Friday, 24 July 2015

The stories we tell of ourselves -Jo Carroll

As you read this, I'm on my way to a funeral. I have agreed to 'say a few words.' So I shall probably be driving round the M25 working out what I'm going to say.

I lie. I'm not quite that disorganised. But I won't have it written down to the last comma, either. Instead I'll have a card or two to remind me, and then speak as I feel. This - I promise - is not the same as 'winging it.' It is, rather, a half-way - a gathering of ideas so that I have a rough structure and then responding to the feelings of the moment.

I will have 2-3 minutes so sum up the 60+ years I've known her. And somehow I need to do that without diminishing her.

But it has got me thinking - not only about the woman I need to speak about, but about the stories we tell of ourselves. Isn't that what we all try to do of ourselves - that 140 characters on Twitter, the baby biographies on Facebook? We reduce our complexities to soundbites in the hope that we can, somehow, use those to entice people to explore our blogs and our books and our general media personas.

Yet even that is a fraction of who we are. When I'm faffing about online as a writer, I'll dip into writing fora and talk about character development and the challenge of pacing. On another day, when I'm in travelling mode, I'll play on a travelling forum and join in discussions about rucksacks and the need for insurance.

And still that is only part of the picture. I'm widow, mother, grandmother. I'm obsessed with cricket. I'd rather sit in my garden and read than dead-head the roses. I hate the winter.

How exciting this is! All these different roles we play - not only over the course of a lifetime but sometimes in just a day or so. We take this knowledge into our writing, of course, as we allow characters in our fiction to come out to play. Our heroine might, at the time of writing, be a miserable woman who expresses her rage by throwing her laptop out of the window. Yet another day - off the page - there will be things that give her joy, that make her laugh, that remind her of people who still love her.

And so our understanding of characters should draw on our awareness of this rich complexity. Which might explain why developing characters is so difficult, and so much fun.

Now I must go. I have a real woman to think about.


Wendy Jones said...

Love the comparison. I hope the funeral goes well.

Lydia Bennet said...

It's a privilege to speak for someone at a funeral though it can be hard to do. Much of what we do as writers is giving voices to voiceless people, and things, and places.

JO said...

Thank you both. And yes, it was a privilege - she would have been amazed to realise just how many people loved her.