Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Character is all...

"I don't have a very clear idea of who the characters are until they
start talking. Then I start to love them. By the time I finish the
book, I love them so much that I want to stay with them." --Joan Didion

I wrote a whole lot of stories last year around the theme of clothes. Each one started with a brilliant idea, the kind of theme I could easily talk about when someone asked what I was writing about. And I did. Everyone told me they sounded great. Some people even got excited. I was starting to feel like a proper writer. With plots and all.

But I knew the stories weren't working. They were dead.

Reading them again over the last week has been hard. I'm putting together a work plan for Virginia and I wanted to see if there was anything in these stories that I could bring back to life. But I've decided they're not coming with me even though, yes, the ideas are great. Really mad and fun and inventive and, yes, quirky.

Trouble is they're much bigger than the characters. In every one, my little fictional people are standing in the middle of their stories, scratching their heads and asking me - the author - what they should do next.

I haven't allowed them even a minute to start talking to me, so they could tell me what they would like to do.

One good thing - it's made me feel not so inadequate when someone asks me what my novels are about and I start to splutter. And I know what to tell them now. They are not about the situation but about the character. Why does it take me so long to realise what other people seem to know instinctively?


Clare said...

So we should be asking 'Who are your stories about?'

Sarah Salway said...

That's a nice way of putting it! BUT of course you need story too. I've been thinking about this as well - but reading those pieces that didn't work, I could see absolutely how I'd been twisting the characters into uncomfortable yoga poses while really they should have been breathing a little more!

jem said...

Good post Sarah. I think I understand the problem. Sometimes I have a good idea, but no-one willing / capable to carry it out, and sometimes a great character, but nothing particular they want to do / show / share.

It's like we need a writers match.com that meets up characters with plots and ideas. If they all got together with each other just imagine what could happen!