• William Knight

How do writers make dull things interesting?

Choosing a location for your book has much more to do with what you know than with what you imagine. This is because what we imagine is always wrapped in what we know. How could it be otherwise?

How is it possible to create alien worlds, buildings and locations that don’t have some basis in what we already understand? Dream them up from some unique and exceptional configuration of neurons? I don’t think so.

But we can take ideas that we already know; locations, characters, events, science, theories etc. and throw them together in outrageous combinations. Douglas Adams was inspirational at this in his Hitchhiker series. For example, an everyday restaurant that happens to be located at the end of the universe. He knew about restaurants, and he knew that the universe would one day end, all there was left was to put them together.

I love to think that I have tried similar tricks in my latest book, XYZ. The anti-hero, Jack Cooper, is pretty ordinary by most standards -- he’s a middle-aged man in the midst of family trouble and facing his own mortality written on stone of underachievement -- but throw this banal character into a modern, hip, trendy technology company where conversations take place through the exchange of emojis, and optimism is the religion, and you have situations ripe with grumpiness, alienation, incompetence and misunderstanding. He’s most definitely a smelly fish out of the plastic wrap.

It was said that David Bowie used to throw interesting words into a hat and pull them out randomly to find creative, lyrical devices. Corinthian, chameleon and caricature, for example. And this is because an injection of randomness can help create unique combinations that the pathways of our in-grained thought processes cannot possibly imagine.

This was a deliberate act for Bowie, and I think for writers too, forcing randomness is important. For me, that included meeting gender neutral and trans-gender folk, talking to people who dressed as animals at the weekend and working in a hip young technology firm. All this experience provided rich locations and a character backdrop for Jack Cooper to experience.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but randomly mixing up your truths can give you the strangest fiction of all.


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