I recently asked a friend to read the first draft of the new novel I’m writing for Quercus because he has personal experiences relevant to my story. He’s also someone who enjoys understanding the technicalities of other people’s professions, so offered both wise insights and detailed ideas about how I might better depict my fictional world.
We ended up on the phone discussing 1950’s doll’s house furniture, and suddenly he was laughing, saying ‘I can’t believe I’m having this conversation!’
I’d spent a happy hour Googling 1950’s doll’s house furniture without ever reflecting on how ridiculous my profession often is. But it’d been his suggestion that the doll’s house in the novel be furnished in fifties style, so he had understood intuitively how the right tiny detail can bring a book vividly to life.
I also write crime drama for television, so frequently the detail I’m searching for will be found in forensic psychology or crime scene analysis, and then I am aware that an obsessive interest in how bodies are posed or the entomology of burial sites might not seem very nice to other people.
But whether it’s toys or murder, every writer knows the moment when some nugget of meaning contained in a factual detail suddenly jumps out at you and ‘sticks’ to a character or a moment, shining a light on some new facet you wouldn’t otherwise have seen or appreciated.
The way a writer has to think might often be ludicrous, but it’s not daft.