Talk by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

Hi everyone,

A couple of weeks ago I made the best impulse decision of my life, choosing to forgo a nap and instead go listen to David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas , give a little lecture. I brought my copy of the book with me thinking I might have the opportunity to get him to sign it, and thankfully he did. I was expecting it to be a little souvenir of the experience, perhaps the talk would be slightly engaging, who knew? I was very wrong. The talk was fairly life changing, and I do not say that lightly.

First off, the guy has the mannerisms and appearance of Martin Freeman, the British chap in the BBC’s Sherlock, and the actor playing Bilbo in the upcoming Hobbit movie. Mitchell was delightful to listen to, he was very charming and witty, and the introduction went by incredibly quick. Then he got into the meaty stuff, talking about “How to animate the beast that is the novel”, looking at the different “organs” essential to making a novel great. This was exactly what I was hoping to hear, and he touched on some ideas for character developmenet that really hit home for me and gave me newfound inspiration.

When discussing character development, Mitchell talked about how he creates a full-bodied character that still has a glint in their eye, something that makes them believably real. His method for creating a good character was new to me. He said that before he write he sits down and just writes these long entries from the character’s point of view, touching on every subject that he can think of, writing through the character and giving their thoughts on God, love, sex, family, politics, etc. . He then edits it, of course, but then he does something really interesting. He thinks of and notes an area or circumstance where the character will deviate from their written “code”, or an inconsistency. He called this the character having “an unedited inconsistency within their edited self”. At this point, I was sitting in the audience as if struck by Hagrid himself, just dumbfounded and trying to put the pieces of my blown mind back together.

Afterwards, I was able to briefly meet Mitchell and shake his hand, thanking him for giving me such good ideas on how to make a full-bodied, believable character that I wouldn’t worry about “not liking” later on. I told him that I was trying to write a novel, and he gave me some words of encouragement and wrote the amazing note you see below. Either way, the talk and whole experience was life-changing because it really confirmed that writing novels was something I really wanted to do full-time in the future (though I plan to ease into that by writing about tech/earning money to live. But this talk gave me an example of the very unique and exciting happiness that can be obtained through writing novels, and how it is a very different sense of accomplishment than making a certain amount of money each year. For someone who has been interested in making good money for most of my life (so I can afford my toys), this whole experience altered how I view what happiness is, and has really pushed me towards the “let’s give writing a shot and see what happens” mindset. So yeah, a pretty good use of 2 hours if you ask me.

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