I used to love playing dressing up. As a kid, anything was fair game. Pirate. Policeman. Shelf stacker. There wasn’t much to do in the way of amusement back in them days so all you had was your imagination.
I mean, yes, sometimes you’d work that imagination alone, kitting yourself out as Chief Inspector Rant and ticketing all your teddies, chucking your Barbies in jail for snogging Action Man. Other times you’d get make-believing on mass, a whole gang of us from our estate playing ‘on the backs’ aka a huge outlying field, imagining we were a secret, undercover Grifter Gang infiltrating a dastardly criminal cartel.
Thing was, I always remember swapping roles. Not you know, transferring Grifter Gang positions, but I mean going from a girl to a boy and back again. That was the great thing about make believe. You could be anyone, anyone you liked. In your imagination it was like social boundaries, gender role expectations never existed. Sure, it got confusing when one of us yelled, ‘right, all the boys over here!’ and half us girls would get up and troop on over, but hey! We were liberators, trail blazers. And, most importantly, we made stuff up.
And that’s leads me to my week. The edit of my novel is all about making stuff up. Plots, sub plots, dialogue. You name it, I pluck it out of thin air. Trouble is, I’ve had a niggling doubt – and it’s all about the main character.
Another part of making stuff up as a writer, thankfully, is making excuses to watch TV by calling it ‘research.’ So, in the name of ‘research’ last week, I watched a programme on BBC One called, ‘Imagine.’ I know – a somewhat appropriate name.
Anyhoo, the subject of the interview type, fly-on-the-wall show that week was the blockbusting criminal author, Ian Rankin. The man is a legend. Not only that, he seems a nice bloke, unaffected by his fame, preferring to dress in old jumpers and shun the limelight. But that wasn’t what got me going. No. Rather it was the way he worked.
You see, as a writer, sometimes I have no idea if the way in which I work is correct. Like, half way through a plot, I may change it. Is that correct to do that? Or, say, when I read an edit, I may totally amend the dialogue. Is that correct, I ponder? You get the idea. But watching Rankin was a revalation. He changes stuff all the time, I mean all the time. Seriously, if that man were a weather cock he’d be all over the shop.
The reassuring thing about it all was that maybe I am, you know, doing stuff correctly. And, more’s the point, is there a definitive right and wrong to the whole writing process anyway? What works for one, may not for another and all that. Either way, watching Rankin chop and change his way through his novels gave me a new confidence. It gave me the confidence to change stuff, too.
For a while now, I’ve been toying with the idea of changing my main protagonist. The novel is a psychological thriller and the main character so far has been a bloke. The first write went well. I did all the character bios, mapped everything out. But, by the time 80k words were written, it slowed. The edit, as you may have picked up, has been slow, too. And then I watched Mr.Rankin on TV.
Hey, I thought, this man laughs in the face of normality! And so, come the edit of Chapter 8 of my book I took a bold, please God, confident step: I changed the main character from a man to a woman. Yup. I have gender swapped my protagonist, transversed, if you will, the gender gap and crossed the line. Just like we used to do when we were kids playing on the backs in Lancashire, I have swopped roles. And, do you know what? It’s working. The book has suddenly come alive. Everything about the character now as a lass instead of a bloke works a treat, all slotting into place like a key in a lock. Bingo!
I’m on it now. If you recall last week’s diary entry, I said my 1st draft edit deadline was Christmas. Remember? You are holding me to it, right? Well, I am pleased to report, Sir/Madam that I am now at the half way point. I know, get me. I have found a sudden fresh enthusiasm for the novel and it’s all to do with a simple change in character. It has meant also gender reassignments, if you will, for the other characters to make it all fit (it’s based in a prison…), but, so far so good. So here I am, having swopped from being a man to a woman, wondering what to make this new character wear. Really, changing stuff is great.
If you want to catch the Imagine show with Ian Rankin, I’ve popped on the BBC iplayer link Click here >>
Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog. This week I’m talking about the why crimes happen and why they shouldn’t…**