Method Writing

Last night, author, Shaun Jeffrey who recently published his fifth novella, The Heist, treated us to the opening chapter of the novel he’s currently working on. With five novels also under his literary belt, Shaun’s latest work centres around a writers group with a difference. Without giving away any of his plot ideas one of his passages of dialogue had a character saying something all writers hear regularly, that nugget, ‘write what you know’. This led to some discussion about this recurring phrase, and one of our writing group members jokingly said, “What if we had to become method writers?”

Before becoming a freelance writer, I spent my career in the acting and theatre business which meant I was always coming across actors who referred to themselves as ‘method’, a phrase I’ve always thought was complete nonsense. Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis claims to use, method as his way of getting under the skin of a character, but my argument has always been, it doesn’t matter how much immerse yourself  into another persons way of life, you’ll never fully achieve their mind-set, as personality is to complex to replicate.

maq escrever web

I understand why people often tell writers embarking on their first piece of fiction to write, what they know. A fledgling writer has enough to contend with, without becoming bogged down in research and imagination traps. Therefore it’s easier to cut their novelist teeth on something they are fully conversant with. I agree that we all possibly write, what we know anyway, but it’s how we structure that knowledge that leads us onto writing about the unknown. Therefore I don’t think that the, write what you know tag is appropriate for accomplished writers. Take Shaun for instance, he grew up in a house within a cemetery, and his first novels are on the darker side of life, in the horror genre; a perfect example of writing about, what you know. Having never lived in a cemetery, I’d struggle to write about the atmosphere and environment, but for Shaun it came easy. However his latest novella, The Heist, begins with a robbery and murder at a UK theme park. Now I’m fairly certain that Mr Jeffery didn’t undertake a cold-blooded attack on the finance office of Alton Towers, in fact he’s such an accomplished writer that he was able to put the scenario together with a little research and his imagination. So it goes to show that it’s not always about writing, what you know, and with enough dedication and imagination it’s possible to write convincingly about, what you don’t know.      Click the link to go to The Heist’s Facebook page

One character in Shaun’s new novel asks another, if he has ever stolen anything, the response is, no and the inquisitor then asks him how he can write about stealing if he’s never experienced it? It’s a valid question, but we cannot as writers be expected to have experienced everything we choose to write about. I don’t imagine the prolific UK author, Peter James has actually murdered anyone, but using research, imagination and his excellent style, he pens many a realistic demise to characters in his Inspector Grace series of novels.

My current novel, 52, is about a sixty-year old woman dealing with secondary breast cancer and a prognosis of a twelve-month life expectancy. The story follows her throughout the twelve months as she undertakes to experience things for the first time. Now I’m neither sixty nor a woman, but I have experience of first-time events to draw from for my story, the rest is down to empathetic writing and a belief that I understand my character completely. I have no knowledge of what it’s like to have breast cancer, but have spoken to enough people who have, to gain an understanding of their emotive responses and when this is coupled with my character’s social and economic environment, which I do have experience of, it leads to; I hope, believable story-telling.

Click the link to go to Shaun’s website for links to his books and blog.

(Royalty free image used)

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3 Responses to Method Writing

  1. There’s an interesting article on this in the new issue of Mslexia – white writers writing black characters, straight writers writing gay characters and able-bodied writers writing disabled characters and vice versa. Their ‘trespassers’ code’ is worth bearing in mind – do your research, take your time, be thoughtful, be ethical, be brave, check your facts, don’t obsess about difference and champion other writers from that world – although most (and perhaps all) of those apply to any writing.

    • barrylillie says:

      Interesting, I met a writer who once told me she’d like to introduce a lesbian character to her novel, but she said she couldn’t because she had no idea what a lesbian’s sex life was like. I told her, unless the sexual relationship is important to the story, to concentrate on the same emotions her other characters would have, rather than obsess about a characters sex life.

  2. Pingback: Where do our memories come from | Tim Diggles

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