Tag Archives: fiction

Finding Writing Inspiration in your Everyday Emotions

Writers! Can you think back to a time when someone really disappointed you or elicited a strong emotion? Weave that into your work.

As a writer you have the advantage of finding inspiration in your everyday emotions. These emotions can be the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or the lemonade in the evening, after a day of sucking on bitter lemons. Only If you know how to manipulate them. Nobody likes to feel like garbage but let’s be real, life is full of challenges and pivots and we will be tested. Find comfort in this one true fact: those negative emotions can act as the pieces of meat that tie the soup of your story line together.

Here are two ways in which you can turn negative emotions into inspiration for your fiction writing:

It can fuel a plotline

Remember that rude shop assistant you encountered the other day? The one who glared at you when you asked where the hummus was? They have the potential to be a fine resource of inspiration. I can see you shaking your head but seriously, hear me out. What about that commuter who knocked into you on Tuesday morning? If none of these scenarios ring a bell, think back to a time when someone really disappointed you or elicited a strong emotion? Gather your thoughts and squeeze that lemonade because you’re about to add a spoonful of authenticity to your work in progress.

Consider the following:

How did the scenario make you feel?

What is the physical description of the person in question?

Step outside of the scenario and consider or imagine (if you don’t know them) what type of person they normally are. Could they have been really stressed out or do you think this behaviour is a part of their normal personality?

What was the setting like? Was it crowded and claustrophobic or spacious? What was the lighting like?

Writing it all down and adding to your inventory

Now that you have a bank of inspiration from your experience/s sentences, begin to jot down notes and words.

Do you have a character in mind that you can project a similar emotion onto in order to push your storyline forward?

Did they feel the emotion from somebody else or did they elicit it?

What was their subsequent reaction?

If you’re unsure, begin to plot down possibilities. You don’t need to have a clear outcome from these exercises. They are merely designed to provide a source of information which you can draw from at any time.

Forcing your character into action

Now take yourself out of the scenario and transfer it to a prospective character. You can have a character in mind or create one. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a main character at all.

Think about what triggers their emotions? Is it the same factors which trigger yours? If not how are they different?

Think about where your character can go with this. Brainstorm the possibilities for embedding this into scenes or storylines. It could be a minor part of one scene or could be a major conflict which creates the story arch. It is all dependent on what you gain from this exercise of digging from past conflicts.

Turning reality into fiction

It takes a box of odds and ends to embellish a work in progress. Taking the good with the bad ensures that you’re collecting resources to draw from at all times. So how will you react to an unsavoury situation next time? Jot it down and think about how you can transfer it to your work in some small way. You can even file it away for future use if it doesn’t fit into your existing work in progress. Is there a situation that you can think of which could inspire your current work? Tell me in the comments below!

WRITING FOOD INTO FICTION

Recently I’ve been thinking about the significance of writing food into fiction. Yes, that arguably minute detail that often gets neglected in a story. But is it so minute? Eating plays an integral role in most people’s lives whether our relationship with it be problematic or the joie de vivre. For me it’s a little of both, however that hasn’t stopped me from appreciating descriptions of food as a book lover over the years and incorporating it into my own fiction writing.

A CLOSER LOOK AT FOOD IN FICTION

This fixation with descriptions of food in fiction came about when I read books as a child and began to associate feelings with the descriptions. Feelings which I still distinctly remember today. For example, I have a vivid memory of reading The Perfect Hamburger by Alexander McCall Smith as a ten-year-old in class one day before lunch time. The vivid descriptions of the character’s pursuit to make the perfect hamburger with the right selection of ingredients had my stomach rumbling and made me crave burgers! That precious memory has never left me and it’s all owed to the ‘minutiae’ of food in fiction. Who says that a fiction story has to be all plot and characters? I would argue that the subtle ways in which they relate to something such as food really can offer a broader sense of who a character is and offers yet another branch for analysis for book lovers.

EXAMPLES OF FOOD IN FICTION AND NON-FICTION

Through the often-overlooked lens of gastronomy, we get to understand what it is that drives a character, how they react to scenarios, how organised or disorganised they are or even how healthy their bank balance is. For example, The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s non-fictional ethnographic pursuits into the life of the working class of Northern England led him to the home of the Brookers. His description of breakfast in their home included a ‘pale fried egg’ and bread and butter which ‘always had thumb-marks on it.’ I always found the vivid description of the food utterly repulsive yet brilliant in communicating the squalid nature of his lodging abode. On the contrary ‘runny fried eggs’ are used in Toni Morrison’s Beloved as main narrator Denver recounts a second-hand story about her absent father and how ‘a plate of soft fried eggs was Christmas to him.’ Food becomes the medium through which we understand the distance between herself and her father and how this distance metaphorically becomes smaller with an endearing recount about his favourite food. This makes him appear more present and attached to her life in some meaningful way, however trivial.

HOW I WRITE FOOD INTO FICTION

As a writer who is a self-confessed foodie, I find it hard not to write food into my fiction. There is something comforting about rendering an appealing description of food into a scene. It’s almost like a piece offering to a character, something for them to relish. I must admit, upon reflection, I don’t seem to incorporate unpleasant experiences of food or food of an unappealing nature in general. Certainly nothing like the disgusting bread and butter offering Orwell received in The Road to Wigan Pier. A consistent pattern that I have spotted in my works is that food represents relationships. In my upcoming collection of short stories, food consistently rears its head. In one story, a family express their gratitude when the husband returns home with soggy bags of fish and chips, especially the burdened housewife who no longer needs to cook. In another short story I have written about Post-Natal depression, a new mother has forgotten to cook and love expresses itself when her empathetic husband takes over and gently suggests they pick a take-away of her choice instead. Elsewhere in the collection an estranged mother and daughter have a brief run-in over what they are going to order, a detail I used to represent the awkwardness of their encounter. The mother eventually settles on what the daughter is having, showing a willingness to cooperate and make the meeting run smoothly. Here food moves away from being a medium of pleasure to more of a negotiation barometer of how much are we going to get on today? As a writer I definitely find food to be an alluring tool to map out relationships that characters have with themselves and their issues and how this arises from the presence of food or whether food becomes a remedy to aid this. The latter becomes apparent in one of my stories where a woman battling a failing relationship and disused gym membership turns to food for comfort.

FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD

I find descriptions of appealing bites to eat too difficult not to include and as a reader feel it enhances the experience in a very subtle sensory way which can sometimes be taken for granted. As a booklover, the small details really catch my attention so if a protagonist is in a café, I want to know what they’re having. On a superficial level it adds decoration to a scene. It’s oddly satisfying to be privy to the contents of a character’s meal. For me, the more attractive the better as opposed to the mundane or repulsive.

CHARACTERISATION AND FOOD

On a deeper level it can add to the characterisation aspect of a story. For example, if a character has chosen to eat something superfluously indulgent or on the contrary meagre, It leads us to think about why this is the case. Simply writing food into fiction can inform us about the underlying circumstances of a character and of an extra layer of intrigue. It can support the theory that a character is greedy, self-medicating, rich, broke or whatever else the writer is attempting to convey through their choice of words.

A SPECIAL PLACE FOR FOOD

Food will always have a special place in my writing. It’s too interesting not to and I’m sure many (well, perhaps a humble percentage) of my fellow writers would agree. Additionally, as a bookworm I am certainly grateful for the morsels offered up in my favourite reads. Let me propose this to my bookworms out there: the next time a scene includes a description of food, don’t skim over it. Think closely about what is being signified, it might sound boring but it could actually enrich your reading experience! Seriously, try it. I promise it won’t bite.  

Why I Love Literary Fiction

There are so many reasons to love Literary Fiction, the first being that it does not fit inside the distinct markers of a genre such as Science Fiction or Romance. Literary Fiction does not come complete with the plot conventions of some of our well-loved commercial fiction. Take Romance for instance: boy meets girl, they fall in love, something or someone gets in the way, a struggle ensues and they find themselves in each other’s arms again. I mean they don’t all go specifically like this but you get the general gist of the plotline. You can pick up any Romance novel and expect to see the same linear narrative plot- nothing wrong with that and millions of avid Romance readers would definitely agree that there is comfort in the predictability of a certain type of storyline. However, with Literary Fiction you get to go down the rabbit hole of gritty realism and what could be better than that? You get to let yourself go without any expectation about where the storyline will go. It reads like a sobering fly on the wall documentary and really offers food for thought in its best moments.

It Acts as a Panoramic Lens

Literary fiction zooms a panoramic lens into the mind of the protagonist and we see how they deal with the challenges that they face. Take Pauline Breedlove in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for instance. She is the burdened wife of redundant and abusive drunk, Cholly Breedlove. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she takes refuge in the cinema and immerses herself into the romanticised notions of love offered by white Hollywood movies with their glamorous starlets and debonair suitors. The escapist glamour procured from her cinema trips ends abruptly however, when she loses her tooth, an apt symbolism of her youth and beauty. She finally gives up on this notion and focuses her attention on being a superlative domestic servant for a white family, whose home she appropriates as a new source of romanticism. It is the focus on the human condition and mapping out the way in which characters navigate their social landscapes that makes Literary Fiction so compelling as a genre. Getting firmly between the pages of a Literary Fiction novel, you potter about in the character’s shoes, begin to hate their nemeses and even taste their supper. You get to assume a warts and all position firmly within the lives of the characters and as a reader, that is a very privileged place to be.

It Can Get Uncomfortable

Of course, as with any other genre, there are downsides to being an avid reader of Literary Fiction. It requires having an unconditional relationship with a story that often has a bumpy ride and this can be uncomfortable. Take for example a scenario in the world of Romance or Chick Lit: Rosie has had a series of unsuccessful relationships and has given up on love. We observe her quest for such through a series of comical mishaps with a chatty best friend in tow and a hypercritical but somehow harmless mother. Rosie however, is lucky because she is the main character of a Romance or Chick Lit novel and so these genre conventions dictate that she finally gets her man in the end.

Now let us envision the sombre world of Marta. She has had a string of unsuccessful relationships owed to the fact that she had an abusive father who often spent all of the family’s earnings at the bar or in the betting shop. She suffers from severe bouts of depression and lives life through a gloomy lens. The story is littered with constant descriptions of squalor and poverty. As a reader there is little to find funny about her predicament and to make it worse, just when you think she has found Mr Right it turns out that he has a family on the other side of the world and by the end of the novel has left her to return there. Sigh. This is what I mean about Literary Fiction requiring you to have an unconditional relationship with the story. We may not like the dark twists and turns that it takes. Moreover, these moves are downright unpredictable and I can understand the predictable plotline patterns that genre fiction enthusiasts have come to love and look out for over and over again.

The heaviness of the themes in Literary fiction may be unsettling to some and that’s why I as a booklover enjoy mixing my genres depending on my mood. Not everyone wants to be forced to witness the trauma of human hardship and strife, often without a tangible happy ending but one that’s often centred on the main character’s melancholic reflection on their grim predicament. For me however, it is the flouting of a perfect end resolution that makes Literary Fiction so attractive. It makes it all the more real and thus more interesting.

It Zooms in on the Ugly Underbelly of Life

When I was a child, I would spot someone in public and wonder who they were, where they were going and who was waiting for them to come home. Reading a novel within this genre is like zooming in on a real person and for a curious being like myself, it’s an alluring factor. That there are a million Pauline Breedloves in the world makes the novel a more attractive read. It isn’t a far-fetched tale that requires me to use my imagination when I’m too tired before bed or acts as a light read that leaves me wanting to know more of the nitty gritty. Literary Fiction gets into the ugly underbelly of a novel and doesn’t succumb to the pressure of tying the ends into a neat resolution at the finale. It is this sense of unapologetic realism that makes it so attractive.