Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Up in flames: When real life burns out fiction

Image credit: http://www.sfgate.comThe most important hallmark of being a good writer isn’t necessarily being good with words. James Joyce proved that you don’t even have to be particularly good with grammar. If your story sucks, all the long words, run-on sentences and semi-colons in the world won’t save it. A good writer needs to be able to put together a top-notch plot.

Most good stories – even across genres such as sci-fi and fantasy – have strong roots in reality, which is why a good writer should be looking at real life for material. Real life mostly consists of the drudge of daily life, but it does throw up some gems if you search hard enough.

Take this, for example. True story.

A couple of nights ago, a guy – let’s call him Dave – had a bad day and got drunk. He had a few spliffs; not uncommon for him. He went home to his flat, where he lived with his girlfriend and a couple of others. One of these others – Dean – had been pretty loud over the last few weeks. Dave, in his drunken state, decided tonight was going to be the night when he pounded Dean into the ground. He had a theory that Dean was a crackhead, and who wants to live with a crackhead?

Of course, Dean wasn’t in. Dave, not to be put off, banged on Dean’s door. He then called up the landlady, accused her of forcing him to live with crackheads, and handed in his notice. He convinced his girlfriend to make the same call, and then continued pounding on Dean’s door. He accused everyone in the world of being a cunt, and threatened to beat anyone he saw. He wasn’t really angry with Dean; he just wanted a fight.

The landlady was somewhat surprised with the accusations of drug taking on Dean’s part, so called up her son and asked to be taken round to the flat. By the time she got there, Dave and his girlfriend were passed out in bed, and Dean’s door had a big hole in it.

It took ten minutes to wake Dave and his girlfriend. Instantly, Dave was throwing his weight around again, hurling insults at all and sundry. And then he took a swing at his seventy-five year old landlady.

Thankfully, the punch didn’t connect. The landlady’s son, a placid but big fella, stepped in the way and floored Dave.

There followed a few minutes of huffy, drunken walking around by Dave and his girlfriend, the latter being thoroughly pissed off by her hubby’s mood. The landlady and her son, feeling the situation was as resolved as it was going to get at half-midnight, started to drive home.

The peace didn’t last. Within ten minutes of being left alone, Dave started his ranting again. He threw things around, started on a second door – his girlfriend’s – and then decided that the only thing to do was set light to his mattress.

His girlfriend, giddy with fear, pleaded with him to stop. She tried to pour water over the mattress, but Dave wouldn’t let her. Instead, he took her by the neck and got her out of his room.

Meanwhile, the last housemate – the one who wasn’t Dean; the one who was in his room the whole time, and who had been on Dave's corncopia of people to beat, called the police. And then he smelled smoke, and called the fire brigade as well. He escaped the flat through his window, got help from upstairs, and went to find the girlfriend.

The girlfriend was on her own. Dave had skipped out, leaving her to douse the flames. The hall was full of smoke. The fire brigade turned up, dragged Dave’s still smouldering mattress and quilt out of the flat and turned on the hoses.

Dave wandered back while the firemen worked, and stood calmly to one side. Eventually, the police turned up and talked to everyone present, including the returned landlady and her son. Dave was duly arrested, and put in a cell overnight to detox.

Thus far, Dave has admitted causing wilful destruction of property. There’s every chance he’ll get done for trying to hit the landlady. He denies arson, claiming that he was drunk and just left a cigarette to burn by accident. The police do have a statement that the fire was deliberate, but it’s from the housemate who called the police. He heard everything, but didn’t see it.

So, yeah. Life chucks out some good old stories. The difference between real life and fiction, of course, is that the characters act differently. In a story, that last housemate would have rocketed out of his room and saved the day, doused the flames and brought Dave to some kind of justice. Frankly, though, I was fucking terrified.

Dean's door

Doused mattress


Melvin said...

So seriously.
When the fuck are you gonna get out of that flat???
That's just crazy!!!

notwelshman said...

Yeah - I'm thinking "soon".

Melvin said...

Sounds like a good idea ;)

Lily said...

Oh my god!

What a wicked story though, well told too :)

And we thought living with Angela was strange...