Thursday 15 March 2012

The Power of Words

Isn't it funny how words can elicit such emotion? Whether they're written, spoken or sung, they have the power - often literally - of life and death. "Will you marry me?", "Guilty.", "I'm leaving you." In a crown court, you swear on the bible and that makes your spoken testimony admissible. In church, you say "I do" and you are supposedly bound for the rest of your life to the person next to you.

Songs are the same. Even just a snatch - a line or a few bars can instantly transport you to a certain event, place or time, with often no discernible reason for the association. A particular hymn, for example, always reminds me of swimming lessons in my local pool when I was about 7 or 8. I have no idea why my brain makes this connection or what set that neural path way back. Some songs are much easier to make sense of - certain songs will remind me of teenage slow dances, or the New Year party  when I was 16 and first met a 21 year-old, who I was hopelessly and - I suspect - unrequitedly in love with for a long time (yes, we've all been there, haven't we?).

Is it the same with books? There are passages in novels I can read over and over, without reading the whole book. It's just the combination of words that sets something off in my mind. Or scenes that are so powerful you remember them for a long time afterwards. Yes, I'm thinking here of people like you: M McRae and Laura Jarrett, writers I've read very recently who can make scenes and characters so believable and alive that I'm sure they actually are. If enough people believe in something, does that make it true?

As a writer you have to think this way. To make a character come alive on the page, he or she has to be real to you first. And when a character shows up in your story - often unannounced - and demands to be listened to is when the story takes on a life of its own. This can often be difficult - right now I feel like I am living two lives. One where I go to work and build pretty twiddly bits on computers, then come home, look after family etc. And one where I'm a part of something else entirely and my job is to faithfully record events as they unwind. Sometimes it's not even the writing - it's the listening and talking to the characters, finding out what makes them tick that's all a part of the process. Take today - I haven't written a word of the current novel, but I've had some fascinating discussions with the voices in my head and I know where they've been, where they are going and why.

Either than or I'm completely mad.

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