Most of my books have a small ensemble ‘cast’ but I tend to start with the most ‘active’ voice and build that character first, the other characters are formed almost as ‘answers’ to that first character.
In Don’t Close Your Eyes, which features twins with equal billing and points of view, I started with one character (Robin) and then built the others using her as a starting point. The reason for this was simply that Robin came to me almost fully formed, so I had a running start. It’s not always that easy!
In Try Not to Breathe, I started with Amy. Although in the present day she is definitely not the most active, Amy’s point of view opens the book. And because the central question of the novel is ‘what happened to Amy?’ it was vital that she really came alive for the reader straight away.Readers have to care about what happens to a character, and you can’t care about someone you know nothing about.
But I don’t use anything remotely cutting edge to plan my characters…
This week, I’ve been planning out my next book idea… I’ve not put pen to paper yet (well, fingers to keys) because I’m working on the intricacies of the plot before I jump in. I’m using a whiteboard and index cards to plan out the structure and layer possible scenes and I’ve never done so much ‘thinking’ before writing before.
I’ve also been reading a lot about different techniques for planning and structuring, a lot of which I did (and I think a lot of authors) do instinctively, but an equal amount I have tended to do afterwards, through big edits, bigger glasses of wine and a lot of headaches. So if you’re also at the planning stage, here are some links and resources I’ve found useful.
Okay, I’m waiting for something and consequently finding it impossible to focus on my work in progress so instead I’m going to write… about writing. I think this is where I insert a gif of a snake eating itself and procrastinate for even longer via a deep dive into Giphy.
Since I was published, I’ve received a lot of interesting questions from readers, especially those working on books of their own. Something that comes up a lot is how I write, my process for turning this:
There are 35 lessons in total and I’m not going to blabber the contents all over the place (not least because I’d get in trouble) but one lesson in particular really stood out. It’s called “Writing Habits”.
First up, I love Arnold. I’m not being snidey and ironic, I really love Arnold. My dog is called Arnold Strong, FFS.
Whatever you think of the muscles or the politics, there is no denying that Arnold takes care of business. He gets stuff done. Irrespective of circumstance and raw materials, he focuses on something he wants to achieve and then achieves it. In his book Total Recall, he likens this to weightlifting: reps, reps, reps. Maybe because I also love to weightlift, this stuck with me. Everything is improved with practise, it just is.
The other thing that struck me in Total Recall, was Arnold’s annual list. Yes, 99% of everyone seem to blast out new year resolutions on Facebook every year, snivelling their hangovers into their January 1st cup of tea. But the Arnold List – as I call it – is different. And not just because drinkers’ regret isn’t the basis.
Every year, Arnold writes his list of goals for the year ahead, one by one he crosses them off as the weeks pass. This is a lot more focussed than a resolution, and can either be achieved through reps, reps, reps or by seeking out a good teacher. (Arnold is a big believer in reaching out to get help and advice from experts).
My Arnold List for 2013 was a mixed bag and I didn’t achieve them all. It wasn’t focussed enough. The things on there weren’t of equal top priority to me, so of course I didn’t give them all the same attention and effort. I didn’t even attempt one of them (the short story, what a silly aim). What I did achieve was what mattered most.
So for this year, I am stripping it to absolute top priorities, what really matters? Yes, I want to achieve a sub 50 minute 10K, I want to squat 100kg, I want pay off my credit card (okay, one of my credit cards) but if I’ve not done these come 31st December 2014? Meh. A shoulder shrug. They don’t belong on the list.
This year, outside of my job – which I’m ALWAYS focussed on, in case anyone’s watching… Haha, no I really am – it’s all about the writing. No diversions, no distractions. I’ve deferred my Open Uni (I couldn’t give it the whole ass last year and I hate doing a half-assed job of things), I’ve chilled out on the gym a bit.
It’s all about the writing. And the rewriting. And the writing. And the rewriting. Reps, reps, reps.
And I’m happy to say I’ve already struck the first thing off my 2014 Arnold List. And it’s a whopper.