You’ll often see in books on the creative writing process to write what you know about. This is good advice – it’s how you can make feelings, actions, settings and thoughts real. But it’s limited … like if your character is not your own age doing things you might be doing.
How do you write about someone living in another time frame? Or harder still, writing from the viewpoint of a child living hundreds of years ago?
Lots of authors do it successfully – like Michael Bauer in his recent adventure novel, Dinosaur Knights where three children face a terrifying ‘dragon’ (really a dinosaur dropped accidentally into their time by scientists in the future). Michael has captured the children’s interaction with each other because he knows a lot about human behaviour, especially boys of a certain age. So he can place them in whatever time and place he chooses.
Another example is Felicity Pulman‘s Janna Mysteries set in Medieval England where Janna’s quest to find her father after her mother is murdered sets her on a dangerous, treacherous path. We empathise with Janna because she has human qualities that any young girl might have when facing extreme challenges … fear, grief, loyalty, courage, love, … whatever the era.
These books (and many others) work because their authors can feel and sense human reactions, both emotionally and physically. They’re probably very observant people, watching human behaviour with innocent but eagle eyes, listening with careful nonchalance to the conversations of strangers. Combine this practise with their creative imaginations and you have great stories we can all relate to.
It’s like having what’s called an ‘artist’s eye’ – that ability to see the negative spaces, the hues and tones of colour, recognising a perfect composition or design (even if it takes months to ‘get it right’ on canvas.) Like everything the more you practise the skill of observation, the better you get. It’s the same with writing. And you get to use your ears as well.
Have you ever deliberately eavesdropped in a cafe? Or at a party? It’s especially worthwhile if you are amongst strangers – then you know no back-stories.
Here’re some lines from conversations I’ve listened in on (surreptitiously) – a story in the waiting for each of them?
‘I’d rather go a size bigger than give up chocolate!’
‘I kid you not, Jackie reckoned they did it behind the bar – and nobody knew.’ (Unfortunately, the three girls left then, so I missed the end of this conversation.)
‘You’ll never guess what was in the freezer – a pig’s head was staring out at me!’
‘Why was the gun in the ceiling?’
This last quote was the impetus behind my short story, The Gun.
If you want to read it it’s over in the Works-in-Progress page…..
PS I remember a gaggle of Aunties once telling me off with the words, ‘Little piggies have big ears!’ I must’ve been eavesdropping back then too.