Friday, 28 October 2011

Personal Habits and Writing

I used to smoke when I was in my teens, but gave up in my mid-20s and haven't puffed since.  So I don't think about characters smoking.  I've only once had a reference to smoking, when a character wishes they hadn't given up because now would be a really good time to have a cigarette.  

But I have written about diets and calories and all the paraphernalia about losing weight.  I made so many references in one book - I think it was A Single to Rome  - that my editor asked me if the main character had a weight problem as all she seemed to think about were calories.  

What can I say? I don't smoke and have a tendency to put on weight, and my writing reflects my preoccupations.  My characters are often stroking and touching things which reflects my own tactile habits, but rarely fuss about what they're wearing (unless it's a concern that they've got it wrong).  We had a discussion in class about using the five senses, and many of us (including me) said they had a poor sense of smell so rarely included that, whereas for others it was as important as the visuals. 

I do a certain amount of manipulation so my characters have habits and characteristics other than mine - more have had straight hair than curly, although I'm hazy about what using straighteners implies, so try to avoid too much hair description - but I'm sure my real concerns and preoccupations shine through.  When I read Caitlin Moran, and in particular her recent book How to be a Woman, I often feel like saying: not all women suffer from cystitis.  That's you, not me.

James Joyce once wrote that all fiction is autobiographical fantasy, and perhaps there's more autobiography in fiction than many of us would care to reveal.  But I think we just can't help ourselves. 


Laura E James said...

When chatting at the Festival of Romance last week, I admitted there are parts of me in each character and parts of how I would like to be. Writing is as much a form of escapism as reading. I have rheumatoid arthritis and am physically limited, but the wonderful things my characters do (which I no longer can) are liberating for me. My fantasy.
Laura James

Penny said...

I suppose we can't help it, as you say! Whenever I try for a glamorous character, they tend to sneeze a lot...
Escaping into another world is the best, first reason for writing, I always think. As long as you also enjoy the necessary editing later.

Eryl said...

Thank you for this, it's fascinating. Now I think of it I have given the main character of my WIP a major coffee habit and a big espresso machine to feed it. I love coffee but have to make it in a french press: autobiographical fantasy indeed!

Diane Fordham said...

Thanks again for a great post Sarah. As I write my new novel and discover new characters, in the back of my mind is your invaluable advice. You make me think. I love that! Thank you.

Sarah Duncan said...

Laura, I have arthritis too, but mildly. My sympathies are v much with you.

Penny, love the idea of glamorous characters doing a lot of sneezing.

Eryl, my characters drink coffee because I can't - and therefore I never think of how they make it. I've learned another omission I make.

Diane, Isn't it fascinating at how different our personal 'things' are, and how we also go for the opposites. I love writing!

Tenerus said...

A writer friend is a synesthete. Someone who involuntarily perceives with one sense in terms of another (e.g., smells may be perceived as colours, numerals/letters each have their individual and involuntarily associated colours, etc).

Her writing can be an eye-opener to how differently others perceive our world.

Sarah Duncan said...

How fascinating. Their world must be v colourful. I once played a blind character on stage, and I quickly got v acute about sound. I'd forgotten all about that.