Time for a story

Time for a story

Choose someone quite ordinary but someone you can observe for a few moments. Someone you don’t know. Another person in a restaurant where you are eating, or someone on a bus or train who you can see for a short while. Have enough time for you to remember the main details of the person – age, sex, taste in clothes, apparently wealthy or poor. Shoes, if you can get a glance at them, are always interesting but interpreting them is tricky. Accessories including handbags and shopping carriers are good clues, too. Choose these few indicators about the person as you might choose colours for a painting you were contemplating. Don’t write them down, but if you want to dictate a few notes quietly into your handphone, please do so.

It’s not essential to have a record of your notes, Your memory will yield up the main ones when you need them. You are going to write a story. Why? Because in our rush to keep up to date we are forgetting the art of storytelling. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren will miss that when they want to look at your life and a record of the times in which you lived. Your story is going to be a fiction about the person you spotted. It will start with a very broad plot – but don’t get put off by that, just an outline of what is going to happen to this person, his friends and family.

Let your imagination out of its cage. I say ‘cage’, rather than ‘box’, because your memory is alive and you don’t keep live creatures in a box. Your mind isn’t a rapacious tiger – though it can be for some people – more a fit and healthy being that at times can be rather timid. Well, it’s not going to be timid now. It’s going to take the person you spotted and turn him or her into an adventure, possibly even a crime story or something completely the opposite. The only requirement is that whatever they are, they are exaggerated. Make them bigger than life.

Perhaps they live in a palace but don’t have enough ready money to dress and drive like a Prince. Maybe they are a top surgeon who resents paying for whatever activity your chosen model was doing. Maybe the next day they are leaving for Nepal to climb Everest, or diving to the maximum depth a human body can stand. Maybe they are falling in love, or could do so if the right person crossed their path. Imagine them running a bootleg or an illicit gambling den. Have they turned a perfectly innocent teenager’s game into a lure to solicit people to carry drugs?

On the other hand they could be a spy, now you come to think of it. Invest your imagination in this character for a while. Jot down some phrases about, or by, him or her that you can use later on. Things they might say or do a little out of the ordinary. It’s easier to write something highly imaginative rather than the pedestrian events of life. Start writing when you feel like it. You must get your reader caught in the first few lines of your story. Readers are attracted initially by the title – but leave that until you’ve finished – and possibly involve someone else to help you with it.

Make sure that, when you reach the point at which you think the reader will turn the page, there is something more they want or need to know, and which only appears on the next page. Page turners are vital about every four or five hundred words. You will probably be editing your story so don’t worry about getting your page turner in the right place. Make the story flow. Don’t reveal the end of it until you get there. The denouement is when the reader discovers the reason for reading it. Good if it can be a one-page story but perfectly all right is you want it to be longer. Don’t write for metrics, write for pleasure.

Try this a few times and you will get the hang of it. If you want to send me a draft I will read it and give you very frank comments. I’ll have to limit that offer to the first five I receive. Send to john.bittleston@terrificmentors.com.

Or perhaps it was a dog you spotted or a wild animal at the zoo, or a mouse in the cupboard under the sink. You can write about any of them – but remember that the less human they are the more difficult it is to write about them. But please, oh please, do write a story. There are more books now than ever before. Sadly, a lot of them aren’t worth reading.

But I bet yours will be.