Thursday 26 March 2020

#writingishard7 - characters

So much has changed in two weeks. When I wrote my blog two weeks ago, we were not in lockdown. People weren’t fighting over loo rolls. How quickly life can change as we start living in
our dystopian fiction. I could imagine telling a student their story was too far fetched if they’d presented me with this idea!

I thought this week we’d talk about characters. Characters inhabit your story and need to be fully rounded so that your reader can empathise with them. You will have protagonists and antagonists. All of whom will need to have flaws, wants and needs. It is important to remember that any decision that the antagonist makes will be the right decision for them to make at that particular moment even if it is going to cause problems for the protagonist.

When you create characters you automatically think about the basics. You think about hair colour, eye colour etc etc. I often search for images of people that I think look like my character. I then keep
writing letters
them in a closed Pinterest board that only I can access. It helps me visualise them and as a reminder. I also write a letter from my character to me introducing themselves. It is a way of getting inside their heads.

When writing Flight, I learnt to look at the relationships surrounding the main character and for me, I suddenly realised that Jakob was only surrounded by males including the horses, which were stallions. It was only when Kizzy came on the scene that he had anything to do with women. This was really important as I needed him to be unsure how to behave in front of a girl, clumsy and almost threatened by the situation. It was one of his flaws. You need to be aware of the flaws as it those that make them fully rounded characters and not flat, two-dimensional characters.

Getting to know your characters inside out means you will know how your character will react in any given situation. It needs to be a realistic and appropriate reaction. In an extreme situation (and you do have to be brave to do this) I have gone out pretending to be my character to see what it would feel like. How would they view the world? It is about writing the height. How would the world appear to them? Important if you are writing a ten-year-old character or a fourteen-year-old character. The world is going to feel very different from the world that you see. The other thing you can think about is what would be in their pocket always? Their phone? A pebble? Sweets? Intriguing idea.

During this lockdown perhaps take this time to get to your know all your characters intimately so you
Social distancing
will know automatically know how they would react in any situation without having to think about it. Have some fun with it.

Stay at home. Stay Safe.

Thursday 12 March 2020

#writingishard6 - right way to write...

The right way to write. In my various roles I’ve been asked for formulas for how to write; where’s the ultimate place to write or the perfect time. I am afraid I have no magic answers to any of these – other than maybe you need a beginning, a middle and an end. It is all about finding out what works for you and your writing style.

Lucy Christopher
Some people like to work in silence, others in noisy coffee shops. Some like Lucy Christopher has sometimes talked about a playlist linked with their novel. This can be the music they listened to while writing. Annaliese Avery posted a track of ‘white noise’ that she likes to listen to when concentrating. People like to write first thing in the morning before everyone is up or late at night after everyone has gone to sleep. Others might take snatched moments. There are those that aim to write every day and those, like me, who might write every few days, fitting it in around other jobs. I have written about this elsewhere. Writing is like a muscle the more you do it, the stronger it gets.

Some people love to handwrite first using a pencil (Blackwing), pen, fountain pen (oh the choices are numerous but I am definitely a Lamy fan) in to an equally glorious number of wonderful of notebooks – A4, A5, lined, blank, squared, Moleskine, Lechtturn etc. I confess I tend to use my notepads to write scenes in and all my research but always have to have a new notebook for each novel. Others, like me, will write straight onto the laptop. I do it because I can type faster than I can write plus I can read it! Again, there is no right or wrong way. It is what is right for you, and what is right for you at a particular time. It doesn’t matter if it changes.

As a writer you find that people will be very quick to tell you what their writing practices are and some may even insist that their way is the ‘ONLY’ way to write. You can’t be doing it right unless you are doing it their way. Wrong. (Unless of course, their way does work for you!) It is like having children, everyone has an opinion as to how you should do it. You need to filter it just like you do when you have children when you decide who to listen to. There are the experts who you work with that you know you can trust pretty well plus there are those friends whose advice is always sound such as maybe your crit group (find your tribe – I’ve written about that before too). From the rest, you pick out those golden nuggets that make sense to you. The rest you nod and smile sweetly at them and say thank you. Remembering always, this is your story, not theirs.

The other important thing to remember though is to be adaptable. As a writer, you will change and evolve. Sometimes this is forced because of the needs of an agent or publisher. Other times it is just as you become more and more experienced as a writer, your writing style develops. I found this myself recently. The publisher wanted a chapter breakdown for the contemporary novel I was writing. I struggled with this for a bit because I am a bit of a ‘Planster’. Let me explain. I am definitely not a detailed plotter/planner when it comes to writing. Neither am a ‘pantser’ in that I don’t just write it and see what happens…or not totally. I usually know my beginning and know my ending; I might have a couple of scenes in the middle, but the rest is definitely written by the seat of my pants. Therefore, coming up with a chapter breakdown really challenged my creative processes. 

I could do it because I was able to use all the theories and skills, I had gained from writing Flight with Imogen. It worked well but it took me outside of my comfort zone. I completed that novel and sent it off to my agent last week. Interestingly, on the same day, a complete chapter breakdown for the next novel fell out of my head. This had never happened to me before. It seems my writing style has adapted. But these are my ways of writing. You will often hear how I ‘write cold, edit hot.’ I get a basic story down, so I know structure works then go back in a fill in the colour. I know plenty of people who do it the other way around: ‘write hot, edit cold,’ needing to cut out masses of words. As a writer, you have to find what works for you and don’t be afraid to try different ways until you find ‘your fit.’ This follows on from the last post where I said you never stop learning. 

What I will assure you is even if you have written a book, when you are sat facing the blank screen, white piece of paper because you are starting a new project, the chances are for the briefest moment you will think ‘can I remember how to do this? Do I know how to write a book?’ We all do it. It never gets easier. Just try to enjoy the process as much as you can. However hard it is, it is still the best job in the world.