Like many people staying home and trying to fill in time, I’ve been binge-watching a few of my favourite programs, mostly BBC period dramas such as Bleak House, Wives and Daughter‘ and Little Dorrit. My kids call them ‘my pompous things’.
It got me thinking about why I like these stories and care about their characters. How did writers like Dickens and Gaskell create such complex and satisfying stories?
The stories we like to watch or read usually contain characters who change and grow because of what happens to them in the plot. But if it were that simple to write them, we’d all be literary geniuses. Perhaps a more appropriate question for us aspiring writers is, where do we start?
Anne Lamott’s book, bird by bird, answers this question in insightful and humorous ways. Whenever I feel stuck, this book always helps reset my motivation. Take for example, the chapter titled ‘Polaroids’. Writing is compared to taking a polaroid photo: you aim at a subject (or an idea), you take the picture (or start writing) and watch what develops. The details appear over time.
…and you begin to understand how props define us and comfort us, and show us what we value and what we need, and who we think we are.
In the chapter on Character, Lamott says:
Everyone is walking around as an advertisement for who he or she is…
Someone I work with once told me she couldn’t imagine I’d own a pair of trackies. As I wear a uniform to work every day, I wonder what it is about me that inspired the comment (incorrect though it may be).
In life and in stories, bad things happen to good people.
We all know we’re going to die: what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.Anne Lamott, ‘bird by bird’
That’s something for the toilet paper hoarders to think about…