Creative writing – Reflective commentary – The Everglott Insight
I decided to write my creative piece in the form of a story– I enjoy writing complete short stories so I can challenge myself to create an entire world with convincing characters and narrative in such a short space. My completed piece ‘The Everglott Insight’ is no different, which is a text established in the 1950’s about a cliché housewife who struggles with her marriage, mind and morals. I chose the title as the word ‘insight’ refers in psychology to understanding relationships and shedding light on or helping solve problems. I thought this was fitting as the short story explores the housewife, Nancy’s, relationship with her husband and everybody she interacts with in her bubble.
Majority of my creative writing pieces are stimulated by other texts and media, the main stimulus of ‘The Everglott Insight’ was ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates. Set in 1955, the novel focuses on the hopes and aspirations of Frank and April Wheeler, self-assured Connecticut suburbanites who see themselves as very different from their neighbours in the Revolutionary Hill Estates. Yates detailed the title’s subtext in an interview (1):
“I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs—a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price.” I wanted to transfer this ‘lust for conformity’ into my work; Nancy attempts to be the perfect wife she’s expected to be by living her life by a book titled ‘The Good Wife’s Life’ which is based on the many non-fiction pieces actually present in that time period. In May of 1955, Housekeeping Monthly published an article entitled, “The Good Wife’s Guide,”(2) detailing all the ways that a wife should act and how she can be the best partner to her husband and a mother to her children. The man was considered the head of the household in all things; mortgages, legal documents, bank accounts. If a woman found herself in a loveless or violent marriage, she was trapped; she had no money of her own and no career. I wanted to show this sense of entrapment in my story with Nancy and really propel the desperation and helplessness of majority of wives’ in that era.
Another influence of mine was L.A. Noire, a neo-noir detective video game developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games. The game draws heavily from both the plot and aesthetic elements of film noir – stylistic films made popular in the 1940s and 1950s that share similar visual styles and themes, including crime and moral ambiguity – along with drawing inspiration from real-life crimes for its in-game cases, based upon what was reported by the Los Angeles media in 1947(3). I was inspired by place names and locations present in the Los Angeles setting, such as “The Blue Room”, which is the name of the bar on the note that Nancy finds in George’s blazer pocket. I liked the attire of the main character so I took aspects of the sharp suit and incorporated it into George’s wear. Mad Men is an American periodical drama staged in the 1960’s, centred around male protagonist Don Draper, this is another media text that heavily influenced my piece. Don is the alpha, an upper echelon business man working within the inner sanctum of New York, he’s a strong headed male in a patriarchal society – but also a loving, caring husband and family man. Mad Men tells the story of several characters, their journeys and stories travelling through the ever evolving changes in society. From women penetrating the work force to be on equal grounds as men in similar roles, to characters dealing with psychological issues and identity struggles.
‘A Doll House’ (Henrik Ibsen) is significant for its critical attitude toward 19th-century marriage norms. It aroused great controversy at the time, as it concludes with the protagonist, Nora, leaving her husband, Torvald, and children because she wants to discover herself. Ibsen was inspired by the belief that “a woman cannot be herself in modern society,” since it is “an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.”(4)
Torvald is unable to comprehend Nora’s perspective, since it contradicts all that he has been taught about the female mind throughout his life. Furthermore, he is so narcissistic that it is impossible for him to understand how he appears to her, as selfish, hypocritical, and more concerned with public reputation than with actual morality. Nora leaves her keys and wedding ring, and as Torvald breaks down and begins to cry, baffled by what has happened, Nora leaves the house, slamming the door behind herself. Whether or not she ever comes back is never made clear but Ibsen’s German agent felt that the original ending would not play well in German theatres; therefore, for it to be considered acceptable, Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending for the German premiere. In this ending, Nora is led to her children after having argued with Torvald. Seeing them, she collapses, and the curtain is brought down. Ibsen later called the ending a disgrace to the original play and referred to it as a “barbaric outrage” alternative ending. (4) I incorporated the same ambiguity into the conclusion of the story by having two endings – the reader can choose whichever ending they desire however I have not made clear which of them actually occurs. I wanted to do this as I felt it was different and would evoke and conflict the reader with questions and thoughts. The reader would be torn between the social norms of society in the 50’s and what they wanted for Nancy. In each of the endings I kept sixty percent of the words the same and made subtle differences to create a different mood and tone, an example of this would be the photo frame – a grey photo of him and Janice glared at us “and “a grinning photo of him and Janice beamed at us”. The verbs ‘glared’ and ‘beamed’ create very opposing feelings about Gregory and Janice’s relationship and thus either validates Nancy’s spontaneous behaviour to up and leave with Gregory or shuts down any sort of desire to run from her loveless marriage and wreck, an appeared, love filled one.
Another difference is Nancy’s dialogue, when she wants to include Gregory in her plans to flee she says “Our partners are having an affair” whereas when she sees the happy photo of her best friend and her high school sweetheart she simply says “I think George is having an affair”. By using the possessive determiner ‘our’ in a declarative statement it includes Gregory in the situation and he feels inclined to act on it. When she is only accusing George I wanted her to feel less sure than she was before she walked in so I used the verb ‘think’ instead of the boldness and confidence she had in the alternative ending. Equally as important is what Nancy does with the book – when she lights a match it’s a symbol of freedom and relief, she is no longer controlled by the rules and expectations but when she refers back to it, it shows how influenced and pressured a wife was to keep her life together and her husband happy. Refined differences were key when creating two endings, I wanted them to be equally applicable to the narrative.
To make my story seem more authentic to the time period I researched the appropriate slang and vocabulary (5), I used this in moderation to make it flow seamlessly and seem natural. In my first draft I felt I used too much and the dialogue sounded false. Another thing I changed was the realness of George and Nancy’s relationship, I encountered an issue where I felt as if there wasn’t enough substance to them so I later added a very passionate, yet gloomy, recollection between her contemplating her future. This section adds depth and rawness to the almost robotic couple and makes you feel for neglected Nancy as she yearns over the affection she once had.
Specifically, I thought I executed Nancy’s character rather well in my finished piece. I managed to make her seem very flat and boring to begin with but added depth and emotion later on during her raw moments. In addition to that, I thought I excelled when making her seem genuinely paranoid – this was particularly prominent through the paragraph after Nancy finds the note in George’s blazer. Through the recurrence of ‘I bet’, the plosive B sound and the repetition, the paragraph conveys true mistrust and insecurity of not only Nancy’s marriage, but of herself. The fact that Nancy goes so descriptive with her allegations and can imagine exactly what might have happened, from the interior ‘lavish; heavily draped in navy satin and velvet.’ to what Janice might have been wearing ‘that red dress you complimented her on last Summer when we had our annual neighbourhood barbeque’, shows these uncertainties are deeply rooted and have been thought about often. I also think my use of two endings was very effective.
Feedback that I received suggested I made Nancy even more obnoxious at the start by instead of her quoting advertisements for products she should just incorporate them into sentences subconsciously, such as ‘A fifty-minute meal made in a fraction of the time – perfect for those leftovers.’. I decided to include this in my final draft as I felt it not only made her more dislikeable to start but it also made you feel more sympathetic for how influenced she was by it. Another piece of feedback I received regarded the pacing of my piece, “in places it feels rushed”, I agreed with this and considering the form I found it difficult to create realistic relationships and narrative with constraints. Instead of the piece being span over a week’s events I limited the actions to one day instead with reference to previous occasions to slow the narrative down. Another piece of feedback I acknowledged considered the character development for George – “the character of Nancy’s husband had very little substance” – This was something that I had reflected on previously however decided that the lack of knowledge the reader acquired about George was the perfect amount between ambiguity and understanding. As this was from Nancy’s perspective I wanted to show how one sided the narrative could be, I purposefully chose not to give George a voice on Nancy’s rash accusations as I felt this would deter away from the paranoia I was attempting to project. Moreover, I often enjoy writing from an unreliable narrator because it provokes questions from the reader and can be interpreted differently on further inspection.
Given the opportunity I would’ve expanded my work and introduced Nancy’s paranoia more slowly with little and often evidence for her to overthink about as oppose to her coming across it in bulk. Something I would’ve done differently would be the layout of the piece, to make Nancy’s thoughts feel more authentic I could have used diary entries although I branched out from this as I have used this technique to convey emotions in many of my other short stories. Overall I believe I have created an authentic short story that presents the themes of isolation, paranoia and dependence efficiently whilst also showcasing the everyday, although stereotypical, relationships of that of the 1950s era. I aimed and succeeded in showing the many dilemmas that countless wives faced as they strived for conformity and their husband’s approval.