Friday, 18 December 2015

All the little things... Linda Strachan

The other day I had a couple of very different and entertaining conversations, one over lunch and the other in the early evening. A good 'blether' (as they call a chat in Scotland), can feed a curious mind.

People are of such wondrous variety that we, as writers, can plumb their weirdness and the minute detail of their lives for a fabulous source of character material that is never ending, always changing, and fascinating. 
I found myself considering how often conversations appear to be about the general when in  reality they are actually about the particular, the little things, the details that make us who we are.  

Conversations flow in social situations from the initial 'hello' through casual observations, possibly about the weather or perhaps a question about family or some other aspect of lifestyle. Someone might say they are tired because the baby kept them up all night, or energised and looking well since a recent holiday. Gradually they will reveal that they are angry about something, or sad, depressed, irritated, excited, brimming over with delight or even just bored.

What a person chooses to talk about can reveal a lot about what is on their mind, at times by what they don't say as much as what they do reveal.  The particular words they use or the subjects they become passionate about.  A holiday or business trip might provide a vivid description of a country or city, although it is interesting to remember that this is seen through the speaker's eyes and their  often long held prejudices.  
As a writing tool this can be useful to mislead the reader, but also to shine a light on a character's preconceptions or needs. 

A keenly observant friend who relates the characteristics of fellow travellers can leave us in hysterics, but any group of people, well observed, can be a source of great interest.  Some of the detail, the little quirks that make each person singular and retained in the memory, can be recalled or packed away in a writer's mind for future use.

The little things people do, mannerisms, oft used phrases, a particular kind of laugh that is penetrating or slightly sharp, hysterical and braying, or a rich, warm chuckle, can tell us much in very few words about the person or character. 

Choices, of clothes, of footwear, perhaps a choice of food can be defining.  One friend of mine used to examine her birthday cards and Christmas cards, and from the pictures or design on them deduce something about the state of mind of the person who chose and sent the card.  I was often amazed to discover, when we both knew the person concerned, that she was frequently very close to the truth.    

We all give ourselves away by the little things we do, say or choose. So no doubt our characters could do exactly the same, if we take the time to do it subtly.


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 


Sue Purkiss said...

Very interesting, Linda!

catdownunder said...

Oh dear - now trying to remember what we talked about! :)