Tag Archives: office

Writing characters you can recognise from the office.

Relaxing on the beachYou know, you can’t find a decent bikini around here” said the girl 

Why do you want a bikini for, you off on holiday?” asked one of the scientists as he waited for her to find the form he needed.

 Lynda groaned. She knew exactly what was coming next.

 “Oh, didn’t I tell you. Ricki and me, we’re off to Magaluf in a couple of weeks. Get a nice bit of tan. That’s if we get outside the hotel, if you know what I mean !

 I think I’ve got a brochure in me drawer. Would you like a look ? It’s a really lovely place. Got a pool and a bar and a club in the complex. Reckon we won’t have to go anywhere to have a good time, if you know what I mean !”

This was the third time this week Lynda had heard about the holiday and, if she was honest while it might leave her team short of people, at least there would soon be no talk of pools and bars and knowing what she meant.

Phil: If you are going to set a story in an office, it helps if you’ve actually worked in one for a few years. Most people have and so they will spot unrealistic characters invented by creative types who have never experienced the grind of doing the same job day in day out.  People who can’t understand why men wear ties, that the quality stationery indicates status or that no working day includes a “huddle” to brainstorm. More to the point, you would rather die than take part in a “huddle” especially if there are bean bags involved.

Writing the office requires great subtlety. The characters must be muted. Surround yourself with beige and pale grey while writing is a great help. Creative types tend to live in a Technicolor world where people’s little foibles are indulged and even celebrated whereas the real world involves a whole lot more seething and bubbles of hatred – carefully masked of course because if they weren’t, the average British workplace would quickly become a bloodbath. Think “Lord of the Flies” with staplers.

The little scene above doesn’t move our story along much apart from fleshing out a couple of minor characters, but it provides a quick scene change and touch of comic relief in the middle of a more serious section. Most people will have worked with someone who wants to bang on about their holidays and looks for any excuse to shoehorn the subject into a conversation so I’m hoping for a little chuckle of recognition as they picture their own bete noir. If they think, “That is just like…” then we’ve succeeded.

To be fair, there are lots of people like this and holidays are more palatable topics of conversation than why ‘elf and safety is ruining the country and less tedious than a description of their latest object of desire on the Autotrader website.

I also wrote the section for a more unusual, but nevertheless practical reason. You see, we know that when the publishing world picks up on the book, there will be a bidding war for the film and TV rights. Whoever wins is going to have to offer a part to one half of the writing team as a condition of the contract. The role has to be a speaking one and it somehow a woman who is always going on holiday just sort of formed itself in my head. Vikki and her boyfriend Rikki make a quick appearance earlier in the book. He will be played by George Clooney. That’s also what it will say in the contract.

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Too real ?

Candice: Its funny this writing in pairs malarkey. Some times the same idea floats in two brains at the same time without actual conversation between the two.
Phil and I have been playing with ideas for putting that famous hook into the story. As he mentions, he’s been playing with the timeline in one way – I’ve got an idea for another route. However the PC died over Christmas and I can only write on my iPad, which can’t cope with 200page word documents. So my idea for the hook stays sitting in my head until I can get a new PC.
However, I had also been thinking about timelines and structure as a whole. And then I see Phil’s post… Hum two minds one common thread. I suppose our regular meetings at the airfield have put us on a similar track.
Our book, or in fact our series of books (we have ideas for seven at the moment) are based around a fictional company that goes in and closes companies down. The office experiences we describe in the book at based on true life, just expanded to create some comedy.
However , with the same thoughts at the hook question, I’ve been thinking about the situations and descriptions around the office in the book and have decided that they are probably abit too linear and true as well. Like Phil said, we know what’s going to happen and we have plotted it all out, but have we actually over plotted and described every situation as it would be in real life, rather than how it would work in a book. Plots move quickly and make assumptions about the reader’s knowledge to move forward, they don’t outline everything line by line.
So there might be a cull going forward, pc permitting, not just rejigging the order to give us our hook, but actually cut some content too. It might take us under 80,000 words, but as long as they are the right words, the exact number shouldn’t matter !

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Uncomfort Zone

Phil: Any job-hunting will hopefully afford the opportunity to visit different workplaces for interview. An important part of the process for the interviewee is deciding if you can fit in to that particular environment.

A few days ago, I found myself wearing doing my best to look smart, perching on a sofa about 6 inches too low and looking around the office I was in. It was a very nice, modern office and yet as I watched the undoubtedly very nice people going about their business, I knew in my heart of hearts, I wouldn’t fit in. This feeling probably contributed to a less than stellar performance in the interview itself.

In real life this is a problem, in fiction, it is an opportunity. Without conflict there is no story. You can’t have resolution either and hence no happy ending.

Taking characters out of their comfort zone is important. Sometimes you do it just for fun such as our depositing Kelvin from IT into a HR department full of lewd comments. We know he’s uncomfortable and it’s difficult not to find that funny, no matter how much we also laugh at his tormentors as well. If you’ve ever been the nerdy bloke in IT or even met him then you’ll recognise the situation. If you recognise the reason for the lewdness then it wasn’t you, I was inspired by someone else…

Emotions can supply even greater conflict. It’s traditional in chick-lit that the main character has some sort of tug on the heartstrings which induces conflict. This is the worst sort as you can’t run away from it. Even curled up in solitary occupation of a sofa in an empty room it’s there, sometime even more than when there are distractions available. You can run but never hide from some things.

But how much discomfort to impose on your characters ?

There has been a trend for the last few years for “Misery Stories” – books which start with a rape and get steadily grimmer. That’s not what we want. It’s not funny for a start and I find it difficult to understand how anyone reads that sort of thing for entertainment. Presumably there is a blooming good denouement at the end to stop the reader heading for the knife drawer. In that respect perhaps it’s like the feeling you get climbing off the cross-trainer (insert your prefered gym torture device here).

No, we do things to our characters but there is always resolution and after a few discussions, I wanted to kill someone off and Candice wouldn’t let me, we resolved most of them. Most, but not all. After all, there is Book 2 to consider.

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Where do you write best ?

Phil: I’ve worked in offices all my life. There might have been the occasional trip out to a farm wearing a bright green boiler suit, but to be honest working life for me has involved going to a room with desks, telephones and bits of paper every day.  Because of this I associate office with work. Sit me in a nice park and unlike the people in a computer advert, I don’t feel the urge to whop out a laptop and start fiddling with Excel.

Perhaps this is why I find it quite tough to get stuck in to some writing when at home. I’m OK once I get going but it seems unnatural and there are other distractions to feed my natural urge for procrastination. Many other people share my problems with this I’m sure. The nolanparker team has been known to decamp to a library to get some work done as silence combined with the bookish atmosphere seems conducive to good literature creation.

Just occasionally I get to try somewhere different. Yesterday I was minding the Town Hall for a few hours. It’s not a difficult job really. People come in for meetings and have to be told to sign in. Sometimes tourists drop by and I have to try to temper their disappointment that the public bits of the building are a mass of corporation green paint and badly sited cables when the fine Victorian exterior would lead you to expect something rather more grand. Very occasionally, we get loonies wander in who have to be persuaded to wander out again without making a mess of the leaflet displays.

In between times I’m left to my own devices. As an occasional, temporary town hall minder, I don’t have a mass of other things to do. Most others in my position read books or magazines. I tried this but then realised, I had found the perfect spot to write. It looks a bit like an office apart from the occasional interruptions. Even these are welcome as you never know who you will be talking to next and the variety adds to the day. But as it looks like an office, my brain says “work” and so my fingers can fly around the keyboard.

The only exception is when I’m tasked with clearing up excess cakeage left over from planning meetings. Of course, I should point out that the photo shows a very small laptop which means that is a really tiny cake. Never let it be said we are profligate with the public purse !

Anyway, I have a few more sessions of minding coming up. With a bit of luck that means a few hundred more words.

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