xx

One of the reasons I pushed against the style that seemed so natural to me was that it only suits characters that are, basically, me. Writing like this isn’t writing so much as letting my thoughts funnel through into sentences, and so trying to do that for a character means grasping their inner workings with a similar familiarity. And, so I thought, that means everyone I write is going to be me. Which could get very old.

I’ve done a fair amount of amateur acting, at school and university, and when I approached a part I did it in much the same way as this. I didn’t think it through, or attempt to construct something beyond what was presented to me (that is, the script). Generally I approached the part and was myself only in a different life, a different skin. I found it so easy I was surprised it went so well.

To me it always felt like, if I was a great actor, there should be some sort of method, some sweat I’d have to put myself through. But I carried on, always finding it easy to learn my lines and without ever experiencing stage fright. I was natural, which perhaps is why I was chosen for parts – however good I really was, if I was good at all, I at least wasn’t forcing it, I was natural, which led to good performances.

With writing like this I can’t honestly valuate what I’m creating. It’s incredibly easy to do, even if it does require me to sit for however long and actually type, but it doesn’t require any effort or skill beyond plucking out what my brain is dwelling on and letting it spin out everything that comes with. It doesn’t feel like creating or writing, it just feels like thinking. It’s natural, just like my acting, and yet it reads well.

And yet I’ve seen that when I try to force this it fails. So it’s not that it is just natural – it has to be natural. And if it has to be natural, then how do I use this style when my character/narrator is different from me? Crucially, doesn’t my natural, personal style mean I can never write a woman, never use a female voice?

W2B says that doesn’t matter – because she can use that voice, and help me understand it, and when I get it wrong she’ll help me see. In one of my first paragraphs here I was about to move on and explain that the reason I’d always thought I could never write a character who wasn’t me was because surely I needed to understand them if I was going to use this voice. And I can’t understand other people, I worried, I just can’t get them.

And as I wrote that I thought “Hang on, since when did I decide I even understood myself?”. Clearly I’ve an advantage on this in that I’m actually inside my own head, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still have the power to elude my own understanding, to react in a way that surprises me or think of something that shocks me. So if I’m unknowable even to myself, how do I begin to know others, to know a character unlike me, to know a female character? And, yet, despite this I can still write as myself.

This is slightly confusing in itself, talking about not knowing but knowing that and being aware that what I know explains why what I don’t know is knowable… But now I’m just using up space with crazy back-and-forth nonsense. What’s true is that I can write from my perspective, in this way. And that while this is writing, I don’t want to only produce this. But also that this style is mine, natural, and when I am natural it can only be a good way for me to write in the way I do want to.

Since the point this style interests me so much is it provides an opportunity for an open dialogue with the reader, a self-aware monologue, I do have to grasp any character which I use as narrator. But, again, since my style is about getting to the heart of things, the genuine essence I’d like to believe we all carry around in our heads, then the fact I’m so familiar with the goings-on of my own brain doesn’t mean I know only one brain, it means I have the capacity to know all brains.

And even if I fail, even if I stray, I know I’ve got a sharp and honest critic to tell me and help me get back on track – help me turn my personal style into expressing the person. If there’s anything a writer needs to become a great writer, I think it has to be someone of unending patience who believes in that great writer.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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