Monday Motivation: Stories and characters for those who pay attention

 In All About Writing, Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

I’ve been writing a little fable about the adventures of Bella and Basil who’ve been charged with looking after a bookshop in Wigtown for a couple of weeks. The inspiration for each twist and turn in the story has been supplied by customers who (less frequently than we’d like) pop in to browse and (very occasionally) buy a book from the real shop which we’ve been book-sitting for the last ten days.

It’s been a conscious exercise in using reality to provoke fiction – and by and large I’ve been happy with the result.

A very friendly hand-maker of miniature books has been transformed into a wizard of sorts who delivers into the hands of our protagonists a small book of spells…

A peripatetic rider of the buses in the area (buses are free to pensioners), hardly needed any tweaking: without additional adornment, he is a character who’d find his place in any book of curiosities. He has a backpack, a bumbag and various other contrivances hanging from his person. His trousers are too big, and his belt is cinched too tightly. He wears a bean sporting the insignia of a Canadian rugby club. These are all the signs of an itinerant beggar, right? Except he’s far from that. Well-travelled (he spent three years in South America for one), well-read (he’s bought four books from our bookshop), and well-spoken (a little too logorrheic in fact, especially on the subject of rugby), he’s a genuine English eccentric.

A “tallish, and darkish, and slightly cadaverish” man turned into a stalker and potential serial killer with a taste for a gruesome range of accounts of the exploits of noted British mass murderers…

Or the man we met in a pub who, thanks to his encyclopaedic knowledge of Scotch whiskies and distilleries (he introduced us to the wonderfully named Auchentoshen) became our spiritual guide and advisor…

I suppose this is a theme I’ve returned to again and again over the years: that there are stories everywhere you look, and people simply begging to have a little cosmetic work done on them in order to emerge as memorable characters able to drive those stories forward.

The Machars – the area which Wigtown dominates in southern Galloway – is dotted with fantastical features: standing stones dating from the Bronze Age; the romantic remnants of ancient castles; seaside villages wrapped neatly around stone harbours; dark woods that close over your car as you plunge through them…

Each of these the kernel of a story, each of them an opportunity for any writer in search of inspiration…

All you have to do is… pay attention and ask that intensely writerly question: What if…?

And, possibly, book ahead for next year’s Wigtown Book Festival.

Happy writing,

Richard

From fact to fiction writing challenge

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