Taking From Real Life

When I’m planning a novel, I try to keep in mind that plans do tend to go a bit awry. The first part of planning a novel is having an idea of what you want to write about.

A common question asked of many writers is where do you get your ideas? For me, some of my ideas come from life. Sometimes I will write a scene that is inspired by something I’ve read online. For instance, in my latest released novel, two of my characters were in a café and a child spilt cutlery on the floor. I often read about bad parenting and this made for a good little snippet.

I like to think that what I write about is representative of reality, although in some cases, far more dramatic than real life. Then again, there is an old saying about truth being stranger than fiction. I’ve read some horrific tales and while I doubt the credibility of the story, you never know.

I was reading something on a social media post that criticised things that happen in a movie. Such as characters jumping through glass windows and not getting hurt. It is one of the things that bothers me about the movies. Dramatic scenes are great, but when you have to suspend disbelief, it takes some of the fun out of it.

I had a character jump through a glass window in my very first novel: Phoenix. However, she still got hurt. She was cut by the glass and then landed badly, twisting her ankle. Perhaps it was a reflex against one of the things that bothered me about the movies.

I sometimes put my characters in odd situations. It makes you feel that life is pretty random sometimes. I like the theory used in Jurassic Park. It was called Chaos Theory. If memory serves, the character explaining the theory, drops a bit of water on his hand. The water drops off in one direction. He does it again and the water goes in a different direction. It’s a simplistic explanation but it shows that things can change with the slightest difference in behaviour.

There are times when I’m writing that even I don’t know where my characters are going to end up. I often joke that my characters ‘take over’ the story. What I think happens is that, as I write, the situations I create prompt another situation. The trick is not trying to force the character into the situation which leads to where you originally planned.

Sometimes you can have a plan in your mind, but as you write, you begin to realise that what you planned isn’t right for the character. I felt that in my recently published novel. I initially planned for the main female character to have a physical relationship with the man she falls for. Somehow it didn’t feel right. So instead of forcing it, I had her confront the issue of why it felt wrong. In my mind, it was a better outcome.

We can take ideas from things that happen around us. Some readers might feel that inserting random events in a story is less about representing reality than about trying to make a point. I still believe that it’s worth doing. Sometimes these things help draw a better picture of a character. It’s true that you can tell what sort of person someone is by the things they do when they think no one is looking. Why shouldn’t it be the same for a character in a novel?

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