Friday, 31 December 2010

Idea or Story

When I was on my MA there was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow attached to the department who could be consulted about writing matters.* Our RLF Fellow was an experienced novelist and I went to see her about the novel I was hoping to write while on the MA.

I outlined my idea: a group of university friends who go out to Kenya for the wedding of one of them. The novel would be about their relationships and shifting friendships. The RLF Fellow didn't look impressed. 'That's an idea, not a novel,' she said dismissively. 'Have you got anything else?'

Put on the spot I dragged up an idea from the back of my brain. 'I was thinking about a woman who has an affair, then ends it, and her former lover blackmails her,' I blurted out.

'Ah,' the RLF Fellow said. 'Now that's a novel.' The novel attracted questions: who was the woman, why was she tempted to have an affair, who was the lover, why did she end the affair, and so on. In answering them I would discover my novel, and the process of writing Adultery for Beginners was certainly easier as a result. Now, when I start writing a novel I play around with characters and situation until I find the questions. And then I answer them.

* The RLF Fellowship scheme has changed since then and concentrates on helping all students with literacy rather than literary endeavours.

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