Monday, 11 May 2009

The Private Life Of Mr X

You can’t always wait for stories to come to you. Sometimes you have to coax them along. There are a number of different ways of doing this, some very deliberate and methodical requiring patience and attention to detail, others quite spontaneous involving surrender to processes one does not completely understand.

One of my favourite techniques is what I call narrative collision - allowing two completely separate stories, or fragments of stories, to come together in my head. I think of it, rather grandiosely, as being like when sub-atomic particles in a Hadron collider smash into one another and produce new particles that behave in totally unexpected ways.

It makes you shake the kaleidoscope and look at everything with fresh eyes. Suddenly you realise that Mr X from the first narrative has been Mr Y from the second all along and that explains why he has been behaving so mysteriously.

Of course it has to be tempered with the mundane process of asking yourself straightforward questions about the story such as, ‘In that case why on earth didn’t he just got to the police/call an ambulance/use his mobile phone etc.?’ You mustn’t get so carried away with the excitement of discovering Mr X’s alter ego that you start bending the plot into ridiculous shapes.

No, what you have to do is keep very quiet and observe. But make the characters think you’re not watching. After a while they’ll forget all about you. They won’t even notice when you follow them off stage, watch them take off their costumes and leave the theatre. That’s when you find out what they’re really up to. That’s when the story really begins.

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