How To Talk to Imaginary People

Great Marley Ghost MonoIn order to converse with fictional characters, consume more gravy.

Dear Readers

Firstly I would like to apologise for the protracted absence of posts on this august organ. Why it seems that it has been fully two weeks now since we last made communication. I can reassure you that all is well, that Mr Michael is hard at work on the forthcoming Paris Awakening novel and that the persistent rumours concerning a euphonium, a junior minister, a Welsh male voice choir and Lord Hollingbury are unfortunately true.

Anyway, we recently had the pleasure of discussing the matter of writing with a non-writing acquaintance. The conversation went along these lines:

“Dear chap, I don’t know how you do it! How do you work out, from all possible paths, what will happen in the story?”

“Why thats simplicity itself,” I countered. “I simply let the characters decide what they will do.”

“Good grief man!” he exclaimed, knocking over  a perfectly good brandy. “How can that be achieved?”

“My dear friend, I let them talk amongst themselves,” I said. At this he waved his arms and his voluminous mustache wobbled.

“You see, sir, you are a genius, I couldn’t conceive of doing such a thing.”

“I disagree,” I said, “I’ll wager you can, and let me explain how….”

This, in a nutshell, is the advice I gave my friend. It is a series of exercises which can be carried out in ones own mind, but I find that such exercises are better written out. Somehow writing brings extra depth and magic.

  1. Imagine two friends that you know well and who know each other. Imagine they are having a conversation.
  2. Next, imagine two friends that you know well, but are not mutually acquainted. Imagine them meeting and the conversation they may have.
  3. This time, imagine a friend you know meeting a fictional character, either one of your own devising or from a popular novel. As before, imagine how the conversation would occur.
  4. And finally, substitute the real world friend for another fictional character, and imagine how they would converse.

And voila! You know have two fully fledge imaginary people talking in your head. If you’ve enjoyed this parlour trick, be sure to tell your friends. And have a most pleasant Sunday.


Half Plan, Half Pants It

The_sleep_of_reason_produces_monsters_LACMA_63.11.43A Planner attempts Pantsing (or vice versa)

Dear Readers (and especially those of you who are Writers)

I am sure you are all aware of that great debate that has raged, seemingly for centuries now, and which divides father from son, mother from daughter and znarks from kithniks (in the planetary system of Ryzold Veta). This is not some theological disagreement such the Great Schism of 1054, nor political rift such as communism against capitalism. No, I refer to the twin camps of plotters and pantsers.

I shall not go over the debate in detail as a mere handful of seconds with a reliable “search engine” will reveal the crux of the matter. No, instead I will offer my tuppence worth based on my own writing experience. The “excessively loquacious and hence did not peruse” version is – why not do both?

Let me explain my position to those of you not too shocked to continue. You see, I truly believe the best bit of writing advice I ever heard was from Chuck Wendig who said something akin to “there is no such thing as plot, there is just characters doing things”. I have to say I most heartily agree, and for my characters to do things, I have to know who they are and what they are thinking. Thus begins the first phase of my writing, which will look rather like pantsing (the writing technique, not the “hilarious” pranking technique).

You see, I find something magical happens when I write a scene. Not, I must hastily add, that I am possessed with magnificent talent, but characters that are in my mind come to life of their own accord. Rather then put words into their mouths, I put them in a situation and listen. Remarkable things happen then; Miss Henderson quite literally fought her way from being a minor to major character. It was, in her words, a coop of tat. Rather than bonding joyfully with Marie (in a purely platonic way), The Nouveaumancer mercilessly bated Sir John, who then rather wonderfully bit back.

As so many of my stories are mysteries of one sort or another, I’ve learnt the best place for me to start is to present the evidence to my characters, let them have a conversation and if I’m lucky, they may start to try to solve the conundrum. That sets the mood, the tone, and turns the shadowy characters in my mind into functioning “people”.

And then, we get to a point. The characters are off investigating, but most likely, other things are happening in the story of which they are blissfully unaware. The whole world they are in is a vast complex machine with many moving parts and at the center of that machine is a cold, impersonal creature that will throw obstacles in their way, hurt them, and even dispose of them. Yes, dear readers, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for it is I. And since I know what is happening to all the dramatis personae, I feel I have to sketch out what will happen to bring the story to its cataclysmic end. This is usually just a line or so per 500 words. No great detail, no computer software (well notepad maybe), but enough so I know what’s happening in my world. I wouldn’t call it detailed planning, but I’m far from winging it. And as always, it’s not the notes, but the thinking that counts.

The story then follows “more-or-less” the path I ascribe to it, albeit with some amendments along the way. Maybe a scene I thought would take 1000 words is wrapped up in 10. Mayhap my characters linger somewhere longer than I expected. I can, after all, only follow their whims and demands. But in the end, we arrive where I knew, about a third of the way through, where we would be.

And that’s it, dear Readers, Writers, and Arithmeticians. That is my part-pantsing, part-planning approach. I hope I haven’t broken too many hearts or shattered too many illusions. All I can say is that it works for me.

And if you can take one more shock this evening, I am also perfectly ambivalent to this product as well.


That’s the kind of monster I am…