And so it comes to this, Insiders. My sojourn down Inside a Dog has come to an end. In this, my farewell post, I want to talk about creating fictional characters, and engaging with them as readers. To do so, I’m going to focus closely on point of view (POV for short).
In the Gospel of Writing According to Julie, the first rule of fiction is this:
1. Stories need characters who want something they can’t have.
The second rule is like unto it:
2. You should pile those characters with problems that seem impossible to solve.
One of the reasons I like being a writer is that I get to do my work all by myself. (Almost. Not quite. More on that in a sec.)
When I was a kid in school, I hated group projects. I begged my way out of them whenever possible. “I’ll do twice the work,” I would plead. “Three times. Four. Only don’t make me collaborate, pleeeeeeze!” The truth was, I was a bossy little snobby-pants who didn’t like compromising. I didn’t want somebody else to miss a deadline and lower my grade. Bottom line: I didn’t play nicely with others.
Time is never on my side.
Take, for instance, the time difference between me, in Los Angeles, and readers from Melbourne. If my math is correct, we are 18 hours apart. That means, if I say to myself, “Hey, time for another Inside a Dog blog post. I wonder what time it is there,” I look it up and find that it’s two weeks from Tuesday. Maybe not quite, but it’s usually late in the day, tomorrow. Eek!
Did you grow up with your parents playing this game on your tootsies like I did?
Greetings, fellow Insiders. I decided that for today's post, instead of blathering about the writing process, I would simply write some short fiction. I hope you'll follow suit. I'm always telling aspiring writers to write what is obvious to them. What could be more obvious here, I thought, than to write a story that took place inside a dog?
My author stationery reads, “From the desk of Julie Berry,” with a gargoyle reading a book. (It’s my mascot. If sports teams can have one, why can’t I?)
What’s actually on my desk (as illustrated above by my sister, illustrator Sally Gardner, who also made my mascot): a gargoyle a friend brought me from Paris. A brass Aladdin’s lamp from Turkey, because a friend knew I was writing a genie story. Piles of papers. Mounds of stationary and stamps. Oodles of office supplies, because who doesn’t love office supplies? Pens, pencils, paper clips, post-its, notebooks, folders. Cheese stick wrappers. (The greatest occupational hazard of my job is Death By Cheese. When my mind wanders, I follow it to the fridge.) Cough drops. A boatload of gum, cinnamon and spearmint. Bills. My son’s school artwork. Photos of my family and friends. A cereal bowl with just a few Cheerios floating in the milk puddle at the bottom. A big bag of marbles, just waiting for me to find something fun to do with them. Tumbleweed puffs of cat hair.
Here I sit, surrounded by all this glamour, in my gym clothes, feeling oh-so professional.
But if books have taught us nothing else, it’s that appearances are deceiving. Here’s what’s on my mental desk – my writing to-do list, in order of priority, in order of deadlines:
- Making final revisions to my next YA novel, which is set during the Middle Ages.
- Re-reading a literary classic, which I plan to adapt for very young readers.
- Finishing a middle-grade fantasy novel I started a few years ago.
- Diving into a long list of middle grade project ideas and choosing one. Contemporary? Historical? Futuristic? We’ll see.
- Coming up with a new idea for my next young adult novel. This may involve me lurking at a fast-food restaurant for ambience, trying to resist the French fries.
- Bonus list if I get to it: tinker with some picture book ideas, maybe brainstorm a little about a few movie or TV show ideas.
It’s not a bad job, is it? I feel lucky every day that I get to make ideas my life.
What’s on your desk? What’s in your backpack? Are your physical spaces a cluttered mess? Take heart! Perhaps your mind teems with ideas.
As far as I can tell, creativity springs from chaos. The universe swirled into being via a colossally explosive mess. Life begets life in a similarly messy way. The artists and writers I know can’t always find their calendars or their keys, but something loud and messy is generally brewing inside.
To be fair, I also have known writers and artists who are exceptionally orderly, whose inner and outer feng shui are absolutely tip-top. I salute them. I envy them. I will never be like them. I’m okay with that.
Either way, whether you create from serenity or from turbulence, the most important idea remains: Creation demands that you clear a space, by shoving the cheese wrappers on the floor if you must. Grab some paper and a pen, or a computer, and write something down. Draw something. Siphon the burbling stew of ideas from within you out, drop by drop, and give them each a physical (digital? Binary?) representation in the real world. Sketch something. Scribble something. Jot some words in your notebook of ideas. And then keep going with it.
Where am I? Somewhere over Arkansas. (Remember Carmen Sandiego?)
Today is a sad day. It’s my last Inside a Dog post. The madness has come to an end. Excuse me while I sob uncontrollably. On a positive note, I’ve got lots for you today, including the announcement of the winner of my first line competition! But first, I thought I would give some of my favourite bloggers the privilege of asking me some questions. Well, actually, I begged them.