I was sitting in a café during my morning break, staring out of the window, with my notebook open., and I decided that it might be fun, and a change of gear, to write something non-genre. A straightforward contemporary story. I don’t like the term Literary Fiction, which makes the books sound as though you need a degree to read them. This would be something like an Ann Tyler novel. An ordinary person- that is, a character who doesn’t think of himself/herself as anything special, and whom society doesn’t class as special, either- undergoing the sorts of problems which you or I might undergo.
I scribbled airily that I would base the hero on myself around the age of 20, when I began my first job; and that what the hero wants is to get a girlfriend. And that’s all I’ve got- three sentences. I don’t even call it an idea, although it hints at a character and hints at a goal, and hints at obstacles to achieving that goal. Apart from that, I don’t know anything else. The last thing I want to write is straight autobiography. I don’t know if the hero is going to get a girlfriend, or if the girlfriend will make him happy.
Yet at the moment, I feel hope. I can’t wait to open my notebook again tomorrow, and try to bring this character into focus.
I thought long and hard about basing a hero on myself. John Braine, in his How to Write a Novel, warns you against it, and I suspect that he’s right. But I don’t know many people well; and, of the people I do know well, I don’t like many of them; and the people whom I know well and like are out of boubds to me as models for fictional characters.
I realize that I’m in danger of losing objectivity about my hero. What I’m hoping is that the person I was at 20 is different to the person I am at 51. What I want to do is to write biographies of the main characters before I begin writing the first draft; and then, once I’ve written that first draft, to revise and revise it until I’m able to get someone to publish it, two areas of writing in which I want to get better.