As a student, I studied ceramics at the National College of Art and Design. Like any craft, it took many years to understand my material, in this case clay, how it responded under different conditions and the full spectrum of its creative possibilities.
Since beginning to write in a committed way in 2008, I have been going through a similar process, exploring the seemingly infinite potential of placing one word after another on a page, in a type of creative laboratory that is my writing room. My discoveries are not new. They are well known to seasoned writers, but as I travelled further and further into fiction over the past five years, they revealed themselves to me one by one as new and exciting.
- Writing allows you play with time. You can treat time as if it is a big lump of clay. You can stretch it out, making one minute last pages, and squash it together and cover a lifetime in a paragraph. You can break it up into lumps and alternate it with other lumps of time.
- You can create big cumbersome analogies that grow as tall as a game of Junga and then you can knock them all down again and save one bit.
- You can be outrageous. You can make your characters say and do things that you would never have the nerve to say or do in ‘real life’. They can be stupid, cruel, rude, politically incorrect and, heaven forbid, they can be boring.
- You can slip in your own private jokes and smirk to yourself on every reread. No-one said a writer can’t have fun.
- You can get attached to your characters and probably will. They are flawed, of course, but you understand them and will be true to them.
- You can explore the secret theories you have about people. You can try to understand people’s motivations and their irrational reasoning.
- You can use dialogue to expose the quirks and ticks of human behaviour, show how people don’t listen to each other, how they say one thing and do another, how they say one thing and think another, how they repeat themselves, how they contradict themselves…
- You can become a method actor (without having to cry). You can step into the shoes of your characters and tell us how it feels. (And you can be relieved to return to your own shoes.)
- You can paint. You can cover each scene with a different wash of colour or carefully place visual detail to lift the scene.
- You can dance. You can change the tempo of your scenes – Slow. Slow. Quick. Quick. Slow – to reflect the action and the emotion.
- You can make music. You can play with sounds to create atmosphere. You can find the rhythm in speech and in each character’s voice. You can bring them together to create harmony or conflict.
Of course, this is not a competition of artforms, but if it were, writing is boundless in its possibilities and free of technical and budgetary restrictions. It is a playground limited only by the imagination of the writer.
(c) Mary Grehan
Mary Grehan’s debut novel ‘Love is the Easy Bit’ was published by Penguin Ireland in April.