Characters Have a Mind of Their Own! Plus: ‘2070’ Continued

Today, I’m reflecting on the strategies I’ve been using to combat writer’s block and continuing my 2070 story.

Writers’ block is a difficult thing to overcome, but speaking from my own personal experience of dealing with the beast, I’ve noticed that certain things can be done to alleviate it. My own writers’ block usually arises when I am trying too hard to make my work seem ‘perfect.’ When I’m going out of my way to make some grand, eloquent statement about society or the world or the state of the humanity through my work … well, that’s one sure-fire way to guarantee that my ambitions will not be realised!

Whenever I’m stuck, a good brainstorming session brings me closer to conveying the truth behind a story. Often, I find that the best cure for writers’ block is to simply sit at my desk and break down, bullet point by bullet point, the most boring, mundane details of what I see a character doing in my mind’s eye. The things that come to me during these sessions, are – for the most part – fairly dull, but I sometimes unearth a small nugget of information that will help me to carry the story forward.

  • X goes to fridge.
  • X wants orange juice.
  • X realises that there is no orange juice left because someone else in the house drank it all.
  • X wonders why that person (at this stage, I have no idea who the offender is – it could be a partner, friend, or family member, but that specific detail isn’t clear to me yet) did this when they know that it was X’s orange juice.
  • At that very moment, the orange juice guzzler returns home and the drama escalates. 😱
  • X is furious and ready to burn the place down. πŸ˜‰

Characters have a will of their own. Every time I begin a new story, their thoughts and motivations are a mystery. Things are revealed to me as I go on: I might see a fleeting image that makes their backgrounds clearer to me, or a stray thought might float through my mind and I immediately know it has come from the character rather than from me. I feel compelled to follow up on whatever insight I’ve just received, even if this means just scribbling it down in a notebook, where it will not see the light of day again for weeks or months. I never regret recording a sudden thought, image, sound – whatever form the insight takes – even if I don’t make use of it for quite some time.

Research also helps, of course. When it comes to writing about the past, there is the distinct advantage of being able to do historical research into events, customs, ways of life that actually existed. When writing about the future, I enter the realm of conjecture and guesswork. As 2070 has developed, I’ve been doing my best to imagine how the world might look in fifty years’ time. That can be done to a certain extent by observing what is going on right now, and imagining things that are likely to happen in the near future as a result … but as our world is changing so rapidly, future trends are hard to predict.

Julianne is my anchor within the world of 2070. She was born within an era I recognise. She could be me in fifty years’ time (if I am blessed with the privilege of living to an old age, of course: plenty of people are not). She speaks to me of cassette tapes, relics from a 1990s childhood, fears around global warming, memories of Instagram filters and other forms of social media that are a part of my everyday life. In my previous instalment of 2070, I wrote from Michael’s perspective, but today, I write from Julianne’s. I imagine the life she might have led, and what she might want to say…

WomanInHat

Julianne

Julianne loves her son. Of course she does. On many occasions, her heart has swelled with pride over his kindness: his willingness to offer a cheerful word to the people of the Island, to listen to them wax lyrical about their lives and their concerns. He has played his mayoral role very well – there is no denying that – but he has never been good at handling crisis situations, and at the moment, he is wearing on her nerves. While she should be focusing all of her attentions on Yvette – who is holding up much better than expected, truth be told – and Michael – now clutching his beloved Murphy for comfort – she has had to keep reassuring Jonathan. It’s as though there is a third child in the room.

‘When all this is over, I hope my ring collection hasn’t been damaged.’

‘You may have noticed that we have bigger concerns than that at the moment, Jonathan,’ she replies curtly, staring out at the smoking volcano that lies across the bay from their contingency room.

‘Our house might avoid being covered,’ he muses fretfully, then – in response to a steely glare from Julianne – adds, ‘Maman, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sound callous. I’m glad everyone was evacuated, I’m heartbroken that so many people will lose their homes … but that collection could be so important for us. For the children.’

Julianne closes her eyes and heaves a sigh. Jonathan’s theory that those rings will fetch him a fortune one day is another thing that irks her. ‘Hmm. Perhaps. We will only know when the eruption has ended.’ Then, with an effort to appear calm, she turns to the children. ‘Well, Michael! Yvette! Why don’t we make ourselves some cocoa?’

Michael brightens. ‘Will you make it with extra crΓ¨me?’

‘Of course, darling.’

The cocoa that they make these days is very different from the cocoa she remembers from her own youth. Everyone had consumed cows’ milk back then, for one thing – the environmental concerns associated with factory farms had seemed so remote, so distant, so irrelevant to most people’s lives. A problem to be tackled by future generations, if it would ever be tackled at all. Julianne herself had only become aware of the issues in 2016.

2016.

The year she met Philippe.

As she stands by the counter, sugar bowl in hand, Julianne cannot help but smile. Her story with Philippe began so innocuously: through a comment he had left under a picture of her lunch, of all things. It had been the fashion back then to use social media to post pictures of whatever you were planning to eat – to use special filters and snappy captions and innumerable hashtags – and few people within Julianne’s social circle had embraced the trend as enthusiastically as she had. Her phone had never been too far away from her hand, and she can remember her mother often losing her temper with her over it.

Wow. Did that take long to cook? I’m trying to get better at this kind of thing, but I’m still a disaster. πŸ˜‚

To this day, she can remember what he said.

‘Right, Michael, here’s your cocoa. Yvette, do you want a cup?’

‘No. I can’t eat.’

Julianne glances at her granddaughter and her heart sinks. The girl’s cheeks are pinched. Her eyes downcast. Yvette has struggled with anxiety long before this incident, so this is bound to be sending her stress levels through the roof. Julianne walks across the room, sits down beside Yvette, and envelops her in a hug. Teenager or not, she still needs her cuddles. Julianne knows this only too well.

‘ChΓ©rie, please listen to me now: we will be fine. You heard what your father said: given our house’s position, it may avoid getting covered.’

‘And if it doesn’t?’

‘We will rebuild.’

As she says this – holding Yvette tightly – Julianne knows it to be true. How many times has her faith been shattered over the last few decades? How many times has she had to rebuild her life? Her heart had broken when she and Philippe decided to leave France in the ’30s, after the ever-mounting heat had scorched their small town so much that no crops would grow and water supplies had become non-existent. They could have gone to Paris, of course – joined the hordes of stricken people seeking safety in numbers – but her desire to live quietly, simply, and self-sufficiently had overridden everything, even her desire to stay in her native country. She hadn’t wanted to stay in France at all costs: she hadn’t wanted to rely on the government for anything. Philippe had been of the same mind.

The Island is her home, and here she will remain.

They will rebuild.

Image Source: Pexels

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