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

Where to Begin

I’m currently doing the free Start Writing Fiction course with Future Learn. You can still join but you’ll have some catching up to do. For me, it’s the second time around. The course might be for beginners but I’m 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 you’re muse is on holiday.

Most of us have probably gone out on the street or sat in a café, 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.  I’m 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 ‘craftwork’ – usually mass-produced in China – are sold. It’s the sort of place you’ll 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 man’s 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 won’t be using this for a novel – he should – 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?

Gin-and-Water is the Source of all my Inspiration
Category: Writing
Tags: writing alcohol drugs

Gin-and-water is the Source of all my Inspiration

So said Lord Byron, though like all writers he could be guilty of exaggeration. Or not. It’s an interesting concept that doesn’t work for me. Give me wine any day. But seriously, I thought I’d do some research on the subject. Some of the results surprised me. Most didn’t, just the extent of the information...and consumption!

Horace seemed to agree with Byron: ‘No verse can give pleasure for long, nor last, that is written by drinkers of water.’ Without the gin presumably. Coleridge was known for his opium habit. Then there was Edgar Allan Poe, who was more than partial to brandy eggnogs. So was it just poets who were away with the fairies all the time?

I don’t think so, although quotes have a way of attaching themselves to famous authors, not always accurately. Some dispute that Ernest Hemingway ever said, ‘Write Drunk. Edit sober.’ It’s worth a thought, anyway. Apparently, Graham Greene completed The Confidential Agent ‘in six weeks under the influence of Benzedrine.’ Another much-quoted quip comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘Too much champagne is just right.’ Then it is said that Raymond Chandler got blind drunk to cure writers’ block when on a deadline to finish his screenplay of The Blue Dahlia, for which he earned an Academy Award.

The list goes on and on. Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, John Cheever, Ian Fleming, William Faulkner and Stephen King are some famous examples of successful novelists who allegedly liked to drink – a lot – as they worked. The Beats preferred drugs and wrote some of their best material under the influence of Benzedrine, heroin and LSD.

Charles Bukowski justified his drinking/writing partnership something like this: ‘Alcohol yanks and joggles you out of routine thought and everydayism.’ I can relate to that. I believe a little chaos in our heads can make us more experimental and boost creativity. Although I cannot drink and write successfully, I find when I’m a bit woozy-headed with a hangover my mind is more imaginative, and less orderly and PC than it usually is. Similar to first thing in the morning, when ideas flow more freely from the subconscious.

Plenty of female writers were drinkers too. Dorothy Parker was renowned for her cocktails. Carson McCullers is said to have written The Heart is a Lonely Hunter whilst imbibing sherry. Patricia Highsmith said that alcohol was essential ‘to see the truth, the simplicity, and the primitive emotions once more.’ Marguerite Duras was an alcoholic but produced dozens of top-quality novels. Her writing has been described as experimental, elegant, passionate and visually striking. Obsessive editing gave it clarity.

Jean Rhys, like several writers who drank, suffered from depression. Psychiatrists suggest the link between many writers and heavy drinking is manic depression and that writing is their salvation. Some died directly or indirectly from their habit but not before writing masterpieces first.

Without suffering from depression, I can still understand how intoxication can help release creative expression, but it can also detract from precision. The more we drink the less rational things become. Incoherence and sentimentality creep in, which gives Hemingway’s “supposed” quote credence.

I wonder if the hugely talented writers I’ve mentioned above would have been just as successful sober. Stephen King and Marguerite Duras both proved they could by writing high-quality novels after quitting the booze, but perhaps sobriety wouldn’t work for all of them.

I’ve mostly delved into the past as I’m not sure if modern-day writers are so prone to write under the influence. Perhaps they do but keep it secret. What do you think? And do you like a tipple yourself when you write? 

Gin-and-Water is the Source of all my Inspiration
Category: Writing
Tags: writing under the influence of drugs and alcohol

                       

Gin-and-Water is the Source of all my Inspiration

So said Lord Byron, though like all writers he could be guilty of exaggeration. Or not. It’s an interesting concept that doesn’t work for me. Give me wine any day. But seriously, I thought I’d do some research on the subject. Some of the results surprised me. Most didn’t, just the extent of the information…and consumption.

Horace seemed to agree with Byron: ‘No verse can give pleasure for long, nor last, that is written by drinkers of water.’ Without the gin presumably. Coleridge was known for his opium habit. Then there was Edgar Allan Poe, who was more than partial to brandy eggnogs. So was it just poets who were away with the fairies all the time?

I don’t think so, although quotes have a way of attaching themselves to famous authors, not always accurately. Some dispute that Ernest Hemingway ever said, ‘Write Drunk. Edit sober.’ It’s worth a thought, anyway. Apparently, Graham Greene completed The Confidential Agent ‘in six weeks under the influence of Benzedrine.’ Another much-quoted quip comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘Too much champagne is just right.’ Then it is said that Raymond Chandler got blind drunk to cure writers’ block when on a deadline to finish his screenplay of The Blue Dahlia, for which he earned an Academy Award.

The list goes on and on. Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, John Cheever, Ian Fleming, William Faulkner and Stephen King are some famous examples of successful novelists who allegedly liked to drink – a lot – as they worked. The Beats preferred drugs and wrote some of their best material under the influence of Benzedrine, heroin and LSD.

Charles Bukowski justified his drinking/writing partnership something like this: ‘Alcohol yanks and joggles you out of routine thought and everydayism.’ I can relate to that. I believe a little chaos in our heads can make us more experimental and boost creativity. Although I cannot drink and write successfully, I find when I’m a bit woozy-headed with a hangover my mind is more imaginative, and less orderly and PC than it usually is. Similar to first thing in the morning, when ideas flow more freely from the subconscious.

Plenty of female writers were drinkers too. Dorothy Parker was renowned for her cocktails. Carson McCullers is said to have written The Heart is a Lonely Hunter whilst imbibing sherry. Patricia Highsmith said that alcohol was essential ‘to see the truth, the simplicity, and the primitive emotions once more.’ Marguerite Duras was an alcoholic but produced dozens of top-quality novels. Her writing has been described as experimental, elegant, passionate and visually striking. Obsessive editing gave it clarity.

Jean Rhys, like several writers who drank, suffered from depression. Psychiatrists suggest the link between many writers and heavy drinking is manic depression and that writing is their salvation. Some died directly or indirectly from their habit but not before writing masterpieces first.

Without suffering from depression, I can still understand how intoxication can help release creative expression, but it can also detract from precision. The more we drink the less rational things become. Incoherence and sentimentality creep in, which gives Hemingway’s “supposed” quote credence.

I wonder if the hugely talented writers I’ve mentioned above would have been just as successful sober. Stephen King and Marguerite Duras both proved they could, by writing high-quality novels after quitting the booze, but perhaps sobriety wouldn’t work for all of them.

I’ve mostly delved into the past as I’m not sure if modern-day writers are so prone to write under the influence. Perhaps they do but keep it secret. What do you think? And do you like a tipple yourself when you write? 

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