I met a man the other week, completely out of the blue, and immediately knew I wanted to include him in the next book. He was a walking, talking caricature, an absolute gift to a writer. His mannerisms, his speech, his appearance just screamed inclusion in the chapter taking place in my mind. He was literary manna from heaven, just too good an opportunity to miss out on.
Characters can be birthed in so many different ways. Some can be based on the author themselves, or exaggerated versions of their personalities. Others are based on friends, foes, work colleagues or complete strangers. And other times, they can be complete figments of the characters imagination. As I’ve said before, some of mine were born as I sat on the sofa staring at the blank screen of my laptop.
They just pop into my head unannounced, politely introduce themselves and I start typing. That’s why I’m not totally won over by books that tell you how to write. I can write about how I write but that won’t necessarily work for you. We all have different tips, techniques and tactics. That’s the magic of writing, why it knows no boundaries, why we never know what’s coming next when we lift our pens or sit at a keyboard.
Yet, as with my new character, sometimes as a writer you need to step across the threshold of your front door. Get out there, interact, live and let the characters come to you. Or maybe not a character but a location, object or conversation. I’m a natural introvert, as many writers are, and often have to force myself to attend social events. I tend to get anxious before them and am forever trying to talk myself out of such occasions.
I always find, however, that the risk is outweighed by the bountiful opportunities to garner fresh writing material. There is always something or someone who sparks an idea in my head which has me scrambling for my little black book to scribble it down before it slips away, never to return again. You need to live in order to write. A lucky few are able to make a living from their art, the rest of us do it for a plethora of other reasons. But often, I see something and I just….well….need to write about it.
It’s hard, I know. Life delights in knocking us down in all manner of different ways. Sometimes there feels as if there’s no respite, no break from the various missiles thrown at us from all directions. We dive for cover and pray for a ceasefire, an opportunity to draw breath and regroup. I often feel I should commute to and from Belfast in a suit of armour as opposed to a work suit. It’s a battlefield out there.
You can’t write a book though, hiding beneath the bed covers. Well I can’t anyway. I need to pluck up the courage to get out there. I’ve had my fingers burnt so many times and resolved to never trust again. Yet how can I earn the trust of those I’ve hurt in the past if I don’t learn to trust again. To trust others and trust my own judgement which has let me down and left me so battered and bruised. To trust myself, the one I distrust more than anyone.