I recently did a talk to secondary schoolers about creative writing. I wanted to tell them a little about structuring a satisfying story and about building compelling characters. But what I wanted to get across to them more than anything was the importance – and the joy – of finding their own voices.
Last week I shared some handy tools and techniques for planning a novel and because I’m literally currently doing this, I thought I’d follow up with the next step: planning characters.
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…
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:
So I thought I would attempt to boil it down and show you the raw ingredients.
Yes, I am deliberately making it sound as if Aaron Sorkin is giving me personal one to one advice. Of course he isn’t really. But I kind of feel like he is.
I’ve been taking his online screenwriting masterclass from the aptly named Masterclass.com and it’s exceptionally inspiring and useful, not just for fledgling screenwriting attempts, but for writing in general.
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”.