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30 September 2021

Writing exercise: Go to your happy place and make it terrible

Jack Meggitt-Phillips, author
by Jack Meggitt-Phillips

Jack Meggitt-Phillips took our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2019. Now, he’s published by Farshore and has a Warner Bros film deal for his 8-12 children’s series, The Beast and the Bethany. The second book of the series, Revenge of the Beast is out now. Here, he shares his advice on how to make your stories go delightfully horrid…

Isn’t it marvellous when things go wrong?

Not for you, of course, or for anyone you care about in the real world. But, in the land of fiction, it’s pixie dust.

Macbeth receives a witchy pep-talk, there’s a rat on the loose at Fawlty Towers, a moustachioed Belgian trips over a body in the library – there are so many good stories that are catapulted by something going terribly wrong at the beginning.

My book series, The Beast and the Bethany, is about a beast, a youthful 511-year-old, and a rebellious prankster who’s about to be eaten. And it’s all driven by something going wrong, when a greedy, hungry creature makes an unspeakable request of its manservant.

Ebenezer Tweezer keeps a beast in the attic of his mansion, who he feeds all manner of things (performing monkeys, pet cats, the occasional cactus), and in return the beast vomits out presents for Ebenezer, as well as potions which keep him young and beautiful.

Ebenezer has everything he could want in the world – eternal youth, waistcoats more fabulous than a Cher concert, an art collection that would make the Louvre feel terribly insecure about itself – however, when the beast grows ever greedier and demands to be brought a juicy child to eat, his whole life is turned upside down, and his paradise is poisoned.

If you’re looking for ideas, take a long hard look at whatever room, broom closet, shark tank, or underground lair you’re stood in, and imagine what’s the worst thing that could happen at that precise moment. Then, go and write it all down as quickly as possible.

Even better, go to your happy place, or the happy place of your protagonist. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, do all that OM OMMMING, and really try to transport yourself. There may be a whiff of freshly baked pain au chocolat in the air, perhaps there are silky grains of gold tickling between your toes, or maybe there’s a lyre-playing goat filling your ears with melody. Whatever works for you – there’s no judgement here.

Then, try and think what would make the happy place horrid. What would be the one thing that would absolutely ruin it for you or your main character? Is there a person who’s company is so odious that they can ruin a pain au chocolat breakfast or a beachy paradise? Is there a song the lyre-playing goat could play that would bring back painful memories for your character? If so, what would that memory be?

Perhaps I’m a cruel and nasty so-and-so, but I think part of the fun of writing anything is to push your characters to the limits. It’s not just finding out about their dreams and aspirations, but also their nightmares and insecurities too.

I think of myself as a sort of cackling Beelzebub – someone who prides themselves on creating intricate torture situations for whoever I’m writing about. And, in order to know what would make them feel truly terrible or uncomfortable, you need to have intricate knowledge of them.

Deepest, most ardent apologies, if this exercise destroys your happiness.

Get your hands on a copy of Revenge of the Beast.

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