My short story ‘Vengeance’ is available here – you can watch its performance (from August 2021), or read the story text.
I’ve mentioned before that I love the technical elements of language and literature, and I’m going to explain here how I employed a technical focus to write this story.
I wrote it during my MA in Creative Writing. The course materials briefly mentioned first-person plural narration, which piqued my interest, so I sought out short stories that used this grammatical person. I found that first-person plural stories fell roughly into two categories: the collective observer narrator, who mainly watches the main character and reports their actions (such as in Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Treatment of Bibi Haldar‘); or the collective active narrator, who is involved in the action themselves (such as in Celeste Ng’s ‘Girls at Play’, which I wrote about here).
I’d recently read an interview with Joyce Carol Oates where she talked about how places inspire her writing, especially unusual ones, and I’d been thinking about some of the places I’ve been, and the experiences I’ve had. I remembered an incident in Australia, years ago, where a male friend invited two Mormons to join us on his patio, then proceeded to try and embarrass them with talk of alcohol and sex. I thought it would be interesting to turn the tables: What if it was a collective of women who were teasing the Mormons? This idea grew into: What if the men’s arrival offers an innocuous way of getting revenge on all the men who’ve wronged them? The second category I identified above is perfect for both ‘solidarity’ and ‘bullying’ scenarios, so I decided to use a first-person collective active narrator to harass the two men.
I was also thinking of how Oates’ ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ has a distinctly Biblical underlying quality (which I talked about here). So, I thought: What if my female characters use the same techniques as the serpent in the Garden of Eden? – the snake is initially friendly and flattering, then tells Eve that God has lied to her, tries to make her doubt her beliefs…
I did some further research into the first-person plural, resulting in my inclusion of the lyrical montages, which indicate the individuals in the collective (e.g. ‘One of us was from Canada, one was from a broken home, one used to catch butterflies in a net, one was raised Catholic but now worked as a stripper and hated the cliché she’d become.’), and the occasional suggestion of polyphonic voices in the dialogue (e.g. ‘Have a seat. Make yourselves comfortable, why don’t you, boys. What are your names? Where are you from?’).
So, the story was a collision of these three main technical ideas, which is my standard way of approaching a short story. After writing I edited several times to get the wording right, and the sections balanced, and I moved around some elements of the final section until it had what I felt was cohesion.
Perhaps not surprisingly, male responses were negative, while females ‘got’ it. Ah, well, fuck the patriarchy 😉
2 thoughts on “How I wrote it”
Thank you so much for sharing that, Mina. I loved that story, especially the way it was read by Josie Charles, so it is really helpful to hear what choices you made in writing it and what inspired you. The use of first person plural was particularly effective and reinforces female co-operative groups such as muses, sirens and the witches in Macbeth building on each other’s meanings to manipulate their victim towards a common goal.
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Thank you! Funnily enough, my dissertation featured a first-person plural Siren story, which was so much fun to write, and I want to write something related to Macbeth’s Witches at some point. In the new year I’ll be on the lookout for lit mags accepting mythic submissions 🙂