Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Inspiration through perspiration

Ask any author and they're sure to tell you that there was an original book which inspired them to become a writer. For me, it was a (then) rather obscure paperback called The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz. You'll find it on Amazon although I'm pretty sure it went out of print for a while.

The story, not that it's particularly relevant to this blog post, is of a Polish cavalry officer who was arrested by the Russians in 1939 and, after interrogation, was given 25 years imprisonment in a Siberian Gulag – effectively a death sentence. Many of his comrades died on the 3-month journey to their icy hell-hole (something that the recently-made film has skipped over) and this, along with the abuse he suffered at the camp, persuaded him and 5 companions to escape. Over the next 2 years, they walked across Siberia, the Gobi Desert and crossed the Himalayas into Tibet and then India.

A bored 14 year old, I picked up the book entirely by accident and read it in 2 days (even skipping lessons to go to the library). I just couldn’t put it down.

Seek to be inspired
The book has since been reformatted, given a new lick of paint and picked up by Hollywood to turn into a film. If you look at the book’s many reviews, you'll see that I'm far from alone in the effect it created. You'll also see a host of 1 and 2-star reviews, many angry because they claim it was all fiction. The actual truth will never be known. All records of Rawicz’s escape (or not) have been destroyed and the protagonists are long-dead.

But, in the context of inspiring writing, it doesn't matter a jelly-baby. What matters is that it was a truly gutsy and plausible tale. If it was fiction, the fantastic level of detail is of merit and this is the key. If you want to write a novel that will inspire others, you need to do your research properly and then capture the feel of the moment by using verbs and adjectives which truly relate to the action that is taking place. Always ask yourself, "What are my characters feeling?" and make sure you answer it on a regular basis.

To inspire, you don't need the lead character to be heroic, they need to be resourceful, creative, flexible and indomitable. Thus someone who stands up to a gang attack (for example) might be heroic but they don't necessarily inspire. On the other hand, someone who recovers from such an attack and then uses their experiences to set up 'drop-in' centers or counseling services for others, might be extremely inspirational.

Remember, plausibility is key. In order to be inspired, the reader must identify with and empathize with the lead character. This means that, although perhaps a bit unlikely, the story is possible. It could happen. Even if your story is paranormal or fantasy, it needs to maintain the plausibility factor within your predefined boundaries. If a character can fly, so be it.

Do your homework, check out all the key details, research the locations, think of the time period and the attitudes of the day, see through the eyes of your characters and never forget to care deeply about them. Do that and your book may well go on to inspire others.

Clive West is a director of self-publishing company Any Subject Books as well as being an author in his own right. His work includes a full-length novel called The Road, a collection of short stories with twists called Hobson's Choice and two non-fiction books.

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