Write what you know…

I’ve been out of reach of the internet for a couple of weeks but I wrote a couple of blog posts so I’ll upload them now 🙂

10/07/12

It’s safe to say I know a lot of interesting people. I’ve lived, worked and studied at a lot of different places. It’s hard not to know a lot of interesting people. I know I look at the world in a slightly different way to those around me. Everything is a potential storyline or a plot twist, so it’s natural that this should extend to my characters.

 People often ask me where I come up with my characters and the truth is that there are a lot of facets of them that come from the people around me. Sometimes I’ll get asked if people can appear in my books and the answer is almost always yes. It’s something I like doing for my friends and I know it’s not unusual. There’s at least one author (possibly Lisa Gardner?) that runs fan competitions for ‘kill a buddy, maim a friend’. I watch the way the people around me interact and it’s hard not to pick up on it. Especially when they come out with a line that’s just crying out to be re-used.

 I’ve never really applied it to myself though. I read a piece of advice from a publisher ages ago in which he or she (I’m afraid I can’t remember) said that writers should stick to writing about what they know. It’s therefore natural to assume that my characters would have a creative bent because that is what I know. I know about jewellery making, about textiles, about chain maille. My brain is a fount of utterly useless information, capable of assimilating and storing pointless facts. They could have a scientific mind from my background in science. I’m fascinated with it, particularly genetics. They might have a philosophical side to them that comes from two directions – my studies as a teenager and also my relationship with my father. We have a lot of deep philosphical conversations on the nature of religion, spirituality and faith as well as the history of various ecclesiastical institutions. My characters might have a fascination with archaeology in the same way that I do.

 Up until this week I was pleased that my characters were as varied as the shades of the ocean.

 So there we were, sat at lunch, when one of the girls says to me that she’s enjoying my book but it’s totally freaking her out that Oceana is so similar to me. Cue blank expression. No, I say to her, we’re nothing alike. She looks completely different, she lives hundreds of miles away, at the time of writing she did a completely different job. I certainly haven’t got her attitude or her quick wit. I’m also pretty sure I’m not capable of such self-sacrifice. She doesn’t do textiles or dance, she’s not scientific. Her mind is a lot more mathematical than mine. She’s not interested in spirituality. In short, I conclude, we’re nothing alike except for a shared interest in jewellery making.

 Turns out that the things I think make my characters unique and different are exactly the things that people associate most with me. Any creative ability seems to resonate with their mental image of me as a person, particularly when partnered with any aspect of my day job, and the collateral details such as looks, location, dialogue and attitude are forgotten. And therein lies the issue…in connecting, in one person, two or more of the things I know to write about, my readers are automatically predisposed to picture me as that character.

 In some respects that would be fine. If it gives them a more rounded character view or a predisposition to like that character then it’s okay. The problem comes, as it did this week, when the character engages in something a tad naughty and all of a sudden my friends have a mental image of me doing said naughty something. It also breaks up the flow of a book when they confess that they found a word jarring because it’s not something they could imagine me saying. It’s even worse when they accidentally refer to you by your character’s name. Clearly Oceana is such a vibrant character she’s supplanted me as a person!!!

 I guess the lesson to take from this is that, in order to dissociate myself with my characters, I’ll have to start writing about the things I don’t know about. I guess time will tell if it works!

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