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The Writer And The Coffee Shop Customer

Something I’ve started to experience regularly is a burst of inspiration at night. It’s a peculiar occurrence because usually when I’m trying to think of what to write about I have absolutely no success, but if I do the same at night I will often unearth a basic idea: a general blog topic, the premise for a story – which tends to come as an image I can delve into – or the perfectly-formed sentence I’ve been attempting to create.

Inspiration came a week or so ago. I wanted to write a short story, I knew that, but I’ve written so many beginnings in the last couple of years that I dread more ideas coming to mind. As I lay there an image started to sketch itself. A coffee shop. I decided it was Starbucks because I’ve come to realise that being in Starbucks aids my imagination. A woman waiting in line. I couldn’t really see her because she was at that point just an initial thought, so I eased my focus away from the shop and gave her my full attention. She surprised me, I’d been expecting an average Brit like myself, but what I found was an Indian girl in traditional dress. She surprised me because I’ve never written about a different culture before.

It was perfect. Suddenly I was filling in her clothes, wondering why she was there, examining her face for anything I could take from her expression to help me realise her back-story. I know quite a bit about Indian culture – I watch Indian films, listen to the country’s music, know some Hindi, and have learned about dress, religion, food and the like. After having been surprised to find this woman I was now surprised that I’d never thought of it before.

The opening sentence came instantly, even as I tried to suppress it (because I knew that to start writing the story in my head would mean I would have to get up and start jotting it down) and the first two paragraphs were completed quickly.

Now I’m at the tricky stage, the point where the story has to move beyond that initial picture in my head. The character suggests I take her outside, it’s too crowded in the coffee shop, but I’m wondering what would happen if she stayed in there as there are so many people waiting around that she could interact with.

The character’s case was too strong. I let her go outside. And of course now she’s turned round to face me, awaiting my commands; she didn’t tell me she hadn’t thought about what she wanted to do once she was outside. So we’re both wondering, me with my fingers poised over the keyboard and her leaning casually against a bollard on the pavement, looking bored.

They often say listen to your characters and they will guide you. Perhaps my character is more rebellious than I thought she was and I should give her the reins… or does there come a time when the writer should take control, perhaps when their character isn’t who they intimated they were?…


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