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So A Character Walked Into A Bar…

Does your writing ever feel like the beginning of a slightly off-colour, probably non-politically correct joke? Something along the lines of a “A High Priestess, a moody Princess and a lonely gay man walked into a bar….”

I recently completed an excellent course at the Australian Writers’ Centre called Intro to Novel Writing. I know I’d said I wasn’t going to be doing any courses this year, but this one – as they seem to do – came along at the right time and place for where I found myself on my creative recovery journey.

The course was basically six weeks of workshopping the structure and first 5,000 words of your novel. I hadn’t realised that. To be honest I’d assumed it was going to be another six weeks of theory. I’m glad that assumption was wrong because spending six weeks working on my own idea, fleshing it out and finding out where I was cutting corners *waves fists at the Gods in my story* was probably the most beneficial six weeks I’ve spent on long form story writing since the Creative Writing Course I did a couple of years ago.

Spending time with one of Australia’s most successful authors and a room full of people who all wanted that title for themselves was fantastic. I walked out of the room last Thursday inspired, reinvigorated and ready to tackle the Gods of Zenas with a skill and certainty I’d never thought I’d see again.

And then a funny thing happened. While writing over the last couple of days a character has popped into my head. He doesn’t belong in the world I’m building. He’s a 35 year old, slightly warn out, slightly tired, and utterly bored gay man with no social life beyond what he see’s on the screen late at night.

Now I’ve no problem in having gay characters in Fantasy or Speculative Fiction as it’s now called. As a matter of fact I have a character that appeared the other week who I’m pretty sure is gay. Homosexuality and speculative fiction aren’t really well connected bed fellows. Whenever you do have a gay character in a fantasy setting he’s usually referred to as a pederast and is a bit of a mincing poodle, and usually ends up with his head rolling across the council chamber floor somewhere in book two.

But that’s a blog post for another day. The character who has popped into my head belongs in a story I was thinking about a while ago. One that was destined for the world of eBooks and the gargantuan shopping mall that is Amazon.

This is the point in the writing process that usually results in me throwing in the towel on one story to start work on the second. It’s not about being bored or running out of ideas – the Wave Rider trilogy is fully outlined, so I know where I’m going with that one -but about characters turning up when you least expect them.

I have a fear that the characters will disappear as quickly as they arrive. I don’t know where my ideas come from. Frankly they’re just there and when I get a new idea – or new character – there’s a part of me that’s all “quick, lets capture it and write it down before it flies off, crap there’s another one, I’ll be back in a minute.”

I sometimes wonder if that’s the reason I have so many issues in concentrating on a particular idea. It happens a lot to me. Not just in my writing life, but also in my work life.

Recently I’ve been reading Stephen King On Writing. I bought it in class the other night when another person mentioned how brilliant it was. That’s the problem with iBooks etc, they make spending money super easy. Anyway I bought it. I’ve only read the first section and a chapter or two of the actual bit about writing, but I learnt something already.

Stephen King talks about the writing of Carrie. Not so much about the nights spend typing, but about the moment when as a janitor he was cleaning the Girls locker room and asked his co-worker what the metal box on the wall was for. The co-worker explained it was for tampons.

He then writes that the first scene, where Carrie is in the locker room shower and starts having her first period and freaking out because she didn’t know what was happening popped into his head.

From there it was a connect the dots journey through his memories, his imagination and a few other influences that brought about his first novel.

He talks about how even today – well in 1997 when he was writing the book – that he and all the writers he knows say they have no idea where the story ideas come from.  When I read that I felt a weight come off my shoulders. It was an “Ahhh” moment when I realised I’m not the only writer who has no idea where the ideas come from, and that if I just trust the ideas they’ll somehow keep coming.

So back to Jared, and his workaholic, lonely life. What’s his story? What’s his journey? Well as idea’s usually do when they come to visit me the main structure comes with them. It’s sort of like join the dots. All it takes is to acknowledge the first dot and let it lead me to the next. I’ve now got my three main characters and when trying to come up with a way to explain it to myself I settled for “Mills & Bondage” a sort of romance/erotica novel.

I’m going to keep working on Darkened North, it’s the series I’m committed too, but it doesn’t mean I can’t write other things as well. I’ll give the other idea a bit of breath, a bit of time to simmer, but I’ve got no doubt I’ll write Jared’s story when the time comes.

That’s another thing I’ve gained since doing the course. You just have to trust yourself to tell the story. Over the past few weeks I’ve realised I don’t want to be Shakespeare, I don’t necessarily want to be or need to be famous 400 odd years after I’m dead. I don’t plan on writing literature, I plan – as I’ve always done – to write what my mother used to refer to as “Beach Books”.

The big, boldly coloured stories people buy to read on holiday. Summer block buster books I guess.

I guess the point to this post is that whenever I find myself worrying about something, be it the colour of the characters hair or whether or not this is the only idea I’ll have, something comes along to show me the worry is meaningless.

There will be other ideas, there will be other summers and new songs to sing. I just have to do my job. Just walk my fingers along the keyboard and let the story come. When it’s finished they’ll be another one.

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43 year old Australian writer currently working on the first of a planned three book Epic Fantasy series. When he's not writing policy discussions, or tales of swords, Gods, and magic, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen, and turning perfectly good ingredients into crimes against humanity.

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