People think writing fiction is easy, because you can just make it all up. In fact, this is why writing fiction is difficult. Make all what up, exactly? Where and when and about whom shall I make it up? From which angle do I want to observe this made-up-ness, and in what tone of voice? And so on.
There's an old trick to make this easier: constraints. If I tell you to write a story, the chances are you will eye the blank page or screen with panic. But if I say, make up a story of 1500 words, and it has to include a chef, a hill top and a piece of elastic, the task becomes simpler. It is no longer a story about anything, it's about a chef. It's confined to 1500 words. The constraints, paradoxically, turn out to be liberating.
By choosing to blog Acts and Omissions in weekly instalments, I'm imposing a pretty hefty constraint on myself. Deadlines focus the mind. (As do advances from a publisher, but it's a while since I had one of those.) I'm also imposing few more constraints: each instalment will be around 2000 words. (By the end of the year that will be a nice fat novel, which will then have to be pruned.) The action will be limited to the imaginary Diocese of Lindchester. The time-scale will be 2013, and the story will unfold along the contours of the Church Year.
I have some of the characters and some of the ideas. What I don't really have is a plot. Maybe that won't matter too much. Some novels are essentially a series of short stories strung together like beads on a necklace. George Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life is like that. Dickens, on the other hand, had a genius for creating a whole novel with a whacking great big proper narrative arc, despite the rigours of the serialised novel form.
We can't all be Dickens or George Eliot. Sigh. But striking a vaguely Victorian tone for this project seems fitting. When I first moved to Lichfield Cathedral Close seven years ago, I re-read the whole of the Barchester Chronicles. My reaction was that nothing has changed. Well, of course it hasn't: Trollope was writing about a venerable old institution and human nature. And that's what I'll be doing. The C of E doesn't exactly lend itself to tricksy post-modern literary experiment, does it? Or to the spare, pared down American prose style we use as a stick to beat creative writing students with.
No. Let there be imagery, I say. Let adverbs be used. Judiciously. Let there be wit and comic bit-part characters. Let there be exclamation marks! And above all, let the benevolent presence of the author brood over the world she has created, and occasionally lean forward and instruct the reader about how to be a nicer person.
This could be fun. First instalment this Sunday evening.