Things aren’t always what they seem

I was going to write about observation today, particularly the writer’s habit – or is it just mine? – of jumping to conclusions about the events and scenes we witness every day and introduce into our fiction.  Do we write a true representation of what occurred, or let our imaginations running riot? I’ll come back to that. But first, and rather off the point, I want to share something else with you. We’re always taught not to use coincidences in our fiction writing. A sign of lazy writing, they betray a distinct lack of imagination. These days, anything remotely coincidental in our stories has to be firmly backed up with explanation or foreshadowing. So I couldn’t possibly use what happened yesterday in any work of fiction.

I’m reading a novel by Melvyn Bragg, Remember Me, which, so far, is a very fine novel, and the radio was twittering away softly to itself on the other side of the room. In Ch 7, I came to a passage that includes some lyrics from an Elvis Presley song, ‘It’s now or never’, the one set to the tune of ‘O Sole Mio’, and at the exact time I was reading these lyrics, the song itself came on the radio. Now what, I ask you, are the chances of that?

Anyway, back to observations. It’s a writer’s lot to magnify, to draw our own conclusions. It’s what we do, how we construct plots, build characters and inject entertainment into our work. Remember those six honest serving-men from Kipling? What? Where? Why? Who? When? How? We bring them to bear on every situation and immediately start asking questions.

What brought that tramp sleeping on the bench to the edge of destitution? Did he lose his job, his house? Then his wife and family? Did he take to drink, the bottle his only friend? Keep embroidering and the poor man will be only one step away from the asylum or even worse, suicide, before you know it. When actually, he’s just had a hard morning on the production line and he’s having a quick doze in the sunshine before he goes back to work….

And what about that thuggish-looking lad you noticed hanging around your office building the day your handbag was stolen? He was creeping around looking very suspicious, wasn’t he? Wearing that baseball hat pulled down low over his face so the security cameras wouldn’t catch his face, impatiently drumming his fingers on the counter at Reception, he definitely looked as if he was up to no good. In reality, he was just there to service the boilers…

It’s all in our imagination; it’s what makes us storytellers. It doesn’t necessarily make me a reliable witness, but it sure is fun!


4 thoughts on “Things aren’t always what they seem

  1. Of course, if we use real events as inspiration, it’s always best to mix things up so the real people don’t recognize themselves or the event! “The names have been changed to protect the innocent,” as the old TV line goes. 🙂

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