Tagged with "fiction"
Where to Begin Tags: writing fiction character-driven plot-driven theme

Where to Begin

Iím currently doing the free Start Writing Fiction course with Future Learn. You can still join but youíll have some catching up to do. For me, itís the second time around. The course might be for beginners but Iím aware of my shortcomings. One of them is where to start. Character-driven stories and the use of a notebook highlight this course. The suggestions and on-hand exercises are helpful and motivating, especially if youíre muse is on holiday.

Most of us have probably gone out on the street or sat in a cafť, noting small details of people around us: their clothing, gestures, physical features, the way they move or communicate with others. I like to pick out anything unusual and exaggerate it or give it a twist. A fictional character starts evolving. Pictures in magazines and newspapers can inspire too.† Iím off to a film festival this week so shall be on the look-out for how character is portrayed by actions, facial expressions and dialogue.

As part of my character-building study, I walked around my local market today where the usual fruit and veg, clothing, household bargains and Ďcraftworkí Ė usually mass-produced in China Ė are sold. Itís the sort of place youíll find a cross-section of society, intent on browsing, thus easy to watch undisturbed. Many are more interesting than the goods.

An impatient husband frowned and fidgeted as his wife fingered every dress on show. This struck me as a bit of a stereotype so I moved on. At the next stall, a young couple rifled through a rack of linen dresses. The man pulled out a crimson one to suggest to his partner. This was more interesting. I listened to snippets of their whispered conversation, whilst I hid being a row of jackets and noted the young manís charm, his engagement with her, his swarthy skin, bohemian clothes. I later built on this description to use in an exercise in my Future Learn course. Something about him triggered my imagination and a character started to form. What was their relationship? Was there a possible story here?

Recently, I visited the International Photojournalist Exhibition in Perpignan and was inspired by the words and photographs telling the story of an Afghan refugee. I wonít be using this for a novel Ė he should Ė but I plan on editing a flash piece I already began, which was inspired by both character and theme. Hopefully, a fascinating character leads to a strong plot. Admittedly, more important in a longer piece.

So where do your story ideas come from? Do you start with character, theme or plot? Or are you clever enough to have all three in place from the word go?

Hair, it's our Crowning Glory Tags: creative writing hair fictional characters human hair trade Emma Tarlo hair in fiction

At least thatís what women are led to believe from an early age and the beauty industry is more than happy to divest us of our money in pursuit of that ideal. Iíve been thinking about fictional charactersí hair a lot recently. In films and novels Caucasian women often have character-defining hair. Black; witchy and duplicitous, red; fiery and vivacious; blonde; angelic or tarty, brown; plain and intelligent, grey/white; wise and intellectual, curly; unpredictable and bubbly, straight; cool and calculating. This left me with a dilemma because I was struggling to choose the hair colour and type of my young, female protagonist, but I didnít want to push her into any of those stereotypes.

In a Tangle

So I began to tackle the problem in a circuitous way and by happy accident discovered the fascinating, non-fiction book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair by Emma Tarlo. Now, like you, I knew that both men and women can need wigs for a variety of medical, cosmetic or religious reasons but I had no idea of the global, largely covert, billion-dollar trade in the procurement and processing of human hair into wigs and extensions. Sourcing hair generally starts in third world countries. Some women sell their hair to barbers for a short-lived respite from poverty in China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan. On the other side of the world, relatively wealthy women choose to boost their income by selling their hair directly to the client via the Buy and Sell Hair website. The reasons for sale are as various as the hair types on offer. Hindus have their hair tonsured in Indian temples as a way of showing thanks, or to seek rebirth; indeed the vast temple of Tirumala acts as a magnet for pilgrims drawing people and hair from all over India. Each year the tonsured hair adds around 20 million pounds to the templeís coffers.

Giveaway Hair

Sometimes, hair donation is purely altruistic as in the recent case of the Duchess of Cambridge donating seven inches of her locks to the Little Princesses Trust for children and young adults who have lost their hair through cancer treatment. How bizarre to think that a sick child somewhere will be wearing our future Queen consortís hair. Truly a crowning glory! The hair is sorted anonymously so no one will ever know that their wig contains Kateís tresses.

Decisions, Decisions

While all these hair stories make fascinating reading, it isnít taking me nearer a solution in my writing dilemma! What it does show me though is how important this decision is and how much identity and status are invested in luscious locks or lack thereof. Would Dennis the Menace be as naughty without his black, unruly mop? Could Heathcliff have been blonde? Could Pippi Longstocking have had mousey-coloured hair? Would Bond villain, Blofeld, have been as menacing if he werenít bald? How do you decide your charactersí hair colour and type? Can you think of fictional characters defined by their hair? Iíd love to hear your thoughts.

Wallflower or Party Animal? Tags: Character development fiction creative writing tools
I'm more the former than the latter, though I'm aware it's a big generalisation. Iíve used the concepts of introversion and extroversion in a previous life as and I don't need confirmation that I'm a loner. However recent events over the last eighteen months have forced me out of my comfort zone, more than once.

So, I hear you asking, what has this to do with writing?

Developing well rounded and three dimensional characters is essential in the story telling business. I favour the theory that characters make plot, but it doesn't really matter which side of the fence you are, a story needs good characterisation. And anything that helps to deepen our characters, put flesh on the bones, expose their bad side as well as their virtues and allow them to live on the page is not a bad thing. But our personality isn't black or white, right or wrong, pure or evil. Personality is multi faceted and complex, we know that.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is a tool used to define an individuals preferred character traits. The word preferred is quite critical as it does not mean that a wallflower will never go to the ball but it might explain how we might act out of character if we need to and the effect it may have. I used this tool with individuals and teams to identify where they could develop skills they might lack that would increase performance or improve working relationships. Understanding what makes others tick can be very powerful and there are sixteen personality types identified within this particular spectrum.

Examining our characters through a lens which defines different preferences can help us understand them more and bring them to life and so enable our reader to relate to them and invest in our story. Using the Zodiac signs could do the same. Character development is so much more than hairstyle or eye colour, it's the subtle traits that make us unique and individual. Well, that's the theory anyway and the tool did produce some positive results in real life, so maybe it could transfer to fiction. Worth a try and I reckon I'll always be a wallflower at heart.

Sorry there are no visuals foe this blog but as you know I am travelling and only have my IPad which makes thing a little more tricky.it also seems to have messed with my formatting so apologies ...😎

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