Sunday, 15 November 2015

Writing for Beginners (11)

‘Tis the season to be a writer
Whether you celebrate the occasion or not, Christmas will be looming large on your radar, and you will be either relishing or dreading the forthcoming couple of weeks. Relishing it because you love all the festivities, are a mad party animal and want to get on down, or because you simply need a break from work; or you'll be dreading it because you don’t do Christmas, possess the soul of a curmudgeon and want to punch Santa’s lights out for being so relentlessly in yer face.

Take heart, however; whatever your persuasion, if you’re a writer, this could be just the break you need to make it a productively Cool Yule.

Character studies
What better opportunity to build your latest characters based on the steady stream of visiting rellies (family) tramping through the house like a herd of wildebeest in search of water. You don’t see them from one year’s end to the next, you barely know their names or even where they fit into the family tree; so why not hijack bad-tempered Uncle Bill as the model for your current villain, or gossipy Aunt Janet as the meddling old busybody who comes to a sticky end in chapter four? Nobody will know, will they? Hardly any of them read, anyway.

A word of warning, however. Most families have a Rumour Network Co-ordinator (usually one person), who has the name and contact number of every living relative – and even a few who have passed on beyond life’s final chapter. And this is where your supposedly secretive character-stealing will be revealed, and you could face a familial row that would make an episode of 'Sopranos' more like 'Little House on the Prairie'. Stars on Sunday.

Every Christmas gathering has it in spades. There’s joy, of course, and love, and often a sprinkling of things in the air like redemption, forgiveness and tolerance. Okay, they might not last longer than the first pulled cracker, but if you’re quick, you’ll be able to catalogue them.

Usually of the sort you could cut with a piece of soggy lettuce (and this is for guys out there), tension will rear its head when gifts turn out to have come from the local garage forecourt late on Christmas Eve. The ignition point is usually signalled by a senior member of the household rising wordlessly to her feet and going into the kitchen, leaving a chill in the air like the second Ice Age… followed by the ominous clunk of the pedal bin.
Or there’s the gloriously un-PC joke rattled off by Uncle Bert, completely unaware that the vicar is out in the hallway and he’s a staunch believer in hot pokers in uncomfortable places.

Similar to above, but often sizzling just beneath the surface. And if you think conflict only includes drawn swords and pistols at dawn, wait for family feuds that have been simmering for decades to break out over the cooking sherry.

There’s no story like a true story, and families can provide fertile ground to the writer in search of an idea. You don’t have to mirror granddad’s account of his part in Rommel’s downfall, or Great Aunt Lil’s memories of the Blitz. But if you listen, you’ll find that there are things some family members have seen or done that can act as a springboard to your writing far better than staring into space or eating your own bodyweight in biscuits. And if your current storyline needs the background to tracking the disintegration of what seemed like a wonderful family gathering, all you need do is watch and wait…

Thinking time
When else do you have an excuse to go for a quiet walk with no other aim than to let your brain go into free-fall? There’s no office calling you, no project awaiting your boss’s approval, no pub or coffee date with your mates to draw you away or occupy your mind. So, while everyone else is lying around like beached haddock, you can take advantage of their inability to move by sliding out of the house and going for that walk you’ve been promising yourself. Don’t forget to take a notepad with you, because you may just get a belter of an idea, and it would be criminal to let it go to waste.

Writing time
Now this, of course, is the Promised Land for writers everywhere. But it might not be possible for everyone because of family commitments. However, if you are one of those for whom Christmas is a glorious and welcomed opportunity for doing absolutely nothing, with no interruptions and all the time in the world, why not kick back and settle down with a glass of something pleasant, to catch up on that writing you’ve been too busy to do for so long? Turn off the phone, put the television into storage, arm yourself with whatever you require to write… and simply write.
A final word of warning.

It's a great liberator – and I should know, because I’ve written some of my best work with a large glass of wine at my elbow. However, as I’ve also discovered, it can liberate the creative brain to a degree where what seems witty, insightful and brilliant on the screen is actually, in the cold light of day (usually the following day) a load of old tosh.
So, moderation in all things. Enjoy the break and whatever this season means to you, but whatever you do, keep writing.

·        Use the break to do some rough drafting.
·        Study people for character traits you can use in your writing.
·        Watch faces and actions for instant mood portrayals.
·        Take some time alone to walk. And think.

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