WordPress Daily Writing Prompt:
Truth serum: You’ve come into possession of one vial of truth serum. Who would you give it to (with the person’s consent, of course) – and what questions would you ask?
I would give the truth serum to the protagonist from my debut novel. Then I would ask her if she would really do what I have her doing in the last few scenes of the novel. I am on the very last edits of this novel and I think this would help me to make sure the ending is authentic and fitting. And I also believe that it would make it more gripping too. The power of truth, and all that.
There was an incredibly powerful writing exercise that I was asked to do, when I was on a Arvon residential creative writing course. The week was part of my Creative Writing MA, as was writing the novel, and today’s writing prompt took me right back to that day.
We were asked to write a letter to ourselves from one of our characters. I chose my main female character (the protagonist to whom I would give the truth serum today) and sat down with my notebook on a bench in the garden. The Arvon Centre that we were staying at was called Lumb Bank; it is in Yorkshire in the UK. It sits in a deep cleft of a valley which has tall chimneys rising up from the trees at intervals like the periscopes of Sylvan submarines.
It was early May and we were blessed with a hot, almost-summer day. The heat on my head from the sun combined with the warmth of the wooden bench pressing on my back helped me to submerge myself into the sort of fugue state that is most fertile for these writing exercises.
Lumb Bank is an evocative place. It used to belong to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath – and she is buried nearby in Heptonstall, in a grave topped with quirky gifts placed there by visitors from around the world. There is an intense atmosphere, there is no denying. I found that the letter wrote itself.
My character asked me to make her a little less serious, even though she knew that it was true that she was slightly over-serious about many things.
‘And as you well know, I have every right to be a bit serious,’ she went on, ‘but that doesn’t have to be my only defining characteristic, does it? I could be allowed a bit of fun, couldn’t I? What you haven’t realised about me is that I was a bit of a devil when I was younger.’
Out of this exercise came one of my favourite scenes in the novel. In it, we see this character and her friends go to the wild, rebellious Poetry Incarnation event at the Royal Albert Hall in the mid-60s. I loved researching it almost as much as my character had loved being there.
Now I am going back to her again so that she can guide me to end the novel in a truthful, believable way. I might ask her to write me another letter after she swallows the truth serum. Although after writing this, and remembering her effortless honesty at Lumb Bank, maybe I don’t even need the serum. I just need to ask her, and to really want to hear the answer.