I’ve recently been doing a lot of thinking about how stories are constructed; from what I’m watching on tv, to what I’m reading to what I’m thinking about writing and the thing that has struck me is the way that stories, in particular 1990s sitcoms, deal out nuggets of self-discovery to the characters in convenient bite-sized chunks.
One of the things that fascinates me about this concept is that if a writer wrote something that really was true to life and didn’t have any overarching themes or easy to digest moments of insight into the characters people wouldn’t want to consume those stories.
Now obviously people write autobiographies which are based on their lives but they are presented as stories – that is in such a way as to cut out all the irrelevant stuff (how many people write about going to the toilet? or doing the shopping?) and put together the stuff that makes their life make ‘story-sense’. Even fake biographies like Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, skip huge sections of actual life because it isn’t pertinent to the protagonist’s journey.
What I should start doing is thinking about my life in nuggety sitcom chunks and start to write them down as such. I keep being hamstrung by the idea that I have nothing to say but it’s because I’m thinking about what I have say in the wrong order/shape/form.
Characters have to have depth, they have to have skeletons in their past, they have to have realisations that work with and come from the narrative not in isolation of the narrative. Flashbacks and references to stuff that’s happened in the past also seems to be done in such a way as to ensure the current theme or problem makes sense rather than being written in order.
Characters have to grow at a speed the reader/consumer can match, characters unfold in stories as we get to know them, their behaviours make sense only with reference to what we know about them and when they do something that doesn’t make sense we expect to be given new information that gives the new behaviour context.
The other thing I’ve discovered recently is that while poetry and short stories are easier (for me) to write, they are certainly not easier (for me) to read. The problem I have with short stories in particular is that the amount of brain space it takes to absorb a character and feel something for them seems to be quite substantial. I’ve been reading short stories by Ray Bradbury (who is amazing and who I have only just discovered) and they are glorious, amazing, filled with a truly unique use of language and metaphor but the stories are so short that I have to take time after each story has finished to reconcile the characters, digest the narrative and file it away before I move onto the next story, making the book difficult to read on a train.
So I’m probably completely over-thinking things and should just shut up and write some stuff and worry about whether it’s what people want to read later but I just thought that I should share my thought process with you all (at least partly because writing things down seems to make them real for me).
I will be going to my first writing group on Saturday, I’m hoping that joining a group will force me to write some stuff and possibly enable me to work on some longer pieces (something that I’m having difficulty getting motivated about). Having deadlines and goals that other people know about seems to be particularly important to me as a motivator so I will try to harness this and get productive. The worst that could happen is that the group will be filled with people who don’t challenge me and who don’t have anything to say about my writing but that’s ok because they can just be a captive audience for me to try my stuff on.