Trust Me, I'm a Storyteller

August 28, 2008

Life and art are inextricable

Filed under: Writing Stories — roundtablewriting @ 5:58 am

There is an excitement in exploring characters and in seeing how they react
with each other in different situations. I have always kept diaries and
journals ever since I was a child. Lately I have noticed that I do not want
to write in the journal because of a feeling that I am encouraging sad
thoughts and increasing anxiety by dwelling at length on troublesome things
and writing about them. I prefer now to retain the ability to make the quick
note of truth and awareness, to notice some small thing about a person, a
stranger – perhaps someone choosing knitting wool in the supermarket,
something like that – and move into imaginative fiction from the small
truthful moment, the little picture, the idea which is so slender it hardly
seems to matter. And then suddenly I am exploring human feelings and

Elizabeth Jolley.

The small observations, overheard snatches of conversation, the way a person moves, the meaningful glance any of these can trigger a short story. This small true observation fires the imagination and all manner of possibilities begin to unfold. The writer asks the ‘what if?’ question and begins to go beyond the obvious and the predictable to a more complex and creative narrative.

One such observation and a few lines in a newspaper set in motion my story ‘The Ten Dollar Note’. Some time later it was quite disconcerting to see a news item about a soup kitchen for the homeless. There was a woman in the queue for a meal who was exactly as I had imagined Maisie. Life and art are inextricable.


The Ten Dollar Note



  1. There are many little observations of those around us which when written down can spark a character. For any writer, there is probably a moment when the character “comes alive” – and it can be easy of very difficult to get to that point – but it may be a single characteristic, behaviour of element of an appearance that promotes that breakthrough. For one of my characters it was the simple idea that this person was “my best friend”. I don’t believe that most writers take people entirely from life though – it’s never usually right when people say “I can see myself in your book”. Fictional characters are an amalgam.

    It must have been uncanny however to later see someone who so closely related to your fictional character. If you had been able to speak to her would you still have thought so?

    Comment by Helen Whitehead — August 29, 2008 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, Helen,
    Yes, there is that thrilling moment when a character comes alive on the page, they move and speak and you can see them and hear them clearly. I agree that often small details make the difference between a wooden lifeless character and one who seems believable and credible. I want to read about characters I can become emotionally involved with, characters with whom I can empathise, share a journey, enjoy spending time with. This doesn’t mean they have to all be ‘nice’ characters. You can have a lot of fun writing about characters who are not so loveable, even downright bad.

    Comment by roundtablewriting — August 29, 2008 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

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