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Shop talk (anything and everything on writing)

Ogres in stripey jumpers

When you have two characters, or maybe more, it’s quite likely that you will already have thought of where you want them to meet, or that you know vaguely what you want them to do. When I start writing, I usually can see one character in my mind’s eye. Its generally nothing earth-shaking, but it gives me a small anchor, and I can build from there. I was once commissioned to write a short children’s story based in World War II. My first thought was of a boy in those grey flannel shorts that they always wore then, and a dirty jersey, picking his nose. Then I thought of an anecdote a friend of mine had told me about her mother being strafed in Streatham High Road in south London; with an amazing description of great chunks of tarmac flying up in front of her, and it just seemed to take off from there. The odd thing about that story was that the publishers told me I couldn’t have a plane strafing the street because nobody would believe it happened. Even when I found eyewitness accounts of several such incidents, they wouldn’t change their minds, so in the end, although the story had been fired by a true account, I had to junk it and substitute another event, which worked ok. Strange, really, that you have to change the truth to help people learn history.
Sometimes you can get the most amazing stories by doing everything at random. I mean; you’ve got your characters through a kind of free association, why not your setting? Get an atlas, close your eyes and just pick a page. Did you know that there’s a place in Latvia called Ogre? They have an Ogre hospital and a knitwear factory, and the forest nearby gives off ethereal substances (sorry, I just go from one place to the other on the internet, and before I know where I am, I am surrounded by Ogres in stripy jumpers). Then have them meet at a bus stop or a taxi rank, or in a hospital (lots of room for conflict and drama there) and away you go. Don’t bother to stop and correct. You can do that later. Just write and see what happens.
Must go now, and take my own advice.

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About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I like to; even when I can't think of much to say.

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