How to Write Better Fiction (Heads Up: not really a how-to guide)

I haven’t written in a while.

Not for public consumption anyway.

Did you notice?

I did. For some reason, when I am not writing, I think about it a lot! I’ll be looking at things in my day to day life, observing, and thinking to myself that I should curate those observations in words. That I should build a database of descriptive authentic experiences to which I can in future conveniently return to and plug into stories to make them more…real, rich, plump with authenticity.

I was sitting in a bus recently, next to a guy. I did not see his face or rather I do not remember it. Speaking of which, I realised I don’t look at the faces of the people I sit next to on buses and matatus. I first noticed this about a year and a half ago, when after a jkuat graduation, someone’s elderly grandmother had wandered off in the crowd and could not be found. Pictures and visual descriptions were sent out with pleas for any information that could lead to her whereabouts.

That day, hours after graduation, or maybe while it was going on, I dont remember, my friend Sarah and I left juja together. Later in the night, she messaged me and told me she thought she had seen the missing grandmother on the bus we were on.

Thinking back, I realised that, perhaps with the exception of the conductor, I had not looked at a single person’s face! I just never do.

In Uganda, an individual boarding a bus or matatu greets everyone on board before taking their seat. In Kenya the booming music would drown you out.

So, this guy I was seated next to, I watched him repeatedly compose and delete a message he was writing, to a girl of course. I should not have been eaves-dropping, or whatever the written equivalent is, but hey, plump with authenticity, no? If I was going to plug this guy into a story somewhere, with a character seated on a bus perhaps wondering how to pass time in the infamous Nairobi traffic, I think the story would benefit from the little added touch of what this guy was dealing with.

I don’t know about the previous exchanges but he seemed to be trying to apologise for texting her, the girl.

He oscillated between apologising for texting her in the first place then wishing her well and accusing her of being needlessly hostile when he was just trying to find out how she was doing. I must have lost interest in the whole dilemma. I don’t remember how that ended.

Then there’s Sunday afternoons, when I am up in my room with the balcony door open so that air can flow freely through. Normally I am reading, or taking a nap. On Sundays, a man called Josephat comes to help us out with a few jobs on the compound. Sometimes he cuts the grass, does some planting if my mother needs him to, clears out certain corners of the compound and washes the dogs as well as their kennels. He’s an ordinary guy, works hard. He comes in his good clothes then changes to his working clothes when he gets here. Whether he wears them underneath or carries them, I am not sure. When I get home and he is around, I can always tell because his good clothes will be hanging beside my father’s car in the garage, on a nail…nailed to the wall, and his shoes will be directly below them.

Josephat comes, he knows his way around so he gets what he needs and gets to work. At lunch time, if my mum isn’t home, she will have left me with instructions to give him some lunch. If she’s home, she will do it herself. Josephat will eat, get back to his work until he is done. In all the interactions anyone at home has with him, the language used is automatically Kiswahili.

Which is why one Sunday, halfway between being immersed in a book and dozing off, when I heard the commotion below the balcony that usually means he is washing the dogs and heard him talking to them in English, I thought I was dreaming.

“C’mon now, don’t be like that, stay still, behave…”, telling them off.

One of the dogs, Sunday, loves water. She will get drenched in it and get a kick out of shaking it off her body and watching Josephat cower and cover his face. The other, Benjamin Button, cries like a baby every time its his turn to get a bath. He has to be held down and coerced. Sometimes I peep and watch the proceedings.

I watched this YouTube video once, it was several tips on how to improve your fictional writing. One of them was eavesdropping. I’m well on my way guys! If you promise to start getting your pennies in a bunch, I could have something ready by next year.

Except, this post, believe it or not, was originally going to be about how I haven’t written in so long cause I’ve been battling acne. There is a black hole on YouTube that leads to a world with the most interesting little skin care hacks! I’m still waiting on my flawless hide to arrive though, but yeah, if I can keep my concentration, I really could have something small ready by next year.


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