The whys and the whats behind my Book of Unwritten Rules contribution: Get to Know Your Husband in 5 Easy Steps.
*** Contains spoilers **
- It contains two opposing unwritten rules.
I didn’t realise this until I wrote the ending. At first, I was focusing on the importance of implicit trust in a relationship, the JENGA-block that once removed, topples all.
But my protagonist had other ideas.
She went against my unwritten ‘rule’ and followed my written ones instead, coming out with her tail between her legs. She spied on her husband. She second-guessed him. She stalked him. She was proven wrong time and time again.
But when her husband’s thoughts finally came to light, it was me who was proven wrong. My character learned things she wished didn’t about him. She pushed and pushed for the truth until their marriage crumbled anyway. And when the smoke cleared, she showed me there was a second unwritten rule to the story all along, somewhere hidden amongst the dust: trust your instincts.
2. It’s written in the second person.
The Marmite of all narrative styles. I had my first stab at this at uni with my short story, The Bystander, about a victim of domestic violence torn between passivity and wanting to escape. I knew it seemed try-hard and pretentious, but it felt right for the duality of the character. And thank God only a third of the class hated it.
I left the second person alone for a while after uni. Packed my bags and went off into the wilderness of lone writing. And then it seemed fitting to fish it out again for Get to Know Your Husband.
Of course, addressing an anonymous ‘you’ fits the didactic thread of the story. But there’s more to it. Everyone in a relationship at some point encounters at least a splinter of doubt in its solidity, or can relate to suspicion in some way. I wanted to make it okay to recognize the ugly in yourself. The mistrust. The angst. The parts of you you wish you could control – and the parts you shouldn’t change at all.
And my protagonist – she’s dual again. She’s the ‘I’ who wants to know the secrets of her husband and herself. The ‘you’ giving herself reassurance and simultaneous goading.
The second person narrative makes a story detached and wholly internal at the same time. An unsure seesaw. And that’s precisely the tone I hope I got across.
3. It has a didactic 5-part structure.
This was my first attempt at writing a story with such clear segments. I thought it would help with the structure, but actually it was harder to try to create five mini stories within one – each its own slice of pace, arch and movement that needed to contribute to the whole cake.
I knew from the start I wanted to parody a fifties’ women’s article – ‘Be the Perfect Housewife’, ‘How to Fold a Napkin and Keep Your Man,’ but it needed a little update. Something that would capture the anxieties of today. The world has shrunk and opportunities have grown – we’re always being encouraged to follow our hearts, and to sniff the greener grass trimmed neatly all over Facebook. For infidelity and suspicion, the world’s a meadow.
It’s easier than ever to keep up the pretense of happiness online and harder to maintain it in reality. I think in many ways, technology fails relationships, unpicking threads in the life you think is enough for you and your partner, but might not be behind the veil of a screen.
Ultimately, the didactic five-part structure was a nice way to play around with pace, building it up and knocking it back down. Plus, it was fun to be so bossy.
4. It’s inspired by a fear of my own mind.
I’m not married. Or paranoid. But I’m definitely aware of how scary the mind can be if you let it run away from you.
I’m a self-labelled ‘nattercan’. A worry-head. An anxious Annie. I’ve always filled my time alone with distractions; writing, reading, warbling along with my iPod, because I’ve always been afraid of the thoughts my mind can conjure. Catastrophising. Personalising. I have a special gift of seeing the very worst in a situation, taking a pleasant Sunday stroll and churning out a potential horror story.
But throughout my twenties I’ve been learning to trust myself more. I’ve taken on Mindfulness and yoga and CBT and all the other clichés of a person looking to ‘find herself’. And I’ve learned that my mind’s not all that bad at all. It’s actually pretty creative. And it’s fun to notice my thoughts rather than suppress them and see where I end up.
I chose a married and anxious woman as my main character because she’s everything I could so easily be – and everything I don’t think I will be anymore.
5. The ending is bizarre.
Ah, the surreal and unresolved ending. Another giant dollop of Marmite in my story.
I didn’t plan for the literal ending to become figurative. Or the figurative to become literal, however you see it… I’m confusing myself.
I just wanted my character to finally get her wish: to know exactly what her husband was lusting after, what ate away at his dreams while she fretted beside him. Maybe they had an honest conversation where he exposed his dirty colours. Maybe she poked and poked until he spilled out lies just to shut her up. Maybe she really did find evidence she couldn’t unknow.
Or maybe, just maybe, she was driven insane by her own relentless paranoia.
I don’t know what the ending is. But I’m not sure I mind. Perhaps it bothers you, but that’s okay too. I’d rather it got under your skin in one way or another…
Follow Emily on Twitter: @e_simpo