Monday, 29 April 2013

Writing Characters That Live On And Off The Page

I'm deep into my novel, a tale of 19th Century street life, so I've been spending a lot of time with my protagonist, Miss Patience Baker of Rotherhithe. She's good company, and I enjoy our time together, but something struck me today. What does she do when I'm not there?

I know a lot about Patience. I should do. I created her. But as I write, and think, and plan, she grows and deepens. She's becoming her own person. Sometimes this means I have to have a plot re-think. Sometimes she gives me just what I need to make the story sing. Sometimes she refuses to co-operate and I have to stop and listen. She's usually right.

I realise this makes me sounds a touch insane, but you know what I mean, don't you? If you don't, then you need to start listening to your characters. Let them off the leash. Let them figure out their own story. So how do you do this?

Spend time with them. A lot of time. Not just writing time or planning time, either. Give them a space in your heart as well as your head, and listen to them. Talk to them. OK so people may cross the road as you come muttering and laughing towards them (or is that just me?), but it's worth it. When you catch your character off guard, she will open up and tell you all sorts of little details that you didn't know you needed to know. Patience has never had money. She's just run away from the workhouse. I had no idea, until she told me, that she longed for a perfect pair of leather boots with tiny buttons.

When you read other people's work, think about what your character would do in that situation. Would they find an inner strength? Would they go against everything they believe in? Would they have courage or would they run away?

Think about the parts of your story that are not on the page. You don't write about every minute of every day, so what do they do when you're not there? Do they have interests that you hadn't considered? Do they lie there brooding over past injustices or do they consciously try to move on from them? Do they have fun? How? What are the tiny things they take pleasure in?

Character charts are all well and good but they don't bring anyone to life. Although they are mighty useful for consistency! I truly believe that your characters can teach you so much if you give them the freedom to be themselves. So, go on. Give them a chance!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

To Blog Or Not To Blog?

I haven't blogged for ages. I have had an excuse. So far 2013 hasn't gone according to plan. For the first three months of this year, writing was the last thing on my mind. I have now gone back to it with gusto, but I got to thinking about blogs. Should I bother?

Before the crises of the year (hereinafter known as COY), I had a merry old time on Google Reader (why did they stop it?), going down the list of blog posts from all the people I subscribe to, and then going on to discover new blogs from their blogs. I've had a laugh, I've learned some invaluable lessons, I've sympathised, empathised, and downright disagreed. But blog reading was a fine sport, and so was blog writing.

Back from the COY, my Google Reader had hundreds upon hundreds of posts. I couldn't read them all. I didn't know where to begin. So I marked all as read and decided to start anew. And then I didn't. I've read a few, commented on a few, but I haven't retained my sense of joy and of longing that I used to when I opened the reader (hereby replaced by Feedly, which looks good but the posts are piling up). So I got to thinking. Why do I read blog posts? Why do I write blog posts?

Firstly, reading. Why do I read blog posts? It depends. Sometimes I just want to have a laugh. Sometimes I just want to be reassured that I Am Not Alone. There have been some fine 'day in the life' posts recently from Author Allsorts, which are well worth a read. Sometimes I want to learn, and there are some very good blogs out there which help with research and ideas. Try Essie Fox's The Virtual Victorian, and Lee Jackson's Victorian London. Even if you don't want the research, they make for fantastic reading. When I'm writing, any tips are always gratefully received, and there is a wealth of knowledge out there in the world of bloggery. Recent posts by Vanessa Harbour and Nicky Schmidt are fine examples.

So, writing. Why do I blog? This is more difficult to answer. As a writer, albeit unpublished, I feel I ought to. It goes with the territory. I think blogging as a published writer is a different kettle of fish. Then there is more purpose - selling books, ultimately. For me, then? I guess it's a way of reaching out. The writing community is such a friendly one. Other writers understand why I talk to myself, why I can sit for ages looking at a blank screen, why I can block out the entire world when I'm, as they say, in the flow. It's the water cooler thing. It's saying something and knowing there are others out there who will get it. It's being part of something.

By writing this, then, I've answered my own question. Blogging is a Good Thing. I will blog and I will read blogs. Right then, where's Feedly?