for writers and readers….
AS WRITERS WE NEED people to do bad things: they create story. They may not be the heart of your writing, the central core, but they kickstart action and reaction. We need light and dark on the page, we need the shadows.
We don’t write (or read) stories about happy, well-balanced folk brought up in nice families who meet and marry the love of their life and die a peaceful death at a great age after an economically and spiritually rewarding life…and we don’t write them for a very good reason, the best possible reason, we don’t live lives like that.
Bad things happen and sometimes it’s by chance or a force of nature and sometimes it’s because of what people do. Deliberately. Or because of what people are. The words of the great comedian Spike Milligan spring to mind:
The rain falls on the just and the unjust but the unjust fella is more likely to have an umbrella
The first task is research. Spend no more than 15 minutes on it. Be strict with yourself. Research is enjoyable and passive: you are receiving the results of someone’s else’s hard work while writing is hard, everything is down to you and, if you’re not careful, research will eat into your precious writing time. And in my experience Google time is different to ordinary time. If you’ve ever found that a desire to just-check-something has melted into an hour flitting from one website to another, you will know what I mean.
Your subject is the life of a spider. Don’t make notes. What sticks, sticks.
What you find out will form the basis of your character who is entirely and completely human. He or she doesn’t look like a spider in any way. They have the usual number of legs and webs will not appear in anything you write, at least not the physical kind.
Next write down five characters from fiction that spring to mind. Take them from novels and films, cartoons and comics, from anywhere you like. Here’s my list:
Humbert Humbert from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Cruella de Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (the cartoon and the film are great, but read the book if you haven’t already)
The very ‘umble Uriah Heep from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens He had: hardly any eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of red-brown
Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery
and now I’ve compiled my list I can hear the tap tap sound of old Blind Pew coming down the road to hand out the black spot to the sea captain in Treasure Island. Made me shiver at six and still does (and from memory that is all Pew does which is a reminder to never underestimate the power of small details).
And finally, the writing exercise:
With all that going on in your head: the spider, a whole cast of fictional characters and your own personal experiences of people who do bad things – the workplace bully, the school racist, the manipulative facebook ‘friend’ who always makes you feel drained – you have a wealth of material to draw on.
Write one, maybe two, sentences about what your character looks like. This isn’t for readers, this is just for you, so it doesn’t have to be well-crafted, but it should create pictures in your head. You may use it in your writing or you may not, but what you put on the page will be better because, before you write a word, you already know the way your character comes into a room or what their face looks like when they smile . People who are ugly on the inside aren’t always ugly on the outside…but sometimes they are…
And now for the main part.
You’re not going to write about your character doing something awful. Instead you are going focus on that one universal experience that helps us all to transcend to a spiritually better place. Your character is going to fall in love, deeply and sincerely.
Write two pages about what happens next and never forget that inside beats a spider’s heart.
Just thought I’d mention that if you like this exercise you might also like my writing guide Back to Creative Writing School (30 exercises, 140+ reviews on Amazon UK)
At the moment it is at its lowest price ever £4 in the UK and $5.84 in the US. You can also download it on kindle.
There, said it, advert over.