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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Creating a Text – John Fullerton

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

In Man, just as in other sentient creatures, feeling precedes thought.

Though idealogues and clerics would wish it otherwise, consciousness is the servant of instinct.

The shiver induced by the setting sun induces the feeling of being chilly, quickly followed by the thought to go inside or pull on a jacket.

The sight or scent of someone attractive prompts arousal; the thought – who is she, where is she going, is she available, how do I speak to her, does she feel the same way about me, will she agree to a date – follows on the heels of that first whiff of scent or glimpse of a well-turned heel, hair catching the light, the way the cloth of her dress moves, a brief smile, a glance.

Put another way, the neuronal sensation of feeling in a lower echelon of the cerebral cortex is followed instantly by another, higher neuronal coalition firing in the consciousness, then a whole series of synaptic activities with appropriate physical responses and accompanied by self-referencing thoughts of the ego.

So it is with writing. I feel something very basic, the redness of red, the coldness of ice. That grows into an awareness of anger or fear or want. This in turn produces a thought, expressed in words, and from there the thoughts breed, shooting off in all directions. It’s called a novel. There’s no formula, no plan.

The book I’ve just handed my agent begins with just two words. They form the quiddity of the work and hence the protagonist. They recur again and again, though the meaning shifts. Rage, desire for vengeance, guilt, pity, horror, shame, grief, forgiveness, love, redemption….those two words are the leitmotif, the essence, but they are based on that initial cry of anguish or snarl of murderous intent.

I cannot plot. I start with that first sensation and proceed by a hit-and-miss accretion of detail. Several drafts follow. The plot, such as it is, emerges slowly, a pattern I am seldom able to discern at all to begin with, and only during the editing process does it become clear. It would be so much easier just to have ideas that could be linked together into a predictable story line. I wish. But I can’t, somehow. When I do know where I am going, I lose interest. My emerging text has to be a mystery to me, the crime as entertaining to me as anyone else.

When it’s over I feel the book has written itself, or someone else inside my head has done so.

My trigger – and that is all it is – is sensation translated into a first thought. The rest is muddle – a confusing and confused contraption of string, wire and brown paper made by the child-author in a game of deceit. Is it a plane? Does it fly? Or is it a coffin? If so, who’s inside it?

John Fullerton was a journalist in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His latest novels are are Give Me Death and White Boys Don’t Cry. His website is currently being refurbished, but you can read a little more about him here.

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