Tuesday, 28 September 2010

How much to give? Discuss

I've recently read 'The Thin Man' by Dashiell Hammett in which the mc seems to be downing something alcoholic every page.  A recent read of Ken Bruen's 'The Magdalen Martyrs' showed a similar theme.  A hard drinking, hard living lifestyle seems pretty much par for the course for many of the characters populating the world of noir. 

In his interview over on Nigel Bird's Sea Minor, Malachai Stone draws attention to the hard-drinking exploits of James Lee Burke, Cormac McCarthy, and Elmore Leonard.  Raymond Chandler, Hemingway, Kerouac, and probably loads of others also spring to mind.

My question is this.  To write the characters you create, the storylines you construct, how much does your own lifestyle and life experiences play a part?  


  1. The two homicide detective characters I write, Turner Hahn and Frank Morales, are not heavy drinkers. Each is unique in his own way, but they're not alcoholics. I guess it's the latent Puritanism in me, but alcohol plays no role in my life.

    As for as other experiences in my life going into my writing, I can say, "damn little." Except my imagination. I think writers emphasis too much about 'experience' and not dwell enough in the house of 'imagination.'

  2. I agree with you about the over-emphasis on personal experience, B.R. Writers that do that have to be careful the need to relay/relive their own experiences through the characters does not become bigger than the story, else it merely comes across as an exercise in self-indlugence.

    I suppose, on my part, I would say I write from a place of feeling. All of my characters are designed to help me put into words and explore the feelings that lurk deep inside me - whether they be hopelessness, fear, courage, isolation, whatever. Once I've felt the feeling I want to express, I put the character/feeling into a given situation, and just see how it plays out.

    Then I write it down.

    The place of feeling is the one for me. The place I find psychotic killers, broken men, and very small prostitutes. A bit like standing behind the goal at Dagenham on a Saturday. Except the very small prositutes. Perhaps.

  3. Interesting post. I tend to use little things from my own life and then blow them up, mash em, etc. Like that kleptomaniac story--I used to work at Target and would find empty packages from the most random items (like nail clippers) just scattered around. (Clearly someone had stolen them.) And I wondered, what the hell would that be like to be compelled to steal? Hence, story.

    But I don't use much directly from my life. Because my life is boring, and my goal is to write stuff I'd want to read.

  4. Know what you mean, Chris. In 'Abide With Me', a lot of the school stuff is drawn from my own experiences - not all, but a far amount. And I've just twisted it a little here and there, expanded and intensified it, changed the names to protect the innocent sort of thing, and fed it into the storyline until what was originally my experience is buried deep down. Got to sift through it to find anything at all, you know.

    Kind of cathartic, in a way.