People Are Strange – But Are They Strange Enough?

How different are the characters you write about to the people you know? Whisper it: how different are they from you?

Now, I like to think I’m fairly cosmopolitan. I live in a bit of London that could serve as a good location for a gritty and realistic crime drama.  My husband is a different colour to me.  I don’t have kids, but I’m pretty sure my cats belong to a gang.

They're good kids, they just want to belong...

They’re good kids, they just want to feel like they belong…

I was also brought up in a tiny village in Wales where there was one bus a week and everyone knew everyone else. I went to university, but I was the first person in my family who did.  I have friends and family who are doctors, warehouse workers, academics, police officers, company directors, tube station attendants and shop assistants.

Like I say, I like to think I’m fairly cosmopolitan. But I’m not.

This was brought home to me a couple of times in recent weeks when, as a result of circumstances I must conceal to protect the innocent, I found myself in company with People Who Were Very Different to Me.

If I tried to describe why I found them so different, I could say that some of them lived in different kinds of places – more or less affluent, small towns, rural areas or even just different cities. I could say that some of them had different sorts of family background and education to me. Some of them were quite a lot older, some quite a lot younger.

But really, it wasn’t any of those things.  It was that, for one reason or another, they had a very different outlook on life.  A different way of relating to other people that’s hard to quantify.  I found them difficult to talk to. I expect they had the same experience.

It made me think: how individual, how genuine are the characters I write about?  How different are they, not only from each other, but from me?

Okay, I’m not – to my knowledge – a murderous psychopath or an increasingly unhinged, phobic charity worker, or an anally-retentive, overbearing older sister (alright, I might be that last one) – but how far away am I really from the thoughts that go on inside their heads? From their way of looking at the world around them? How far is it possible to give them a life that isn’t, in some way or another, my own?

And doesn’t that make writing just about the most public bit of soul-bearing it’s possible to do?

Hmm. I’m glad I didn’t think of that before I sent my draft to my beta-readers.




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