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Finding the Stories Behind the Stories
One of the things I enjoy as a reader is to picture the characters from the imagination of the author. It’s something I’ve done from an early age. I imagined Smiler’s empathy with the cheetah in The Runaways by Victor Canning and of how Charlotte discovers the comforts of her own world after seeing life through the eyes of Clare in Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. Understanding the complexities of these struggles through the mind of the author creates a situation that places the books somewhere between fiction and reality. How much of the author’s own experiences shaped their characters?
In a recent review of A Parallel Trust a reader made reference to the relationship between my young characters, Aril and Unity, as they embark on their quest to find (what they believe is) Clifton’s treasure. The reader described their relationship as ‘innocently honest’ and felt that their friendship was free from cliché, being ‘deep, without feeling contrived’. I’m happy the reader picked up on this.
Many books I’ve read develop relationships that move too fast or cultivate love triangles as soon as their relationship gets physical. I believe ‘young love’ has an innocence that’s lost in the drunken-social world of adult life. I recently read a conversation on the Nerdfighteria forum, discussing the dating trend of sleep-with-them-first-and-hope-it-works-out. At sixteen there is an endearing ignorance about how dating works. Self-doubt, fear of rejection and the need for friendship slows down that smash-and-grab evolution of dating, and as a writer you can be more honest. This also means you can enhance the wonder and help the reader gain more empathy with the characters.
I enjoyed writing A Parallel Trust but I realised as I finished, how much I’d miss my young characters. I felt a compelling urge to keep them alive – write my own fan-fiction. I often drifted off to sleep thinking about how their relationship would have developed after the book ends and what experiences they would have together.
Those daydreams triggered my own memories. I understood that Aril was part of my young self; the way I felt about a particular female friend when I was his age. Unrequited feelings – or so I thought. I left it too late to explain how I felt when I was with her or the emptiness I felt every time we parted. I used those feelings and experiences to create the alternate reality of my own youth in Aril and Unity.
With fine art, you are encouraged to explore the artist’s mind. You look for characterisation in portraits – it’s why The Mona Lisa is so captivating – or how you can feel Van Gogh’s pain through his work. Next time you read a book, take a step outside the story and think of what inspired the author to write the characters as they did. It’s fun.
There’s always a personal story hidden behind the written story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Stoddah is a UK novelist and regular Huffington Post blogger. He has written two contemporary treasure hunt mysteries, Ring of Conscience and A Parallel Trust, and created the Melodema online treasure hunt.
For more information visit www.jamesstoddah.com or find on social media, including @JamesStoddah on Twitter.