Amal Chatterjee – Where do characters come from?

Will Martin writes: Amal Chatterjee is the editor of our Creative Writing: Writers on Writing and the author of Across the Lakes and the non-fiction Representations of India 1740-1840. His short fiction has been published in Time Out Amsterdam, Algebra and Atlas. He is currently based in Amsterdam, writing fiction, reviewing for the Dutch newspaper Trouw and teaching writing, including Creative Writing, at the University of Oxford.

We recently got in touch to hear more about the chapter he contributed to Creative Writing: Writers on Writing

Amal writes: Recently, at one of the occasional gatherings of writers and aspiring writers in the city that I live in, someone asked me how the character I used in my piece for the collection came about. Was she, my interlocutor asked, based on someone in particular, or was she composite? I thought I knew the answer and trotted it out.

She is, I said, inspired by people I know, friends whose spouses’ jobs takes them around the world, and friends whose jobs take them around the world. She is not, I said, based on any one person.

Later, thinking about it, I realised that what I said wasn’t quite true; the character in my fiction isn’t actually a composite character, she is an individual in her own right. Which sounds like saying that an imaginary friend is a real friend, but it is true – writing immerses the writer in an alternate world, which may or may not resemble, or may vary in the degree to which it resembles, the “real” world.

It is, however, all the same, very real to the writer and the writer is but a citizen of that alternate reality, the characters as alive and willful as people in the real world. They may be conditioned and inspired by experience, but are no less vital and unique for all that. Just like real people.

So the next time I’m asked the question I might answer differently – that the character made herself. Because that’s what she did.


Chatterjee coverCreative Writing: Writers on Writing anthologises original literary work by eight contemporary authors. Dealing with birth and death, love and ambition, domestic drama and foreign adventure, they take the reader to the country (Ireland, Guyana, England) and to the city (Delhi, Karachi, New York and Prague).

The pieces are accompanied by reflective essays in which the authors explore the creative process behind the writing. For readers, the essays provide insights into the works themselves; for writers, they provide insights into literary craft; and for students on creative writing courses, they provide diverse models of how to discuss one’s own writing.

Click here to ‘look inside’.


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