Writers Behaving Badly


Hello again. It’s me, Lee Murray, in the pineapple.

Have you ever wondered where writers come up with the ideas for their stories? I’m going to let you in on a secret. Writers go to dastardly lengths in pursuit of a good story: we exaggerate, eavesdrop, lie and steal – all the things we tell you kids you’re not supposed to do! Let me explain:   granny

For a good story, writers exaggerate, making everything bigger, louder, and flashier. For example, a story about a granny adopting an adorable stray kitten is all very nice, but not particularly original. But if I exaggerate, dear old granny could find herself caring instead for a sabre tooth tiger, which makes for a much more exciting story.

For a good story, writers steal, taking characteristics from real people, or plot ideas from real life. For example, if I like the way my neighbour warbles Kimbra songs while he mows his lawns, I might steal that characteristic for my story character. If I read in the paper that the mayor fell off the stage while making a speech, I might steal that for my story plot, too.

For a good story, writers eavesdrop, listening in on conversations, not to be nosy, but to ensure their dialogue sounds realistic and appropriate. For example, my megalomaniac baddy won’t be believable if he speaks like the helpful librarian at the local library. The language people use, their tone of voice and their gestures reveal a lot about their character, so some discreet eavesdropping can be a very useful when developing characters.

eavesdropFor a good story, writers lie. Okay, we don’t exactly lie, but we do make things up.  For example: a group of children train as fighter pilots in an attempt to save the world from ant-like aliens (Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card), a rare birth defect gives a girl special abilities (Ghost Hand by Ripley Patton), and a young hover car racer enters a life and death competition (Hover Car Racer, by Matthew Reilly). For a story to work, the ideas don’t have to be true, they just have to believable. Last week, I told the students at St Mary’s School in Tauranga that their school principal moonlights as the tooth fairy. Not exactly a lie…

So lying, stealing, eavesdropping and exaggerating: all part of a writer’s day.

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