Back in 1985 I took a trip to India, leaving my husband and two young children for almost a month. I wasn’t the same person when I came back. I kept a daily journal of the journey around the subcontinent, in trains, boats and buses. The grubby green notebook has remained close to me since. Of course in those days there was no skype, no email even, and to make a call home you had to travel to the telegraph office. Now, thirty years on, I’d like some of the younger travellers in my family to see how much long-haul travel has changed since I took my terrified place on the bucket-shop flight to Bombay.
All the work developing the character of Adrian turned out to be worthwhile, although I did at times think we were taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, given that this was to be a very short story. Once I started writing Ade in the story, I felt as though I really knew him and could have a conversation with him. The girl is much less clear, but I don’t think that matters because she has to be a mystery to Ade. The reveal isn’t very convincing in my opinion. I don’t know what really happened to the baby, whether Pavel killed it, or the girl, or whether it was an accident or what. I suppose I really ought to think it through because it’s the part of the story I feel least convinced about in my own mind. So much thought went into this story before drafting it that there’s a danger that it lost all its impact, became a still-born story.
I got some satisfaction from being able to use my knowledge of cameras. And I could absolutely see that tiny cottage set just back from the road. The setting was adequately established in my opinion. Though I wonder whether it would work as well for somebody who has never been to the Marches. I lost the whole scene where Ade was in the office with Gerry and Janine. Did the story suffer? I don’t think so, but it is good to know what Ade was doing before he turned up at the girl’s cottage.
Given a longer wordcount I would like to build up Ade’s desire to impress people, his knowledge that he is a loner, but part of him yearning to belong to somebody. He might go back to confront the girl and start a relationship with her. He might go to Poland to follow her.
Just had the idea for a whole series of stories about the Marches. Where did that come from?
These notes might also very easily suggest an idea for a piece of writing of your own. Even the simplest observations might be valuable. For example:
- How long is the short story or novel?
- Are there chapters? Sections? Parts?
- If it’s a short story, how is it structured?
- When and where is it set, do/how do these things appear to matter, and how are they conveyed?
- From whose point of view is the story being told? Is it the story of one, or more than one of the characters?
- Is there dialogue? If so, what kind?
- Is the language modern, plain, elaborate, colloquial?
- Are there short or long sentences?
- Are the sentences ‘properly formed’, or broken down? For example, ‘Get this. Bravery. That wasn’t even in it. Heroism? Maybe that was nearer the mark.’
- Would you say that the story was a ‘page-turner’?
- Is it full of ‘researched facts’?
- Is there much ‘internal’ psychological or emotional detail, or is most of the novel or story taken up with ‘external’ events or description?
- How do you learn of the main characters?
- Are the minor characters sufficiently clear or too flat?
- In your opinion, is it clearly aimed at a certain type of reader?
I’ve just done 5.6 and 5.7 and have been thinking about this notion of round and flat characters. I didn’t buy it completely. We have had literally hundreds of ’rounded stereotypes’ posted, but there isn’t so much discussion of the whole concept, and how easy/difficult it is to create rounded characters. I have had the idea of rounded characters being either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. The hard ones are like billiard balls. They come into the story, knock against the main character in some way, and then roll out again, unchanged and unscathed. The ‘soft’ characters are those who the main character interacts with, they kind of mould to one another, or dent one another.
I am loving the OU Mooc ‘Start Writing Fiction’ and every day I’m rushing to the computer to do the next bit. This week though has been less satisfactory somehow. It may be because I am feeling re-motivated so I’m starting to feel anxious about time spent doing anything other than working on my novel idea. I’m also getting a bit jaded with the emphasis on character. It’s as though genre, plot, structure don’t exist. Maybe that’s overstating it. But according to the designers of the course, all seem to be subordinate to character.
Having said that, it has been useful to be required (forced being too strong a word) to create characters from prompts, or from notes in my notebook. The key experience here has been noticing my own reactions of distaste at seeing a rather unattractive person in the home of a relative. Instead of just putting that to one side, I wrote something in the notebook, and that note became a prompt for a character who is waiting to have a book written about him. So it’s working!
I’m on section 4.6 now – what is plot? The writers of this course seem to be saying that character is key to plot. But I’m not sure I’m totally convinced by this. People can be thrown into situations that are not of their choice, that they never could have expected. How they deal with those situations, how they react to what happens to them, will depend very much on characterisation. But does plot also depend on characterisation? What about archetypes, and archetypal situations? I’m confused.
At this point, of course, I don’t know whether anyone else will visit this blog. It doesn’t matter too much. It’s a space for me to develop some ideas. If those ideas get feedback and grow as a result, that will be great. If not, well, at least they are out there in the world and not only in my head.