Monday, August 4, 2008

A little privacy - PLEASE!

Since coming back from Byron Bay I’ve been stalked. It’s not the first time and it probably wont be the last time. I’ve been followed to the toilet (and not just by my four year old), had uninvited guests in the shower, the car often carries passengers that were not intended to be with us on the trip, there are others in the backyard when I'm hanging out the washing and I’m certain that there are at least two people who trail behind me in the supermarket isle every time I go (well I’m at least positive that they are there behind me in the check out queue). And not content with the daylight hours, they’re prowling through the recesses of my nocturnal mind, weaving their way in and through my dreams, leaving me to lie awake and think about them and their lives.

Like Mel Gibson in What Women Want I hear all sorts of things. In the past week I’ve been privy to conversations on a ten year liaison with a Queen – of the royal kind, spiritual crises, guilt over killing someone and plots to kill others, there’s been a case of Government conspiracy, stolen technology and complicated love (well is there any other type?) And that’s just in the last week.

A year ago I would have thought someone insane had they talked about characters speaking to them … voices in their head. I would have wondered if they were paranoid, mentally unstable or prone to flights of fancy. Now I wouldn’t blink and eye – in fact I was enthusiastically nodding my head in several session at the Byron Bay Writers Festival when other writers spoke about their characters speaking to them. Phew – their not mad and I’m not crazy.

All this talk of characters first started during NaNo last year. Square1 spoke often about her characters harassing her, and yes at first I thought she must have been just a little mad – well you do have to be a little crazy to undertake NaNo in the first place. Then I realised that yes … my characters seemed to follow me around all the time. At that time they were particularly drawn to showering with me.

Not only that, but my characters did things, influenced the plot and direction of the story more times than I cared to admit. Then there were characters that emerged from the shadows and take centre stage. I was writing a feminist political novel – so where the hell did these two men come from. One a drug addicted, middle aged journalist on the downward spiral and the other an emotionally confused, damaged football player who propped his entire life up with cocaine and the hope that he'd 'get her back'.

And they took me places that I had never intended to go and forced my central character Abby into situations, conversations and predicaments that I would never have willingly chosen her to traverse. They brought out dimensions in her that I could never have brought out and also crystallised who other characters were – especially Abby’s long suffering husband. Then there was the character of Alex (he was called Jamie then – he objected at the start of the year to that name and thus provided me with a name more befitting him –or so he thinks!) I spent the whole of NaNo waiting to write the scene in which he walks into Abby’s life – I’d spent the entire month of November fantasising about it, but never knowing just who that character was going to be when he set foot on the page. It was a surprise who turned up on the page – but he was perfect.

Then there was the incident of my characters Abby and Alex bugging (or should that read begging) me to let them 'get it on' with each other - something that I kept resisting - after all it was January and I had shelved Finding Aphrodite. But they were insistent. Who could imagine that two imaginery characters could be so persistent about sex. Finally I caved in - and they got their wish in one of the 3am Epiphany exercises that I did. While it was mostly out of context from the story, and their names were never mentioned - they've been happy ever since. No more petulent outbursts nor cries of sexual frustration!

As a writer your moral boundaries are often pushed by characters. Sue Wolfe was one of the panellists at a session on where your ideas come from at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. She spoke of how she got writing block in completing her third novel and the reasons behind the block occurring. She said that her male central character suffered from such a severe stutter that he was basically mute, and became a peeping tom in his pursuit of the woman that he loved. She said she tried for a week to steer this character away from his practise, that she found morally objectionable. In the end she discovered that she couldn’t write any more – her and her character were dead locked and the writing process ground to a halt ... for many months.

This sparked Sue's interest in neuroscience and both the scientific and biological bases for creativity. One of the things that she discovered, and now teaches, is what she terms ‘dangerous writing’. As writers we have to surrender and let our characters take us to wherever it is that they must go, even if we object. There really is no room for ego in writing, not unless you want to be constantly at odds with your characters. Sue Wolfe said that its in this dangerous writing, that we open ourselves up to all kinds of possibilities, when the creativity flows the easiest and we’re best positioned to connect with all the ideas, especially the broader ones that concern our writing.

It was another of those enthusiastic head bobbing moments for me. I have been lucky enough these past few months to have had Paul championing me to go to my ‘uncomfort places’ when I write … and this is really an example of Sue Wolfe’s ‘dangerous writing.’ Some of the things I have written about really have pushed my buttons; I’ve explored people, situations, emotions and repercussions that I probably could have happily left well alone - baby stealing and an unfaithful husband two of them. But I’ve gone there, I’ve played in the shadows, I’ve surrendered and I’ve had some of my best stories to date.

I guess what we as writers need to educate our audiences, and loved ones (if we have two distinct groups!) is that just because we may write fiction that is gruesome, that is painful, is morally objectionable (and the list goes on) that it’s not a reflection of us as people. I believe that the writer is the vehicle of the characters, rather than the reverse ... And that we from time to time might say insane things and speak of our characters as if they are real life, living breathing human specimens - well they actually are for us.

So now I’m getting used to being stalked - even though I want to shout out, “A moments privacy – please!” as Captain Juan and his first mate Pete wander into the toilet after me to discuss some pressing matter aboard the La Gongozzler. There really is little that I can do with them, other than be grateful (begrudgingly) for them having paid me a visit and gifted me with more jewels of storyline and dialogue from the wide open sea. They’re probably as blissfully unaware as my four year old is about the need for some privacy – after all they seem to be only focused on their stuff. If only my people could talk to their people about organising a better spot to meet up - the check out queue perhaps or the washing line?

Cartoon from Royalty Free Cartoons which have a great selection of privacy cartoons available!


Paul said...

I think the Captain is enough of a gentleman that he'd at least keep his hat over his eyes!

Annie said...

So glad that its not just you... though the Captain usually sends young Calvin in first.....and other characters - yes.. disturbing ones - I sometimes feel like that Whoopie Goldburg character out of Ghost.....

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Would you agree that when you're 'open' the characters come more. I know during my recent writers drought while writing the eBook it was noticeably quiet on the character front?

For me at least, its a good reminder to keep the creative cup topped up and do things that keep the top of my head open (an image from a Montesorri exhibition at the Melbourne Museum that I will never forget!)

The Countess said...

Stumbled onto your site today. And I like what you're posting. Just let it all out! :)

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Thanks for stopping by Countess - I keep wanting to type Countessa, as we have a Countessa in our Captain Juan story. I will make an effort to drop by and properly read your blog tomororw, had a fleeting glance at it today.

And I will just keep on letting it out - there's no stopping it now!