Maugham claims he always started his novels and short stories from a character, and the setting and story would naturally fall into place. In his foreword, he says that The Painted Veil (also adapted into a recent film) is the first novel he based on a story, and it took him years to bring it to life – finding suitable characters and a setting that would ring true.
The story that so struck a chord in him is one he read as a young man on a visit to Italy – a story from Dante’s Purgatorio, about a noble woman from Siena whose husband suspects her of infidelity and brings her to his castle in Italy’s Maremma district to die slowly of noxious fumes. When that proves too long a process, he has her thrown from a castle window.
It took years for Maugham to return to that story, devising the characters (an English bacteriologist and his wife) and the setting – in colonial Hong Kong and then in 1920s China during a cholera outbreak.
Maugham’s words got me thinking. I generally don’t start my story from either character or story, but – travel addict that I am – from a location. A particular place will stick in my mind, and I will start to develop the characters and plot lines from there.
But, as writers know, there are about a gazillion ways to get from point A to point B when writing a book, making it endlessly fascinating to learn how other writers work out the process.
And you, writers? Do you start from the characters, the story, the setting, or something entirely different?
Whatever your writing process in developing your ideas – happy writing inspiration!