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Creative Writing - Seeing the Stories in Life Part II - Meeting Your Characters
This hub is a continuation of my previous hub, Creative Writing: Seeing the Stories in Life, which was intended to portray the concept of 'show, don't tell' in writing, and to explore the depths of characters which may initially be seen as a blank canvas.
Have you ever stood in someone else's shoes....really stood, and watched and listened, and felt the imprints of another person's toes against the leather? Have you felt their hidden fears; hidden tears; their bursting elation; their silent devastation? Have you ever thought of what it is like to be someone else entirely; to start life from a different post; to run down another path? What if everything you've ever known was shaped by another mould, every sound played by a different instrument? For none of us are the same. None of us take exactly the same path, in this maze of possibilities we call 'life'. And just as we've chosen our own route, or had it mapped out for us by the obstacles encountered, everyone we've ever met has their own history, their own path, their own destination....even those in stories....
Who Are Your Characters?
You've already met them, for everyone you have ever encountered belongs somewhere, in somebody's story. Some people have a big part to play, yet others are only bit-parts, coming in part way through to alter your story with their emotions; feelings; actions; perceptions. Just one chance meeting can alter an entire journey....in a life, or a story - it's one and the same.
The Lady in the Country Mansion....
You sit outside the pavement cafe, eating lunch and passing time. They meander by - a swirling kaleidoscope of backgrounds and cultures.
There is the lady moving slowly, as though the stiffness in her back has ground her to a halt. Her face bears no expression, except a blank voidness; a vacant surrender. She is well dressed - expensive clothes that depict a piece of her past......a past which took her through the door of a country mansion, cocooned by the English countryside; a silent prison disguised as beauty.
Now, though, she has learned that it was never enough - just a hard slap in the face, too late. She lives alone, in a little apartment above the river - clean; stark; cold. Everything perfectly arranged; every speck of dust whisked away before it dares to land. Yet dusting can't fill the emptiness, however hard she tries. All homes need a soul, and the soul of a house is made from laughter and love....little snapshots of happiness that together make a film.
The country mansion is a thing of the past, held together only by the fragments of her own dreams....or nightmares. It isn't even her husband that her heart grieves for - why would it be, when they were only ever strangers, trying to share a life? Neither is it the other man - the man from the 'yoga' nights. He was nothing but a blind distraction; another piece that would never fit. Even thinking about the green fields and the bold horizon makes her stomach heave upwards.....she prefers the city now. A city can swallow you up, it can hide a million stories. In a city, no one really cares who you are. No one asks where you came from, or questions why your face can't smile. In fact, most of the time, no one even sees you at all.
And every night, she swallows the bitter pill of regret....knowing that sometimes you reach a point in life where there really is no going back. She should have left him sooner; should have had the courage. It was the money, though - it pinned her down. Money is like that, sometimes. It has a callous grip, masked as a reassuring hold. And now she hasn't anything, except a divorce settlement, and the cold reality of her own company.....the ironic thing is, in the end it was her husband who found his way onto another path. No wonder stiffness and regret restrain her like the thick walls of a prison - for now the chance is lost to her......the chance to have a baby.
The 'successful' man rushes past, propelled by the speed of his own life - like a sports car on a motorway with no end. On a motorway there is nowhere to stop; nowhere to turn; nowhere to sit and relax. He always chooses the fast lane - no lagging behind, no pointless cruising. He leaves his house before the earliest glimpse of daylight, his teacup abandoned on the table, the dregs turned cold, the curtains still drawn. His foot is pressed down, he wants more and more and more....in fact, he no longer knows how to live any other way. Today it is his son's birthday, nine years old, but he has a meeting...it can't be helped. And anyway, isn't disappointment just a part of living if you want to do well? He's sure that someone said that once... He contemplates it for the merest moment, then blocks it out. Got to keep on going, foot down, overtaking every car in sight. He's going the fastest; he is sure he is winning. How can he not be, when he leaves everyone else trailing in his wake? 'They have a good life,' he tells himself, a true master of self-deception. Then he cuts through his thoughts with the brutal slice of a knife and thinks of the meeting; the deal; the money. Somehow, though, his heart isn't singing.....and he doesn't know why.....or rather, he doesn't let himself.
The Young Footballers
A group of men sit in a pub, contemplating and changing the world. You saw them swagger through the old, wooden door. Three of them are brothers, still the best of friends. Years ago, filled with the hope and ambition of youth, they were the heroes of their time. Their hearts were open to life; the passion in their souls sang its own hopeful song. But sometimes dreams are hard to hold onto....and theirs became lost in a sea of monotony. Life kept on chugging along....leaving school...the building site....young families to feed.....pints in the pub.....
And where was the step that could have taken them to the top? If they could have seen the step, they would have tried to get on it - but somehow it was never even there. Not that they were surprised, in fact it was expected. Kids from these parts never do well...it's what everyone says....a self-fulfilling prophecy. One day you see the green grass on the football field, the next only a grey skyline of peeling paint and crumbling poverty. Society puts you in your place and keeps you there....the danger is that if you really believe it, the chances are it will come true. Still, you have to make the best of life. That's the motto, of people whose dreams evade them. In the pub, at least, they belong. In the pub, they are big fish in a little pond. One of them has his own glass, on the shelf behind the bar. That makes him important......doesn't it? It makes him a man with a voice - and if you can't stand out in the real world, then you have to stand out somewhere.....
The Teenager With the Spray Paint
Somewhere else, some years before, a young man stood proudly in a hall full of promise. He wore a black gown and a mortar board on his head. A BA hons, first class. Who would have thought it? His own heart swelled as he caught the eye of his mother, happiness shining from her once tired face, a single parent scraping by. And isn't it funny how lines can be banished and tiredness wiped away by just the tiniest drop of hope? An art degree - the obvious exchange for a life spraying walls; the screaming graffiti of a child lost in loneliness, a child without a father figure, just trying to make some sense.
But who wants a life like that? He searched for another path, found one, and stepped onto it. Success doesn't come looking for you, he knows that more than anyone. You have to look between the bad things and walk towards the good.....just keep on walking and never stop, no matter what. Now he walks past the pavement cafe, a fine man holding the hand of his daughter, as his wife pushes the baby. An illustrator of children's books, with his name on front covers - proof to himself that he was worth it. After all, life can take you anywhere, if you only let it.
You leave the cafe and head for the tube. it's a typical journey home...shunting through the dark, into the invading glare of flourescent stations, then back into the darkness again. People staring at newspapers; the floor; a space. Anywhere, except the eyes of fellow passengers. No one on the tube reveals much....you are out of the noisy hub of tourist attractions now and everyone has seen it all before.
Yet behind every pair of unrevealing eyes, there is a personality; a soul; somebody somewhere in the middle of their journey. There are thoughts, there are feelings, hopes, despairs and dreams...and right at the core, a pulsating heart that sings its very own tune. For everybody is different - every person, every journey, every character.... and the imprints of the toes on every pair of shoes......