I get asked a lot about writing, which is a good thing because I love it.
There are two main questions I get asked.
It’s strange because I’ve been asked these questions so many times, it has got to the point now where I actually have to really think about how to answer them. I suppose that ideas just fly around my head constantly and I pluck one from the sky and develop it. I have never really thought about how the process actually happens. I am delighted to be asked to write this blog, as it forces me firstly, to look at the answers in a more detailed way and secondly, allows me to share so other authors can benefit.
The answer to both questions, I believe, is simply observation.
I watch and I listen to everything that goes on around me all the time. I make constant notes about how people speak, what they say and why I believe that they are saying it. I would advise that:
1) You have a pen and paper at all times. You never know when inspiration may hit you;
2) Have a voice app on your phone to record when something pops into your head;
3) If you get loads of ideas – get a specialist voice recorder to then plug back through your laptop.
Once an idea begins to gain momentum in my mind, I begin to build a story around it. Take my second novel, The Page for example. My only thought prior to writing the story was that I wanted to write a story with a hateful lead character. I had listened and watched the traits of a few people who I would develop the character from. Artistic license would let me change the real life people to my fictional lead character. I just needed a story to put him in. And then one day a page blew across a swimming pool and stuck to my chest. I still have it. It was romantic fiction. That set me off on the journey of ‘What if…’
The two words; “What if?”, are the most helpful words in the English Dictionary. After reading both sides of the page that stuck to me, I thought, “What if the page I had read described exactly what I had just been doing?” (i.e. grab a beer, put on sun cream, lay down, open my book). This developed over the next few hours, “What if the page described exactly what I had been doing since I arrived on holiday?” (basically, the same, grab a beer…) Next, it was “What if the page described my future?”; “What if it described my past?”; “What if I had a dark secret nobody knew?”, “What if…”
And then it all fit. And I knew where to place my hateful lead character. The Page was born.
When I write, I imagine that I am watching a film of all the events unfolding in front of me. I am stage left watching the action. My only role is to tell people what I am seeing. To describe the things I have observed. Here’s a writing tip to try out.
a) Pick a day when you feel in the mood;
b) On that day become hyper-alert to everything around you;
c) Watch and note everything that goes on. And I mean everything;
d) Listen (and listen properly) to what people say. Watch how they form their words. Their expressions. Try to look inside them to see why they are saying the things they are saying;
e) At home don’t just robotically do your usual tasks. Watch the people around you. How they move. How they make cups of tea. How they dress. How they relax. Write it all down;
f) Wait until it is quiet;
g) Reread your notes. I guarantee that you will begin to develop ideas from something you have written.
h) Let your mind focus on something and develop it.
i) Give it the “What if…” treatment.
j) Then save it until the time is right to put it in a story.
Take something as simple and mundane as an everyday half an hour commute to work. If you are hyper-alert you will find that you don’t just do your everyday commute to work as you think you do. Watch the people in the cars around you. Why are they going in the same direction? Why does that man in the suit look angry? Why are three out of the four people in that car asleep? Where have they been? Where are they going? What happened to that damaged car I just passed? Did it hit another car? Maybe the driver was distracted? Thinking about other things? Maybe something is going on in his home-life? What could it be?
In that journey you have suddenly come up with numerous possible threads to develop into a story.
For whatever reason, I do not have to force myself into a state of hyper-alertness.
I am naturally cursed with this thought process. It never stops.
For writing it’s a great thing. For everyday life, maybe not so.
The ideas will flow.
Take it easy
Both Jonathan Lee’s novels – THE RADIO and THE PAGE – can be purchased from Amazon Kindle and in paperback.