It’s funny how the same theme can pop up over and again, apparently by pure coincidence. I’ve been in conversations with writers, talking about progress on current projects and a regular (largely humorous) complaint is but real life got in the way this week. I know we’re only larking around, and I have my fair share of Real Life(TM) getting in the way, but it got me thinking – this is not a coincidence, it’s the wrong way of looking at things.
Firstly, ignore the implied pretension that writing is more important than real life. Whatever gets your blood moving will always be more important than the necessary chores of daily existence.
Secondly – Real Life(TM) is the most important resource a writer can have. Yes, it pays the bills, gets the laundry done and all that, but real life is the fundamental building block of our existence, with so many uses.
Thirdly – Apparently using Real Life in your writing is a proper Thing now, but it’s called Slice Of Life, which sounds more like a pizza serving suggestion.
Why would I ever use Real Life? I write crazy stuff about time travelers, alien beasts and a fictional English town where demons walk at night, doing unspeakable things with chocolate flakes. Any hint of real life there is surely going to set off a fictional allergy attack that will leave my books coughing up their final chapter through the prologue.
That fictional town of mine – it’s inspired by bits of a place where I lived for years, along with scraps of the nearby town where I now do my shopping. It has all the geographical continuity of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (I’m not knocking the movie – Morgan Freeman was fantastic). Yes, there’s a lot of fiction stitching it together, but the town and my characters are sucked straight out of Real Life. (And then thoroughly chewed until there’s no visible sign of Real Life.)
It doesn’t matter whether you are writing bizarre fantasy, or fictionalising a true story, there is nothing like a hefty infusion of Real Life to make it more convincing. A reviewer said some complimentary things about the believability of my characters, but the real point is I that have met them, and not just in my head. No one character is a single individual from my Real Life, but like my fictional town, each one contains a bunch of reality glued together with fiction.
No matter how realistic or fanciful your story is, Real Life ingredients are an inspiration, a valuable background canvas, and a taste of the familiar to help your readers connect. Yes, Real Life gets in the way and is pretty much impossible to get around, but that just means you’re not looking at it the right way. Real Life is someone in front of you at the bus stop. Say hello, start a conversation, and perhaps find yourself in a fulfilling long-term relationship with Real Life(TM).
That bus is only going to get you to the office or the shops. Real Life can show you stories. And it can show you how to tell them.
In spite of all of that, I’m still going to joke about Real Life getting in the way of my writing. It’s that sort of relationship.
OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.
He can be found online at his blog (writeedge.blogspot.com), his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media thing (tw: @MarkH_J, fb: @MarkHuntleyJames)