Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Living in a writer’s head - Linda Strachan

I love to live as my characters but it can be a little strange, being at one moment

an explorer,
a mythical beast,
a petulant child,
a curious puppy
or a suicidal teenager

and the next a ‘normal’ responsible adult and parent, doing the mundane but necessary tasks of daily life,

like cleaning the u-bend
or cooking for a hungry family.

It is probably what makes life as a writer quirky but appealing, at least to me.

But how easy is it to stop one bleeding off into the other.As a parent when writing about a child’s worries the instinct is to try and solve their problems but as a writer I want to make their life a misery, (for the sake of the plot of course!)

I make my characters suffer; have nasty and often painful things happen to them, - the child might lose its parents, the dragon weep with dismay at the loss of its wings and inability to fly; and the puppy, well let’s just not go there.

I am a huge softie when it comes to children and animals, in fact just about everything, but my dark side appears once I start refusing to allow myself the comfort of making the world turn out right for my characters. I find I dig deep to find that dark layer that makes my fear of heights appear in my characters just as I force them out onto a perilously high window ledge.
As I step back into this mundane world am I relieved to be away from that scary dark side? Unfortunately no, I can’t wait to get back, to find out how it is all going to turn out, and whether I can find something just as difficult or nasty to happen next.
In the end I do feel the need to make things turn out reasonably okay – I don’t write horror stories after all.

I firmly believe that children need to explore their darker sides but they also, at any age, need to see something positive or some potential for a positive outcome in what they read. So I would never finish a book with no hope at all but I refuse to make everything saccharine sweet all the time because there are kids out there who believe that nothing bad can happen and when it inevitably does they suffer much more than those who have a more realistic view of things.


Stroppy Author said...

I'm with you there, Linda. I've just had my protagonist hit with a car jack, kidnapped, taped with duck tape, rolled in a carpet and dumped in a building that was then set alight. When Aristotle talked about experiencing catharsis, pity and fear in the safe environment of literature I always assumed he meant it was the audience who experienced these things, but actually it's as much for the author... we can't really dump the little blighters in front a dragon when they annoy us, but we can do it in a story ;-)

Nick Green said...

Perhaps fiction developed to fulfil a similar function to dreams: enabling us to face our fears and demons in a 'safe' environment.

It could be argued that the essence of fiction is the darkness - the antagonist, the pain, the obstacle. Without the obstacle there is no story. Roald Dahl said the essential ingredient was a really nasty villain - everything else follows.