This is a brief commentary regarding a conversation I had in November 2017 with my old high school friend from the late ‘80s early ‘90s, Peter Richards. Peter has always been creative and has his fingers in short stories, poetry, brilliant artwork (he’s had showings and everything) and also music. I’ll link to Peter’s artist page at the end of the post. It’s always good to have a chat with Peter about writing, especially since we seem to share a similar dark and morbid sense of creativity. Sometimes it’s like he’s peering into my brain from the other side of the world (I’m in the UK, Peter is in Australia), which could be entirely possible in a creepy kind of way.
I’m using this post as an illustration of why communicating with others is so important in the writing process. You may think you need to lock yourself away from the real world and immerse yourself in your characters in order to write your masterpiece. While solitude certainly plays a role, it can also be harmful, not only to your overall psyche in the long run, but to your creativity.
If you find a person who ‘gets you’, please, do not hesitate to talk with them about your ideas. You might think you know your characters and where they are going, but I guarantee you will come to understand more information and develop ideas even through a short conversation or brainstorming session with another person. Your characters will become more rounded and start to become real people. You may also end up with further ideas for stories or series.
If you are worried about the other person stealing your ideas after speaking with you, they probably won’t. You know how much work it’s going to take you to make your ideas come to life, if the other person is so lazy they steal yours, chances are they are too lazy to bring them to fruition. If you are that worried, either find someone else to talk to because you obviously don’t trust the first person, register the copyright of a quick draft of your story, or get the person to sign an agreement saying they won’t use anything discussed in their own work (although they might not want to talk to you after that).
But you know what? Even if they do take some of the ideas and write something of their own, it’s not so terrible. There is no such a thing as an original idea. The two of you could start with the same idea and write two completely different things. You can’t copyright an idea (that’s why I said copyright a draft).
This conversation took place in Facebook chat in early November 2017. It began after I asked Peter to read the final draft of my short horror The Trunk, and feed me back on areas he thought needed improvement. Thankfully he liked the thing, and made some useful suggestions that I implemented. It did, however deviate (as often happens) to talking about my action/adventure paranormal novel series due out in mid-2018, so I’ve placed a spoiler alert part way through with some extra spaces and bold type so people are aware. I’ve also included the ‘end spoiler’ alert so people can pick up the post again afterwards if they want to skip those bits. Also a brief word of warning, there is one swear word starting with the letter ‘s’ towards the start of the transcript.
Peter: I loved it. You’ve captured the bush perfectly. Have we seen the last of Sarah?
Kat: Thanks. I’ve thought of doing a prequel for the next collection of short stories to show how the body got into the trunk in the first place. Is it a man, a woman, a spurned lover, an abuser, just for shits and giggles (which is sort of implied by the story)? What is the voice? Is it a part of Sarah’s psyche, or is it an invading entity of some kind? I could probably do a series based just on her.
P: It’d be interesting to see it from the point of view of a detective trying to link all of these seemingly separate murders and disappearances.
K: It would be, like a bush detective, works for years, drawing parallels with other random crimes. His colleagues think he is nuts, but then something happens…Are there any spots that need work, where you fell out of the story etc., or do you think it is ok as it is?
P: I think it is excellent. Maybe mention the colour of the dust or name some plants that have died off or are stubbornly holding on. It would help if you want to anchor it in a certain area when the detective is mapping the crimes later.
K: Ok, that’s a good idea about the dust, and I’ll stick in a few dead plants, the grass type the sheep ate, or perhaps a patch of stubborn prickly pear.
P: I don’t know if Sarah will be human or supernatural, but what about the idea that the detective was a survivor of hers when he was a child, and he’s seen her pop up again, same age years later?
K: That sounds interesting. Perhaps he, as the one who got away, compels her to keep killing, hoping that one day she will find him again to finish what she began.
P: Maybe she specifically needed to kill him, and starts killing again when he becomes a cop, in order to draw him in? She could be pulling the strings his whole life as ritual steps to survive, become an instrument of justice, get innocent blood on his hands etc.
K: So he is essentially her creation, her ‘child’. Even though they are always apart, the common thread of her killings binds them in ways the detective guy does not understand, but perhaps feels on an underlying level. When he does eventually track her down, he has done things he is not proud of, but she is, and he can’t help himself feeling pleased about her pride in him despite being disgusted with himself at the same time. It’s like the dark underbelly of a hero’s journey.
P: I like it. She gives his life meaning. In the end, he can choose to cross his moral boundaries and discover what that meaning is, or stop the killings. If he does stop her, all he’ll have left is unanswered questions and nothing gained. And if she has contingency plans, stopping her might be pointless anyway.
K: Yes, especially if he is her contingency plan.
P: If he joins her she wins. If he kills her, he becomes her and she wins anyway. Perhaps some of the killings along the way were the previous Sarah’s. So the forensics are all out of whack.
K: Hmmm, that would work if the voice was an entity, body hopping. Actually that would link well with another story I have based on that premise called The Girl in Broomstick Wood. I could do a Stephen King and link characters through common traits in different publications.
P: What if you don’t even notice the entity has entered your body at first? It starts as a voice and you think you are going crazy. Eventually as you feed it, your body changes until you’re completely Sarah.
K: So the entity continually strives to make itself appear as it originally was in life. Speaks to a longing for what has been lost. Could help the reader develop sympathy for the character?
P: And the detective is part of a family she pines for.
K: But has never known.
P: She’s eternal and eternally lonely. The only way she can hold onto someone is by merging with them, but even then they eventually fade away until it’s just her again.
K: The only way she would ever find peace is to somehow find a way to die.
P: But the body invasion is an involuntary reflex. She wants to die, but even if he isolates herself, eventually someone will stumble across her, or hunger will automate the hunting process. She wants the best possible life for the people, so she pushes them to do great things while they last. She is simultaneously every hero and every monster from human mythology.
There are now some references to my action/adventure with a paranormal twist novella series coming out from mid-2018. So you can look on the below as either easter eggs or spoilers, so I give warning.
K: We think too similarly. That is pretty much the description of one of my main novella series characters, historian Kamryn De La Vega. She is several hundred years old and in a symbiotic relationship with an ancient creature that feeds off human electromagnetic energy. Of course on a day to day basis she just seems odd, bookish and secretive, but that is how she survives. And she doesn’t have to kill as much anymore, the Spiritual movement allowed her to ‘pretend’ certain things and now she has a series of volunteers she contracts to feed her. But if she is caught in a tight spot, her bad side might slip out as a defense mechanism.
P: But grand cycles of conflict are how she ultimately survives?
K: Yes, essentially, she often gets tangled up in things that are bigger than she is whether by choice or happenstance, and is forced to use her symbiont to survive. She likes to think it is chance, but really each instance is fated.
P: Self-delusion as a coping mechanism.
K: Yes, each time she is faced with the reality of her situation she becomes a little more closed off. Until she meets my other main character, Alexandra Coleridge, who somehow manages after a while to see straight through her. It becomes a bit of a love/hate relationship with sexual undertones.
P: Loving that someone understands her, but hating that she makes her face herself.
K: Yes, and sometimes uses her when the situation demands it. I plan at least a four book series for them.
P: I’d read it based on that description.
K: Cool. The first two books are mainly an intro. We learn about Kamryn towards the end of the first, although there are hints. The second is after a ten year gap because Alex can’t deal with the idea of what Kamryn is, but then they are forced by circumstance back together. Books three and four will be up and down, manipulative, fighting against their own natures etc. I’ve not thought too much beyond the first two.
P: Is your Snake Goddess book a part of this arc?
K: Yes, Alastor is the start. The opening scene is a witchcraft trial where a spirit escapes. One of the women at the trial is Kamryn, she gravitated to the healers and wise women of folklore because it was easier for her to exist in that circle. But when the witch craze got out of control, she had to go underground. She doesn’t pop up again until we meet her in 1927. She is a historian because she has lived history, and she is intimately aware of the thing Alex has found in the old York church.
End of easter eggs / spoilers.
The one thing people will notice most out of this transcript is the amount of times we use the words ‘if’, ‘maybe’, or ‘perhaps’. This is classic development strategy. The great thing about discussing it with another person is you are forced to answer the questions then and there to keep the conversation flowing. It often amazes me the amount of information that simply comes pouring out, seemingly out of nowhere. This conversation I had with Peter took place over about three hours but it felt like three minutes. I think we both got a little lost in it all, which is proof of two things, 1) Time is relative, and 2) Writing is wonderful.
What else did I take away from the discussion? Even though I have finished writing the short story, I have learned more about my character, so much in fact, that I now understand her voice is still alive in my head. I won’t go off and immediately write another piece with her in it. I’ll let the ideas Peter and I talked about sit in the back of my mind and stew while I work on other things.
I don’t want to start writing Sarah again so soon after finishing this story because her next appearance should feel fresh and re-invite readers to join her adventures. If I wrote more of her now, she will not have had enough time to grow as a character (in my head) from the experiences in The Trunk. She’ll let me know when the time is right. I’ll wake up one morning and her voice will be there, bright and clear saying a line or two.
Another thing, talking about your writing with another person who ‘gets you’ is a great way of finding the point of your in progress story of novel. Often you discover themes you had not thought of when you were writing. If you have been having difficulty identifying your themes they may suddenly pop out at you and you’ll wonder why you didn’t figure it out before. I don’t always start a story with a theme in mind. I start knowing the story will be say…dark, or involve yearning, a fight for something lost, but not necessarily what or how, I tend to let it grow organically as I write. Although that’s not for everyone. If you are a plotter and outliner, working your themes out from the start might be better for you.
As promised, here is the link to Peter’s Artist Facebook page.
Also, if you would like a FREE copy of The Trunk, sign up to my e-mail list and grab the file from the free downloads page.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll respond personally as quickly as I can. Also if you fancy any of Peter’s artwork (I recommend his clocks), I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.