Sunday, 31 October 2010

Make Up Lessons for Characters

My make up routine is: collect my makeup bag from my room, take it to the family bathroom where the light is best, take out the makeup, use it, put the kit back in the bag, take it back to my bedroom.  I've done it like this for years - sharing the house with a daughter has taught me that makeup left out is makeup gone for good.

But this morning I suddenly realised that she's gone*.  No more do I have to worry about theft of my eyeliner pencil, or the 'I was only borrowing it, honest' disappearence of my mascara.  I can leave my makeup all over the basin, if I want, and the only person who will disturb it will be me.  I'm not by nature tidy, but having children in the house  has taught me to be so.  Now they've gone, will I revert to my old habits?

It's a relatively small change, but one I hadn't thought through before.  I often make my characters have different habits to my own - Lu in Kissing Mr Wrong is tidy, for example - but they reflect me and my observation of detail.  Some details I just won't be aware of, like the makeup issue, until they happen to me.    

The opening to my first novel Adultery for Beginners starts just after the characters have made love, and Isabel is stuck on top of the wet patch.  I can remember workshopping the first chapter with my writing group and the wide range of reactions it received.  I had never realised quite how many solutions there were to that particular problem.  One workshopper announced that Isabel was "sluttish" for not having organised herself better.  

I fixed that in the redraft, but it made me realise how we filter everything through our own experience.  One reader's normal may be another reader's sluttish.  As writers we can't cater for everybody's experience - that leads to bland - but we need to be aware that our way isn't the only way and get our characters to reflect that. 

*Off to uni, I haven't bumped her off or anything like that, despite occasional provocation. 


Jo said...

I'm intrigued to know the solutions to the wet patch, please!!

Sarah Duncan said...

Oooh, I think I'd get thrown off Blogger for revealing such things. Ask me when I see you next!