The writing process. A woman on holiday in Pompeii

About Writing From the Ashes

Creative Writing, Free Writing Course, Short Story Writing

As part of my creative writing degree I had to write commentaries and reflections on the stories I wrote. I am publishing edited versions of here as they give some insight into my thoughts during the fiction writing process.

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The writing process – From the Ashes

I wanted to write a story that explored the themes of a character who has the opportunity to progress in their life but is haunted or held back by memories of events in the past. I also wanted to try and create a piece that intertwined the main character’s past with an historical past.

I chose Pompeii as the setting for the story as I had, at the time of writing, recently visited both the modern town and the ruins. This meant I could draw on my first-hand experiences and photographs I took there.

Pompeii also offers the ideal setting in that there is a strong connection to the past in the archaeological site which contrasts with the modern town immediately outside the gates. This enabled the setting to move from the past to the present whilst the characters examine the main character’s past.

I remembered reading Alan Lightman’s novel Reunion which briefly introduces the metaphor of time as a river that branches. The novel also mentions the quote from Soren Kierkegaard. ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’ I adapted the metaphor of time as a river to provide a throughline for the story.

I also read a short story, Resurrection by Julie Dawn in which the author uses the character’s shadow to illustrate the feelings of depression as a mental illness. Stella is not suffering from a mental illness but wanted to use her visions to convey a subtext that she is recovering from a stressful period of her life.
My first draft was in the first person but this proved to be too restrictive. I used a narrator with limited omniscience as I wanted to see the world through the perspective of my main character and be able to interiorise her thoughts as well as organise and comment on the story.

The story starts in the middle of the action after the traumatic events in Stella’s life.

My next draft was in the past tense but this seemed to lack any immediacy so I redrafted it in the present tense and added the backstory flashbacks. The first of these enabled me to introduce dialogue early on which is engaging for the reader.

The memories of her mother shouting tell the reader about Stella’s state of mind. I drew on my own experiences to introduce a powerful piece of dialogue that hints at what caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is like.

In the final draft, I removed a section that described the ruins of Pompeii in detail as this was not relevant to the story.

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