Ian Rankin Qualities of a Writer

What qualities does it actually take to be a writer? “To be a novelist,” says Rankin, with the assuredness of wisdom, “you have to be a sympathetic, empathetic human being, a people watcher.” When writing a crime novel, you start with a type then make them more three-dimensional, and you do that through trial and error, through “practice, practice, practice”, and learning from the great writers who know how to do it. “Then, you start to find your own voice and own themes that haven’t been tackled.

“They say there are only seven plots in the world, but stories keep coming at us,” he says. “It’s a bit like the 26 letters of the alphabet – out of those, anyone can write a sentence that’s never been written before. How amazing is that? You can write a sentence that’s never before been written in the history of mankind. I think that’s phenomenal. I love that. Stories are inexhaustible because human beings are inexhaustible.

“I’m interested in what makes us tick. Sadly, I’m interested in the kind of darker side of what makes us tick. I would find it harder to write a Mills and Boon or comedy of manners set in a posh English boarding school. I’d much rather write about losers and loners and people who’ve done bad things along the way.”

The National Arts Interview with Ian Rankin

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