It’s been a long time, but I’ve started writing again.
I’m still not touching any of the great works I’d had planned, but instead I’m trying something completely new. Or rather, incredibly old-hat. I’m writing with Biro on paper.
The last time I did this was in my various classes at school. I’d have my work on my desk, get bored of that and then take out my identical-looking jotter (which I’d thieved from the RE department) and used it to pen stories in. And my goodness, I told some stories! Great pirate airships taking on authoritarian Zeppelins, fairy tale characters in reality TV shows somehow solving crimes*, epic treks through mountains and valleys all ending with unsuccessful heroes lying forgotten on a moonlit beach…
There’s something about the process of totally narrowing the world around you to a small square of paper and some black squiggles which really focuses my mind. I used to be fine working on the computer, but that was in the days of dial-up and expensive software – when there was so little to distract that a word-processor really was just like using a very good typewriter.
Aside for aiding my concentration, the whole process has really made me aware of the details in what I’m doing, and how such small things as a character’s morning ritual – do they have breakfast as soon as they get up, or do they nurse a cup of tea for hours? – can say a great deal about them.
Some of my favourite examples:
The Bloc Party song, Trojan Horse; “You used to take your watch off, before we made love/you didn’t want to share our time with anyone.” I mean, it’s pretty perfect. It’s succinct, poetic and tells us a crazy amount about the person it’s describing without using a single adjective. Beautiful. Wish I’d thought of it.
Elton John’s Tiny Dancer; “Pretty eyes, pirate smile.” The juxtaposition of pretty and pirate just really does it for me. I think it hints at a darker side to the girl’s personality.
The age difference between Shepard and Garrus; Yeah, Mass Effect was always going to feature somewhere. I freakin’ love this game and I’ve played through most combinations of options now… and to be honest, ‘Shakarian’ never used to by my favourite coupling. I really loved Shepard and Thane to begin with – he had a grown up family whilst no previous significant others were mentioned for Shepard. The difference in where they were with their lives made this a fascinating pairing (to me at least), especially seeing Shepard with Thane’s adult son in the final game. I played through the Garrus romance simply because he’s great and I’m a completionist, but I never really invested in it. Until I read somewhere** that Garrus was younger than Shepard by about four years – which altered the dynamic to the point where I invested heart and soul. And I’ve no idea why that number made such a difference for me, but after learning that, the relationship felt warmed and wholly more satisfying.
Joe Abercrombie’s character ‘Dogman’ in the First Law trilogy; Just before every battle, this guy needs to pee. It is such a tiny detail and it’s only ever mentioned in passing (pun not entirely intended). It just makes him feel human, despite the incredible things happening in the world around him. I actually think that’s the main beauty in Abercrombie’s writing – he’s taken the time to make the people seem whole and plain, and as a result even the incredible seems plausible.
I still haven’t figured out which little details will make my characters special – I guess if I’m doing a good enough job I’ll find out when I come to type up all of those paper scribbles – but I hope I can come up with at least one sparkling example I can be proud of.
*I’m not making this up – that’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever written. Little Bo Peep makes an epic private eye.