Not an Odalisque

Living With My Characters

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One of the things I love about writing is indulging my runaway imagination. It’s not daydreaming, it’s productive visualisation! Another of the things I love about it is the way that my own life can be cut up and stuck back together in different ways to create something much more meaningful (hopefully) than the original experience. The problem, I find, is when the two come together.

I didn’t realise that I could be a writer until I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s autobiography. I noticed that his magic realism was created by relating incidents from his life out of order and without the background information which would make them coherent, and I thought ‘I can do that!’ I don’t have to make something out of nothing; I don’t have to write in a vacuum. I can take characters and situations from my real life, and no one is going to brandish a manuscript at me shouting, “you’re not a real writer. You didn’t create this character, I can tell it’s my Aunt Marg!” In fact, my published friends tell me that Aunt Margs and their friends are excessively pleased to see themselves in print, to the point of deluding themselves that they are the models for characters they do not resemble.

So when I’m writing a story I sometimes pick a personal experience, which comes with its own cast of real people who I adapt to my requirements. Similarly, when I need a character, I often cast around my acquaintance for someone who fits the bill. Don’t worry, almost everyone is changed beyond recognition as I tweak and stretch them into who I need them to be.

All of this means that I spend a lot of time daydreaming about people. Add to that this fact: I haven’t had sex since January.

Don’t imagine that I am sad about my celibacy. I’m revelling in fresh-smelling sheets and the freedom to do what I want without having to notify anyone. I’m not even seeking casual sex, since I find myself a much more reliable provider of pleasure than almost anyone else.

That said, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, sexual deprivation does lead me to notice sexual possibilities a lot more. And I, for the sake of my writing, have given my mind permission to go wandering off down these garden paths.

For example, there is a beautiful woman at my dance class. She is an excellent dancer. She is curvy, she has a pretty face and a tiny waist. She wears tight, tight dresses with low necklines and high hemlines. I don’t know how everyone else in the room is doing, but I have to make a conscious effort not to stare fixedly at her for the duration of the evening. And she’s the sort of girl where looking immediately leads to thoughts of touching.

I don’t know her name. I’ve never spoken to her, and I probably never will. I have, however, put her in a story. I wanted an object of forbidden lust for my main character, and there she was, ready-made and lust-inducing. She made it very easy to write the sex scenes. The only thing I worry about is my inability to look her in the eye. To be fair, it has always been difficult to drag my gaze up that far.

My imaginative investment in my mystery dancing girl has been productive. Sometimes, though, one thinks around in circles for a long time without working out precisely where the idea is going, and it never reaches paper. Such is the case with mystery dancer number two.

I have been told this man’s name more than once and forgotten it. One dances with a lot of men at classes and freestyles, and just to confuse you they change their clothes, sometimes halfway through the evening, and they often pop up at venues where you weren’t expecting to see them. I’ve given up trying to keep track. This man stuck in my mind because I found myself unintentionally flirting with him. The next week he flirted with me, while I tried to look demure. After that, I spent a week fantasising about him.

I don’t mean sexual fantasies. I always think it is a little rude to use real people as mental masturbation aids. A man once told me that I’d “given” him roughly thirty orgasms in a month. Not only did I think the numbers were probably inflated (did the man have no porn!?) and not only did I think that it demonstrated obsession rather than affection, but I also felt just a little violated. This is my body. If we’ve been together you’re entitled to the odd memory-wank, but this is icky. And, I imagine, sticky.

So I don’t mean that I settle down with my toy collection and conjure up images. In fact, it is much worse than that. I’ve invented a whole life for him: A history, hobbies and interests, friends and family members, a career, a taste for beef and beer stew, a best friend’s punky lesbian daughter. He’s taken me for days out at stately homes. He’s refused to come to a strip club with me as research for my novel. He’s invited me to dinner parties where I’ve been terrifically bored all night but made up for it by supplying a great breakfast. We had a terrible fight after I got uptight about the age gap, and he got angry with me for snogging his best friend’s daughter or smoking in his bedroom (it wasn’t entirely clear which, I’d done both), but we reconciled. He’s never taken me shopping, because he hates it so much. All of his bed linen is white.

So in my life there are two people about whom I know a set of real facts and a set of fictional facts. Both are important and relevant to me, but the fiction has a much stronger relation to my everyday life. One of them is already in a story, so I need to remember the fictions and add to them as she develops. The man may never make it onto the page, but he might, so I can’t abandon him yet, and in any case I am sure that he will influence some of my other characters. I don’t want to give him up.

Not only does this mean that I have to be very vigilant at separating the fact from the fiction when I do see these people face to face (enquiring after the health of imaginary family members would look foolish, for example), but I also have to guard against emotional indiscretions. When I saw my older man across the hall last week I felt a rush of affection. Then I remembered that he didn’t exist, so I avoided him for the rest of the night.

Do you find yourself living more in fantasy than reality? How do you maintain the divide? Let me know, just so I can be sure that I’m not fantasising my readers, too.

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Written by Not an Odalisque

April 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm

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