When I talk about writing, and my own version of it, I talk about beginning with ‘what if’ and going on from there. But sometimes I ask myself other questions. Questions such as, what would I kill to protect? What is the one thing we all need? How would I feel if … ? I have to get inside my main character to be able to write my story.
Another useful question to ask yourself when embarking on a new project – or I should say – when looking for a new project – is ‘what am I afraid of?’
Fear can be a terrible, paralysing emotion. But conversely it can galvanise you into action like nothing else on earth. It can be a useful, creative tool. Sit down in a quiet corner and ask yourself in all honesty, ‘what am I afraid of?’ Getting too ill to care for myself? Losing a loved one? Losing my mind? Not being able to pay the bills? Being paralysed? Home invasion? I think most of us fear these big things. But what about small, more intimate fears? Fear of losing your hair? Fear of being stuck in a job you hate for twenty years or more? Fear of not being able to turn the cheek one more time? Other fears? Spiders? Worms?
What about childhood fears? Fear of the dark? Fear of statues and scarecrows? Loved one replaced by a very convincing robotic double that only you can detect? Dr Who has so much to answer for! Murderous clowns – thank you Stephen King! What about getting lost? I can remember losing my mother in a supermarket many years ago and I sobbed as the nice store manager asked me what she looked like – and with a child’s real terror I wailed ‘I can’t remember!’ I remember this with absolute clarity 48 years after it happened. (For Spock’s Beard fans – the chilling, relatable vulnerability of the child who says ‘Mummy comes back/She always comes back to get me.’ Because if Mummy doesn’t, that is something too terrible to contemplate. For me to write a book around that would have me in therapy within an hour.)
What about fantastical things that frighten us as adults and as children: Ghosts? Goblins? Witches? Aliens? Bats? Spiders? Sharks? Snakes? Crocodiles? Scorpions? Cockroaches? (See my post from a couple of weeks ago about cockroaches!) Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of fear, basically. We are told fear itself is the worst kind of fear. But there is something else. If I were to base a short story on an old fear, a primitive fear, a childhood horror, it would be the fear of being alone.