(M.J.E. / Writings / Stories / Twilight Woods / Comments)

Comments on "Twilight Woods"

Some thoughts about the story as I look at it 17 years later.

      This discussion reveals crucial elements of the plot in the story "Twilight Woods", and if you read it before reading the story itself, it will probably spoil the impact of the story when you do read it.

      I generally regard "Twilight Woods" as my first completed story - and it remains my only one.
      It's not quite true to describe "Twilight Woods" as my first story, since as a child I wrote dozens of short adventure stories rather in the manner of famous British children's writer Enid Blyton, and indeed I wrote a novel in that style, too, and almost completed a couple of further novels. However, these works are quite visibly the work of a child, and I do not recognize them now as finished works. Their plot elements may have potential, but to bring them up to the standard I would now require, they would require very heavy revision and expansion.
      So if we ignore these works, "Twilight Woods" is then my first completed story - indeed, my only completed story. I have started many others, but for various personal reasons I have become increasingly unable to finish anything, even though my writing skill is undoubtedly much greater now than in my childhood when I was able to finish so much work - but flawed work. In recent years I have not written any fiction at all, and appear to have given up the writing of fiction, although I have never reached a conscious decision to abandon it.
      But, for that matter, "Twilight Woods" is not entirely flawless, and possibly there are a few things that could be improved, which I might do one day, if I ever come back to fiction-writing at all. I would just like to note these things here and discuss them briefly, for the interest of anyone who has read "Twilight Woods" itself.
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      The style itself strikes me as reasonably good, although possibly the descriptive bits could be reworked where they slow things down. I'm not sure: I don't share the horror of adjectives that some writers have, and the precise atmosphere of the woods I evoked in the story was always an important part of the concept of the story I had in mind right from the beginning. If I revised the story, I would be thinking of rearranging the descriptions, not removing or pruning them. If the resulting slowness worries anyone, well they just have to accept it. It is a reflective story by nature, and will never be full of action no matter how much it is pared down.
      There are one or two phrases that seem a bit corny now, such as the "thrill of love and pride" Helen felt "at hearing Bertram talk like this so compassionately and simply to someone in trouble". The story is unashamedly rather emotional, and part of the problem (if it is a problem) might be that I was trying to depict emotions I have never experienced: I have never been in love, and never had to deal closely with someone else with deep emotional problems - so arguably I don't truly know how to depict situations like this. In such a situation I probably can't help using inappropriate descriptions of feelings and emotions.
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      Although Helen has a job (interior decorator), it doesn't seem to add anything to her character. I don't suppose it has to, but it would add depth to the story if it did. In truth, her job did not figure importantly in my conception of Helen (who is mainly there as an observer and viewpoint character anyway), but I felt I had to give her one - in particular because I needed something to explain why Helen was visiting Bertram at his parents' house. (She was to negotiate a contract for redecorating Bertram's father's office in the town nearby, and also happened to be the girl-friend of Bertram, who was staying there because his house nearby was being renovated.)
      Once again, I was introducing this without personal experience. I know nothing whatsoever about interior decorating, and the very brief mentions of that job do perhaps sound a bit stuck on. I don't really know what I can do about that, and it doesn't strike me as a serious flaw.
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      Mention just now of Helen being the viewpoint character does also bring to mind one possible flaw. It can be found in the following passage from the story, at the end of the 5th section:
      Bertram simply left his hand on Adam's shoulder and let Adam get his grief out of his system. It appeared entirely likely that this was the first time in ten or more years he had told anyone about Gracie. Certainly Bertram had never met anyone in town who'd even known of Gracie's existence, let alone actually known anything about her. Had Adam kept the whole story suppressed within himself for year after year?
      Although things are told mostly from Helen's point of view, or else just describing things that presumably anyone present in the scene can see equally well, this paragraph does slip briefly into giving Bertram's point of view. While this may be interesting, it is not common for short stories to switch point of view briefly like this, and I probably did it unintentionally.
      I'm not quite sure how bad a flaw this is; but it is probably at least a slight one. If I revise this story, it might be worth considering changing this - or, if I decide to keep the observation from Bertram's point of view, to think about working it into the story in some other way so that it is not so much of a flaw. Possibly I could have Bertram say what is represented here as his viewpoint - either around this point of the story, or maybe a little earlier.
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      After the denouement, Bertram tries to act as counsellor to the troubled Adam, and I do have a couple of problems with the way this unfolds. Bertram's job as a social worker comes into play here (another profession I have no knowledge of), and indeed I gave him that job, both because I thought it fitted in with the compassionate, understanding personality I gave him, and because I thought it would be useful in interacting with Adam.
      I don't think it was a mistake to give Bertram this profession; but I now tend to think that it could have been handled differently, because the way I did it tends to give the slightly superficial impression that having a social worker help you is the answer to all of life's complicated, ambiguous problems. Changing this impression would, I fear, require major surgery to the second- and third-last sections of the story.
      Perhaps Bertram could keep his profession of social worker, which could be mentioned briefly near the beginning of the story; but maybe that profession should be strictly kept out of the end, not mentioned at all. Now that the reader knows that that is his profession, it could simply be part of the background that informs Bertram's way of dealing with Adam; but those dealings should work themselves out in their own terms, and not mention making appointments to see social workers or having Bertram's colleagues help Adam, or anything that goes beyond the bounds of simply one human being helping another, person-to-person.
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      Slightly related to this: once Adam finally reveals (partially) what it was that has traumatized him for so many years, and Bertram advises him the best he knows how to, perhaps there's a feeling he turns the corner too quickly and too easily. I know myself from experience how intractable emotional problems can be.
      True, I was careful to have him show only the slightest, tentative signs of coming out of himself; but I can't help wondering whether, in real life, Adam (given the chronic situation he was in that I described) would require weeks or months of patient, painstaking counselling to even begin to show signs of coming out of his depression.
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      One more thing, and it's perhaps the most serious problem in the story (at least, as I see it). When Bertram is trying to advise Adam, trying to persuade him to see things differently, to come out of his prison dominated by the distant past with its bittersweet memories, he uses a little bit of symbolism from their surroundings: namely, the woods in a twilight that is fast turning to total darkness, and the evening star (the planet Venus) shining brightly in the western sky like a brilliant lamp. Bertram intimated that though night had now come and engulfed them in darkness, just as Adam's problems had plunged him into darkness, Venus would continue to shine like a beacon of hope, that the darkness was not absolute.
      The problem with this is that the evening star itself will set a few hours after the sun sets, and thus may not be the right symbol here. It gives a sense of hope by continuing to shine in the darkness, but that hope will be short- lived, because in a few hours' time it will go down too and let you down, with most of the night still ahead of you. False hope that dies later on in the middle of a crisis may be crueller than no hope at all, where you at least know where you stand. A full moon might have been a better symbol, since it will stay in the night sky until sunrise.
      Yet Venus was an important part of the total landscape I wanted to describe, an inherent part of the whole atmosphere I had in mind.
      There might be one possible way out, if I want to keep Venus, and keep the symbolism I attributed to it. Bertram, Helen, and Adam were deep in the "Twilight Woods" and it was getting dark, and it is true that Venus would only be with them for a few hours at most. But they were on their way back to the house, with its comforting bright lights and hot meals and the companionship of Bertram's parents, and Venus would certainly be visible to them at least while they walked back home - shortly after first mentioning Venus, the story describes this walk as being a ten-minute one.
      If I could somehow work that into the final section of the story, perhaps that may fix things a bit. But I have to say that, as things currently stand, I feel a little uneasy about the way I've used Venus as a symbol.
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      On the whole, I think the story is reasonably good, and the glimpse into Adam's strange world is certainly interesting, and the failure of Bertram and Helen to find out all the details of his life and state of mind if anything add depth and mystery to that. (I wonder whether the story would be slightly better if I removed Bertram's rationalization of the eternal twilight as a dream that Gracie had, and just left the eternal twilight hanging there for the reader to make out his or her own way. Another point to consider, perhaps - I introduced that concept as a way of adding a sense of depth and mystery to the story, and for Bertram to point that it was probably a dream Gracie had, albeit a vivid one, does perhaps throw a bit of cold water over the atmosphere I built up.)
      I'm also quite pleased with the way the emotional currents are counterpointed by the changing details of the landscape as the twilight in the woods grows deeper and deeper as the three of them walk amongst the trees. (Much of this was added a few years later when I revised the story, probably adding another 500 or 1,000 words to it.) However, when I conceived the story, I did have in mind very subtle and complex emotional interactions of a sort I wouldn't have been able to describe when I started the story; and I feel even now that, although the atmosphere and events of the story are roughly the kind of thing I had mind, they only scratch the surface of the depth I wanted to put into the story, and are only a pale shadow of what I wanted to do. However, at times I suspect everything I do comes out as only a shadow of the real, apparently inexpressible concept I wanted to express.
      Perhaps the story could be made quite respectable if I could one day revise it slightly to deal with the problems discussed above. At any rate, although it is flawed, it is close enough to what I want that I feel free to display it publicly on a web site.
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      Some years ago, after writing this story, I conceived the possibility of writing two other stories related to this, and using some of the same characters.
      One obvious possibility would be to write a story about Gracie and Adam all those years ago, exploring their relationship, and the relationship they seemed to have with the Twilight Woods themselves, and culminating in the unnamed tragedy that overcame Gracie in the end, leaving Adam alone and in terrible grief. (It might be a very depressing story, though.)
      The other obvious possibility is a sequel to "Twilight Woods", continuing to follow Adam's progress, now that he has begun to interact positively with other people. Helen and Bertram could feature prominently in that story, and become close friends of Adam. However, I admit I have no concrete idea whatever as to how such a story would go - but there are innumerable possibilities that could be introduced. I think that's the kind of story that could work out best if I just started writing it and let it lead where it wants to, rather than trying to map out a plot in advance. I think that latter approach works well for action-oriented plots where all the pieces must fit in properly with each other, but perhaps it works less well with intensely emotional plots about character and feelings such as this possible sequel would probably be.
      Perhaps I've lost the thread of that whole world now, and it's too late to write those stories. But it's a possibility I could perhaps consider one day.
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      If anyone who reads this page has any thoughts on my story, or what I've said here, I would be very pleased to hear what they think, and would welcome any e-mails about it.

Michael Edwards,
Victoria, Australia.

Saturday, 8 April, 2000.

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Original text copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.

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This page created on Monday, 10 April, 2000;
last modified on Monday, 24 April, 2000.