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Creating 'The Masterpiece of Whitechapel'- taken from ENGL233 Reflective Essay

Mark for this piece: 87/100 (HD)

During this semester, I have deliberately set out a goal of trying to challenge my writing abilities. In previous ENGL creative writing units, I have found myself sticking to one type of genre, writing style, focaliser or element of story. This semester I have deliberately tried to break away from that.

The stimulus for this piece came from examining language-based pieces. In Week 4, we examined ‘Simple Tings’ by Jean Binta Breeze. What fascinated me about this piece was the incorporation of accent into language and idiom, giving the poem a grounded sense of place. During this time, I had also been reading about how the current Australian government was providing tax-free thresholds to the rich, whilst also making the poor worse off. The idea came to me to write a piece from a working class point-of-view, examining lower class frustrations.

I decided on a historical London setting, (as writing history is something I always enjoy) and London’s divided east/west social class setting seemed perfect for this theme. The London setting led me to the examining the working-class voices in the works of Charles Dickens; most notably, Great Expectations. However, examining London’s history led me to the stories of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders. When I discovered the Ripper's final (and most violent) murder of Mary Kelly; I felt I had the basis for a great horror story: to incorporate a working class man, frustrated by his existence in Whitechapel, who has a near brush with the Ripper. I have never attempted horror before, and saw this as great opportunity to challenge myself.

I based my main fictional character on George Hutchinson (the last person to see Mary Kelly alive), Thomas Bowyer (the first man to discover the murder) and Josh Barnitt, (Mary’s partner). Whilst writing the first draft, I received feedback for my first assignment ‘Shatter,’ which was extremely helpful; showing the importance of good characterisation. With that in mind, I focused my first draft on creating backstory of this character, Conall. After workshopping, this draft got positive feedback around character and setting. However, there were three major problems: the huge amount of exposition and idiom of Conall’s life made the story into a monologue, the inconsistency of the language, which was hard for the reader to follow, and that the amount of exposition was not offset by enough action. The horror element was also more in the background, which I decided to keep for later drafts.

For my second draft I focused on making the idiom more consistent; eventually deciding to put only one-to-two idioms per sentence. This would make the story easier to read, but keep the working class element. Secondly, I tried to cut back on exposition and add more action in the introduction. But I also recognised exposition enabled the reader to associate, identify and empathise with Conall more. I also completed the ending, showcasing Conall’s identification of Mary.

In my final draft, I decided to make a few changes to Mary herself. Historically, Mary was a very complicated character. But I decided to paint her as ‘pure’ in the eyes of Conall. The reason why I did this was because history has painted an image of these murders, and Mary’s death is part of that. But Mary was not just a ‘prostitute’ and just a ‘victim’. She was a person, who had dreams and hopes, and I felt to diminish that would diminish her death for Conall.

Overall, this piece has many great ideas. I feel like I got strong realisation of character and setting. However, I feel more mixed about the language. It is a tough balancing act; trying to minimise exposition and stop it feeling like a monologue, whilst also keeping the reader invested in the character; whilst also trying to keep the idiom and voice consistent. This piece was really challenging, but I am glad I have attempted it and challenged myself.

To read 'The Masterpiece of Whitechapel', click here

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