Another of my favourite writers returns today, after a prolonged absence; he's been hearing voices you see. But I think I'd better let him explain. Ladies and Gentlemen...
A QUESTION OF CHARACTER
First, Eric, let me say it is a pleasure to be back on your blog following my release from prison, and the release of my fourth novel. (Did you see what I did there? No? Oh, well, never mind. I haven’t really been in prison, by the way. Not unless a week in the north of Scotland counts. Which it probably does.)
Topic for the day: Characters. Those of a nervous disposition should look away now. If you enjoyed Deadpool, it’s probably OK to keep reading.
*** Clears throat ***
I was asked recently where my characters come from. The question was of more interest to me than to the person asking it. They were just being polite, and trying to find some way to fill an awkward gap in the conversation. By way of reply, I made something up: something that might sound credible. The unvarnished truth is not palatable. Generally speaking, I dislike discussing the process of writing, mainly because I have no idea what I am doing or how I do it. It’s a bit like breathing – better done automatically and without thought. Once you start trying to breathe, it becomes difficult and you convince yourself you can’t do it, and that you’re going to die. At least, I do. Wait a minute, let me just get a brown paper bag.
*** Sound of gagging ***
Ah, that’s better.
The characters in my books – or at least the main ones – seem to emerge from some internal dialogue going on in my head, and in which I am only a semi-participant. Plots for my novels emerge through some similar process. In much the same way as a rat might come up a U-bend.
Really, I would make a lousy teacher of creative writing. Sure, I could give you some ‘rules’, but they would be other people’s rules, because I don’t think I really have any. I am simply aware of some vague flag in the distance towards which I tack. Maybe it’s not even a flag. Maybe it’s a red penguin vibrating on a stick.
Sometimes, I tell myself that I have a ‘Muse’. This is not a bad strategy. For one thing, if people tell you your writing is lousy, you can blame the Muse. If folks like your writing, the fact that someone else wrote it and you just typed it out for them, helps to keep your feet on the ground and prevents a certain swelling of the head (a condition to which, sadly, some of us are prone).
Once the voices in my head have talked enough, I write down some sort of plan for how I am going to address the business of transcribing their story. This comprises producing an Excel spreadsheet of events and a Word document describing the main people in the story; and seeing how the events will change the people and how the people will drive the events (while interacting with each other). Sometimes people change other people too, but let’s not get too clever here.
After all, I’m not really a writer. I’m a typist.
For those pen monkeys out there who like to claim that you do, in fact, create the characters for your books, you might find the following answers to typical reader questions helpful. Or not.
Q: Are your characters based on real people?
A: Not usually, although there are a few real people based on my characters. I did, however, have a great uncle who had three legs, and a tripedal bishop will be featuring in one of my future novels. His limbs will comprise a metaphor for the Holy Trinity, and it gives me the opportunity to insert puns about stools.
Q: How do you make your dialogue so realistic?
A: I listen to people on buses, then steal what they are saying after taking out the “f*cks”.
Q: Is your protagonist like you?
A: Apart from the abnormally large penis, no.
Q: Many of your characters are quite contrary, aren’t they?
A: No, they aren’t.
Do the voices in my head bother you as much as they bother me, I wonder?
*** Taps fingers and wonders what to do next ***
Also by John Dolan:
"Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants."
John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.
When John's not playing with red penguins on a stick, he can be found here:
Thank you, John, for your return visit. Red Penguin vibrating on a stick??? Still trying to get that image out of my mind! Readers, I finished John's latest novel, 'Running On Emptiness', recently and it's worthy of 6 Stars! Don't miss it!
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com