As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer. I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate. Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day. But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt. It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.
When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now. Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room. Over the years I have worked with various top tips.
Get up and start writing. No thanks, its too cold downstairs.
Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea. Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread. Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me. It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.
Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me. That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters. A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence. I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result. Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around. I have become a player in the greater game.
Some writers don’t like this state of affairs. Some painters, musicians, song-writers too. But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance. I move wholly and completely into their world. I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them. I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true. If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?
When I am writing a story, I move into it. I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read. Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside. We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.
Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully. These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all. Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them. It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written. I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves. How they dress, laugh, eat. How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.
Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.