At the Start of a Story.
A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted to write a story. I had no idea what this story would be about, so I bought a notepad with the idea of collecting everything that I found interesting and noting it down. This included extracts from different books and articles, speeches in films, moments from the news or simply my thoughts. Whenever something jumped out at me, I put it in the notepad.
Haven't we all had those moments of deep, inexplicable feeling of sadness or melancholy or joy that we can't quite place? Maybe we don't often share those moments because, in order to, it would mean distilling them down in a way that does not feel accurate to the entirety of the process of understanding. Or maybe it is only possible to have those feelings when we are truly alone.
Matthew Zapruder, Why Poetry.
It was a strange feeling to notice these thoughts grow from reflections on the real world into the consciousness of fictional characters. The more notes I put into the book, the more I learnt about the individuals I was developing. It's like they first appeared as shadows at the bottom of the swimming pool, and then their bodies began to emerge as they climbed out of the water, looking for air. I discovered their current situations, complex histories and worries about the future. I saw their faces and noticed their personalities. I noticed what music they liked and what bars and cafes they would hang out in.
The downstairs bar of Home was quiet. A few couples mingled by the tables, and light jazz played softly through the speakers. Lucy clicked off the article and reached for her coffee. Three pigeons landed on the pavement outside.
According to Will Storr, in The Science of Storytelling, all stories start in a moment of change. In Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner, Smith is sent to a borstal for stealing bread. In Normal People, Connel enters Marianne's house. In The Bricks That Built the Houses, the group is running away from London, and Karl Marx starts the Communist Manifesto by claiming that A spectre is haunting Europe. The spectre of Communism. Change presents an opportunity for the reader to figure out the puzzle. It creates intriguing instability; it acts as hope, as a source of tension and knocks the scales off normality out of balance, allowing for a new future to arrive.
Simon posted the keys back through the house that stood empty of life. He turned around and glanced at the garden. You could already see the hedges swelling and spilling over the neighbour's wall.
Simon and Lucy don't know each other yet. But they can feel each other's presence, and the more I write about them, the more I'm convinced that their worlds will collide. They passed each other on the pavement without knowing it and waited for the same train in Levenshulme. They've read the same articles and ran for shelter at opposite ends of the city during the same downpour. I'm still trying to figure out what will bring them together. Maybe through a friend I'm yet to discover, a chance encounter on a work night out, or via social media. I'm not sure.
Through this process, I've not only developed characters but learned random facts about the world. Like how Russians are raised to see two types of blue and consequently see eight stripped rainbows. Or how over the last 20,000 years, human brains have shrunk by ten to fifteen per cent, the same reduction as domesticated animals. And when people read, they form the end of the sentence before finishing. This means the order in which writers place their words massively matters. Descriptive sentences act as neural movies in the mind of the reader. The correct grammar allows the reader to imagine the scene as if it was happening right before their eyes.
With his drink picked up, Simon turns around and looks around the bar.
Simon picks his drink up and looks around the bar.