters, who knew? But after reading many (MANY!) different pieces of flash fiction, everything from a love story at a laundrette to a horror story about writer’s block, I decided to give it another go. And this time?

It worked.

1,000 words exactly (well… give or take a couple!).

This was a massive achievement, a complete plot in only 1,000 words? It’s such an incredibly clever way of writing as it relies so much on subtlety and reading between the lines at the rest of the novel the writer didn’t put into words. As it was (and is still, really) something I struggled with, I thought I would share my tips for writing flash fiction for beginners!

  1. CHOOSE YOUR GENRE
    • It’s important to choose one that you can fully do justice in less than 1,000 words, horror or romance work well but probably don’t attempt fantasy or a crime thriller because you just do not have words to flesh it out
    • This is something I struggled with as I usually write fantasy or thriller, it was an interesting experience for me – I chose romance, not something I write very often.
  2.  NO SUBPLOTS
    • Focus on the main story and don’t go off on a tangent for anything else, the plot is the single plot that tells the story, we don’t need to know anything extra.
    • Again, something I struggled with, as soon as I get an idea I want to write about it, develop that too, but that’s absolutely not viable in flash fiction, you have to limit yourself to one thing. I’m sure that this has also made my other writing more readable and less Victor Hugo-esque (the king of irrelevant tangents!).
  3. YOU ONLY NEED A COUPLE OF CHARACTERS
    • Seriously, be really strict with yourself, you need two – maybe three – characters and that’s it.
    • If you try and include too many characters you end up in subplot-heaven but flash fiction-hell.
    • I found that forcing my two main characters into a situation where they were alone was one of the only ways to stop me adding more characters and plot-points… either physically (broken lifts work well) or  emotionally (the middle of an argument perhaps).
  4. NARRATIVE VOICE
    • Go for either 1st person or 3rd person focalised.
    • Do not try to do 3rd person omniscient, there is always too much going on with too few words to do it all justice, it’ll just end up feeling messy and rushed (that’s what I’ve found anyway… maybe you’re all a lot better at it than I am!)
    • Just focus on the emotions of one character – 3rd person focalised still shows all of the action, it just shows it through the perspective of a single character.
    • Another interesting one to try is the ‘onlooker’ approach where your story is narrated (in either 1st or 3rd person) by an outsider not actually involved in the action which, whilst not the easiest to pull off, is a brilliant way of keeping the tangents to a minimum.
  5. THE END
    • Leave the ending ambiguous, leave the reader with a cliffhanger, end it on a question or a single action that makes everything clear.
    • Just because it’s short doesn’t mean that it has to have a clear end in 1,000 words, leave it open-ended, suggest that these characters have lives outside of your snapshot.

 

Here are a few ideas to help you get started! Good luck and if you do publish anything, drop them in the comments so I read them all! Because who doesn’t want a story you can read in ten minutes?