Over the twenty or so years I’ve been writing fiction I’ve built up a fairly solid body of work, word count wise. 3 novels which must add up to 400,000 words or so, a novella of 30,000, and various short stories here and there. Call it half a million all in. Which, seen as a whole, is quite a number. You would think from such an expanse that I would have introduced a vast array of different characters, each with their own unique backgrounds, hopes and desires. Set against a plausible backdrop, steeped in a concrete sense of place, with character history and back story and development.
As I say, you’d like to think so. But through this novel rewrite I’m starting to get the impression that all these words are just repeating the same things over and over again, only with different faces and the same paper-thin depth of character. I get that every writer has their themes that thread through their work. Judging by what I write about mine would be substance abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, depression, and suicide. Cheery stuff. And somehow I keep returning to these themes every time I sit up and write. Not necessarily a bad thing, you might think. But I fear it’s more to do with my ignorance than any great overwhelming desire to write on these subjects.
Off the top of my head, some topics I know nothing about: finance, banking, mortgages, construction, architecture, housing, computing, technology, feminism, sociology, physics, science in general, archaeology, astronomy, economics, furniture, design, cars, fashion, marriage, children, the list is endless. And I would consider myself reasonably intelligent and more well-read than most. So with this shameful lack of knowledge on virtually everything, it’s no wonder my fiction is limited to the same tired topics, and my characters all start to merge into one another. I couldn’t even have a character with a complicated job, that would be enough to finish me.
Case in point – I have had a short story idea whirring away in my mind for a while now. But I anticipate it being set across the entire lifetime of a character (something I’ve never done before, believe it or not). Which would mean writing about the 1950s all the way up to the present day. Getting the details right. How people spoke, what they ate, read, drove, what jobs they would have for a lifetime, and so on. Details that have to be right or everything falls apart. Not part of the emotional story, but the nuts and bolts that bring it to life. The bits I’m bound to fuck up, basically.
That’s what research is for, I hear you cry. Yes, of course. I always feel I’ll be winging it, though. Worried about being tripped up by having someone watching TV in 1935 or being unable to properly describe what wainscoting is. And letting that anxiety feed through and affect what I really want to say. I know it’s a stupid barrier I’m putting up, that to attempt to broaden my horizons will make me a better writer, but man it seems so daunting. Getting the words down is hard enough; expressing what’s in your heart even tougher. Not being able to describe a room because I don’t know what a chaise longue is just seems embarrassing.