'Running Rings' is a story about three concepts: acceptance and conformity; leaving the past behind; and the nature of fate. Initially, I set out to challenge the emulation - or worship - of important figureheads in our lives. In the song 'Californication' by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the line "Little girls from Sweden dream of silver screen quotations" - a comment on the glamour of Hollywood and the ridiculously strong impact this has on people's lives - inspired me to investigate why we have the desire to idolise others.
I decided that since I would be exploring the nature of worship, religion was the most appropriate avenue for further research. I interviewed a leader of a religious community, and asked him what would happen if someone such as himself were found to be a hypocrite. His response was: "When a person who has a leadership responsibility compromises the basic decency that most people would hold dear, those who follow that leader are absolutely devastated." Hence my view on the worship of role models in pursuit of acceptance: "The man who set the example for how toâ€¦ live a good lifeâ€¦ is now revealed to be just as sinful as Doug, if not worse."
'The Culture of Conformism: understanding social consent', by Patrick Colm Hogan, is an academic text that explains why people conform. The pressure that forces Doug to conform is explained by Hogan: "Perhaps the most routine or habitual form of coercion is not a matter of overt violence, or any punitive action, but rather the largely silent disapproval and withdrawal of one's peers".
However, it turns out that the strongest theme in my story is not conformity, but the difficulty of leaving the past behind. 'Running Rings' is an appropriation of the fairytale 'The ugly duckling', by Hans Christian Anderson. Instead of the ugly duckling growing up to be a swan, I subverted the story so that Doug attempts to metamorphose himself (into something he can never be), and fails. I represented this with the motif of the swan: it's painted white on the outside, but on the inside it remains dark.
I decided that if I were to write about leaving the past behind, and the past catching up with you, I would need a reverse chronological structure. The text 'Time's Arrow', by Martin Amis, helped with this. I also found a little piece on the net called 'September 11, 2001', by J. Gutrelle. These two texts were written literally in reverse, with people walking and talking backwards, regurgitating their food back onto the plate, and so on. After reading them, I decided that literal reverse chronology was not suitable for my work. But they gave me the idea of writing a prologue and an epilogue, set in the future and the past respectively. Each of the three sections of 'Running Rings' moves forward, but the story as a whole moves back, symbolising 'leaving the past behind' in conflict with 'the past catching up'.
I was extremely careful to maintain the correct tense for each section. 'After' is written in future tense, 'Today' is in present tense, and only 'Before' is in past tense. The dialogue is italicised, rather than enclosed in speech marks, so that it blends into the prose more fluidly. I borrowed this style from the novel '48 Shades of Brown', by Nick Earls. I wrote the dialogue in a 'fragmented' style when the characters are saying something irrelevant, to convey the absurdist view that language doesn't always express meaning effectively. This was influenced by my study of 'The Real Inspector Hound' in Extension I English.
The writing process was gruelling for me at the best of times, but what made it bearable was the satisfaction of seeing my ideas and concepts come to life. I became extremely frustrated when I had to discard a really well written piece, because it didn't fit in with the rest of the story. For example, I attempted to write the epilogue before anything else, seeing that it was set in the past. I consider this to be my best piece of writing all year, however you won't find it in the end product, because I couldn't make it correlate, so I had to write a new epilogue that 'fitted in'. Ironic, considering I was writing about conformity!
I've been fortunate in that I haven't had to scrap my initial ideas completely, but have instead managed to integrate them with new developments. This is because my story developed in such a way that new concepts were born from the old ones. Most of the earlier drafts that I had to discard, I discarded because they gave away too much, too soon. It was quite a challenge to maintain the 'perfect twist', which I learnt is a balance between giving away everything (leading to no surprises) and giving away nothing (leading to confusion). I fluctuated between both these extremes for a long time, and it was only after much persistence that I came closer to reaching the middle ground.
I had to re-write the ending, with substantial modifications, quite close to the end of the process. In my original ending, there was no real catalyst for Doug losing control and attacking his family. He burst into a rage, and only after he calmed down did Tim reveal that he too is a violent man. I revised this by swapping these two events around, so that Tim's revelation of his violent tendencies is what sparks Doug's rage. I came very close to giving up and writing a compromised ending, in which only one of these two characters would have violent tendencies. Had I done this, I would have destroyed my original idea of the worship of role models (who can sometimes be hypocritical), the concept from which all my other ideas are derived.
My target audience has been (from the very beginning) adults. One of the reasons my main characters are all adults is so my responders can relate to them better, and feel more empathy for them. It has been a challenge writing in a style that appeals to an audience significantly older than me. When I cut back in order to comply with the word limit, the first sections I deleted were those focusing on the children. In the end product, the younger characters are not developed anywhere near as much as the adult ones, and this is how it should be. I'm writing a story to cater to my target audience, and realistically adults want to read about other adults. The setting, that of middle-class suburbia, reflects the environment that the majority of my responders will be familiar with, hence increasing the likelihood of their empathising with the characters. I have tried to cater for the large number of my responders who are accustomed to a traditional, linear style, by limiting the number of unorthodox or experimental techniques used (e.g. present tense, lack of speech marks).
'Running Rings' demonstrates that we are easily enslaved by our past experiences, and that the direction of our lives is not always in our hands. This is something that many people do not experience until adulthood, and so my target audience is the group that will appreciate it the most. The final line of my story ("And he's back to where he started"), as well as the title itself, suggest that change is a cyclic (and hence transient, or impermanent) phenomenon. My study of Changing Self in Advanced English helped me reach this conclusion. When I say: "people never change" at the end of the prologue, it is the impermanent nature of change that I am referring to.
There are a number of controversial themes in 'Running Rings'. The most obvious one is my assertion that people never 'really' change. There is also the notion that individual freedom is a myth, which is tied in with the notion that your past determines your future. I don't expect many responders to agree with me. Very few will. However, any responder who is prepared to digest what I have to say, will at least have their own opinion. And that's what makes it all worthwhile.
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