I’ve been struggling with my writing recently.It hasn’t been sounding like my work. I’ve been full of ideas, plots and possibilities, but when I’ve come to create a piece of work, it’s all seemed a little hollow. I realised it is because I’ve spent no time with my characters. I’ve been just chucking them in and hoping they’d swim, with little thought as to what stroke they’d do.
Character and people have always been my driver. Before I fell ill, I was about to start my final stage of qualifying to be a counsellor for children and young people. I love to understand behaviour and interaction. Even when I was supposed to be thinking of nothing but sales targets and profit charts, I was more concerned with how happy Mrs Miggins was with her new bargain specs and whether my team were being kind to her. Taking photographs of people fascinates me as much as capturing a fabulous view.
Recently, I’ve become so bound up in trying to write about an unusual situation or create an interesting idea, that I’ve forgotten the heart of any story has to be a character who inspires emotion. I’ve also forgotten that creating that character, and getting to know them is my favourite part of any writing, from poetry to prose.
Getting to know a character takes a little time.I ask myself questions; how will my character behave in mundane situations? What do they carry in their pockets ?Where they choose to buy their groceries? All these things make the person real to me, and hopefully to the reader. It also stops my work being autobiographical. It’s easy to start using writing as a kind of personal therapy. Whilst this is good for my mental health, it doesn’t always make good reading. I also find that stepping back,and really trying to understand my character increases my empathy with others. Spending a great deal of time alone naturally impacts on my social skills. I hope that creating new characters and training my mind to see the world from their perspective helps me to have empathy with others, despite the potential dangers of a fairly isolated existence. There is only so much that can be gained from chatting to a cat. Even one as tremendous as mine !