The Creepy Way To Create A Character

I say Creepy, because it may seem slightly stalkerish to some of you. I am, however, just leading your metaphorical horse to water. You don’t have to let it take a drink… ūüôā

In Louise Doughty’s excellent book A Novel In A Year (which may or may¬†not help you write a novel in a year, but will definitely give you a lot of excellent advice, strategies and inspiration), she often presents her readers/writers with a situation to thrust a character¬†into (even if it’s not one they envisage¬†being in the completed novel), or to write about a time a particular situation happened to them, such as:¬†having an accident, getting lost, feeling trapped (emotionally or physically), being of a different nationality from your own, being a character from the past, and being an inanimate object.

Of course,¬†these exercises are¬†designed to generate plots and characters, and she then helps you assemble this generated material into a novel. I found those¬†chapters fascinating and incredibly useful (Big Respec’, Louise). And it’s sparked my own ideas on ways to create a character – or to get to know an existing one better.

My Writing Idea of the Day is:

Make your Character walk in your Shoes
(because actions speak louder than words)

Walk your character through your day (or even week). Lterally, if you want; think about your character wearing your shoes! Would they? Imagine your character living through your day. Would they be good at your job, more or less patient with your children/ mother/ dog/ boss? Would they have gone for coffee with that friend? Would they walk the children to school or drive? Bus or train to work? Would they remember to send that birthday card as you did, or are they forgetful/ lazy/ inconsiderate? Would they be a blogger or do they not know their Mac from their PC?

Or perhaps walk them through days in the lives of people you know. I have a female friend who is a bouncer. This wouldn’t be every woman’s cup of tea, but what kind of woman is prepared to do a job like that? (One who is also a black belt in Karate, if you must know!).

Look out your window Рis your neighbour off to a club or their work? Would your character be there too? Karate or WI? Or both? And if you have no idea where your neighbour is going, use your imagination Рwhere could they be going, why, and would your character be likely to be there too? Asda or Waitrose? Deskbound or a landscape gardener? Would they have waited patiently in that traffic jam or would road rage have taken over? What might have resulted if they had lost their rag?

Now prepare for boredom.

My¬†uneventful day: Took son to school, spoke to¬†Mum on phone, emptied & refilled the dishwasher, tweeted, revised¬†opening¬†of my novel, researched¬†readability score/reading age of a few novels using MyNovel software, had¬†text conversation with my boss and agreed to increase my hours, drank tea, coffee and a double chocha mocha, ate a chicken and coleslaw sandwich, picked up the post, did some more writing, emptied the bins, went to¬†village shop to buy chicken, bread and fruit juice cartons, collected¬†son from school (delivering two papers from my daughter’s round on the way), spoke to my black-belt friend and another who runs a natural beauty products company, filled in a school form to say yes, son & I would love to go to the Royal Wedding barbecue at school, emailed Techy Husband holiday dates, spoke to Arty daughter when she got in, spoke to Techy husband when he got in, deleted 4 spam comments awaiting moderation on this very blog, read a few other blogs, spent ages converting¬†file type & reformatting¬†text of the work newsletter so¬†I can put it¬†on the work website (which I run), dispatched my family to karate (yes, they go to classes run by black belt friend!), and then wrote this post.

Now your answer may be similar, or completely different Рbut ask yourself:

What did your character actually DO today?


A to Z Challenge: Come Hither To Feed Your Brain

Yes! It’s here! The challenge 800+ bloggers (many of them writers) – and their hangers-on (sorry, followers) have been waiting for. It’s….


DAY ONE. Brought to you by the letter – A.

Last night I was pondering my first post. I enjoy the quirky randomness Google can bring to the proceedings, and thought I’d see what the hits were for…a. All by itself. Excluding hits¬†for the same/ very similar things, the first 5 were:

  1. A (Wikipedia article) – an article all about the letter A.
    “the first letter and vowel in the basic modern Latin alphabet. It is similar to the Ancient Greek letter Alpha, from which it derives.”¬† So now we know.
  2. Youtube¬†‚Äď including ‘Noah takes a photo of himself every day-‘
    Well I had to look that¬†one up, my writer’s curiousity was burning like, like…¬†a chicken curry that’s¬†being ‘kept an eye on’ by a 14 year old (bitter voice of experience). Now I suspect I may be late to the party here, but that intriguing sentence in full is: “Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 6 years. ”
    Yep, that’s right, it’s a 5 min 46 sec video of photos that Noah Kalina¬†has taken of himself, every day, between January 11, 2000 and July 31, 2006.¬†Noah is a photographer from Brooklyn. To see the photos individually (perhaps a good idea, the video is quite fast and makes you feel seasick!) go here.¬†He is still taking a picture, every day, of just his head and shoulders – boy, there’s a book in there somewhere!
  3. A dictionary of slang
    The first entry in this fascinating dictionary is abdabs: noun Terror, the frights, nerves. Often heard as the screaming abdabs. Also very ocassionally ‘habdabs’ [1940s]. This site is well worth a visit – great stuff!
  4. HTML a tag
    a is an anchor tag in HTML. This is not interesting unless like me you like to walk on the wild side and play with your HTML. ‘Nuff said.
  5. The world‚Äôs rubbish dump: a tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan¬†‚Äď An article from The Independent
    This is a genuinely interesting article from 3 years ago about ‘A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean’. Back in Feb 2008, it covered ‘an area twice the size of the continental United States’. I’ll be looking this up later to see what’s happened to it since.

I can only hope you find this randomness as¬† interesting as I do. Or perhaps, like Elizabeth Crieth, I’m just ‘interested in too many things’ – this is what her careers guidance person told her at school! Doread her excellent post on ‘composting’ your mind. This¬†in particular is sterling advice: “I‚Äôd encourage every writer, or would-be writer, to cultivate a compost heap in her mind. Learn something new every day, even if it‚Äôs only a bit of trivia or some Believe-It-Or-Not oddity. Read widely. Talk to people. Ask questions.”

Hear hear, Elizabeth!

A Walk Round The (Writer’s) Block

If you’re a writer, at some time you’ve been¬†stuck (if not, I’m green with envy).¬† Flat as a pancake, stuck in the mud, brain so mushy that if you dyed it green and stuck it in a tin, it would pass for peas. Caught up in cliches. You get the idea.

We all know¬†– don’t we? – that WB¬†isn’t a strange incurable¬†disease. You’re just stuck; feeling unusually uninspired.¬† Short of new ideas,¬†unsure how to start or end –¬†or¬†wondering where to go next. How does Matilda Mudbottom get to America? What clue leads Patrick Pritstick¬†to the old vault under the church? Perhaps your plot’s got more holes than a teenage boy’s socks. The internet’s full of ideas to help, but not all ideas work for everyone, all the time. So the more the merrier, I say – here’s mine.¬†Which, like all good¬†ideas, engenders lots of others.

You take the opening line of one novel and the last line of another. Then ask yourself – how could I get from here to there?
Of course, there’s lots of variations. You could:

  • use the idea above – but use lines from the same book
  • if the first try doesn’t work, swap the books round and use the first line from your ‘last line’ book, etc.
  • use a last line as your first line – or vice versa
  • try the same idea¬†with chapter beginnings and ends
  • look at chapter titles and imagine what chapter you would write for that title – or make it the title of your short story or novel¬†instead
  • or if you’re a non-fiction writer (or¬†writing hussy¬†like me, who writes both!) you could challenge yourself to write an article from a chapter title.

And of course once you get going, you can change those lines and titles as much as you want.

Just in case you are suffering from the dreaded¬†WB right now, here’s your starter for ten. I have beside me Sebastian Faulks Human Traces¬† and Kate Mosse Crucifix Lane…

Faulks starter (shortened!): An evening mist, salted by the western sea, was gathering on the low hills.

Mist, eh? Will someone get lost in it? Is it normal mist or a supernatural phenomenon? Who could be out on those hills? Or in the sea?

Mosse finisher:¬† Annie took it.¬†‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’ve come home.’

What did she take? Who is she talking to? Where’s home? Perhaps she was lost out on those hills, in the mist devised by Mr.Faulks…and just for variety, we’ll try it the other way round.

Mosse starter: Five o’clock. A wet and grey London morning.

Somebody’s up early…

Faulks finisher: …the last vestiges of her presence were washed away, the earth closing over as though no one had passed by.

Who is she?¬†Vestiges –¬†footprints or¬†something else? Are we on a beach or in¬†a flood…

Go on then – off you go and WRITE. ūüôā

Giveaways & Good News

Just to confuse you, I’ll do the good (although slightly old) news, first.

Which is (drum roll):¬† despite writing it in a tearing hurry, my submission to 100 Stories For Queensland was accepted! If you haven’t heard of this excellent volume, it’s an anthology that will be published to raise money for charity, following in the footsteps of 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan.

I was pleased to be on the shortlist, but thought that’s as far as it would go, so very chuffed with the news. The story is called Pop, and it’s about…ah, well, that would be telling. You’ll have to buy the book. I’ll just say that it’s a light-hearted humorous tale that was inspired by a birthday card – one that was sent to Techie Husband several years ago. So you see – ideas really can come from anywhere!

The book will be available in print, digital and audio formats, and is full of the work of other lovely writers, such as Sally Quilford, Simon Whaley, Glynis Scrivens, Sue Moorcroft…and 95 others, of course!
More info soon.

Now for the Giveaway (drum roll again please, Mr. Collins. And do take that gorilla suit off).

I have a paperback copy of Lisa Gardner’s The Neighbour to give away to the first correct answer of this question:

What’s the title of Lisa’s first Det. D.D. Warren novel?

I have a little stash of book goodies to give away in the near future, but I’m thinking of auctioning some for Comic Relief or other good causes, so keep your eyes peeled (but only metaphorically, please. Don’t want any bloodstains on the blog.)

Mmm…great title for a novel…’Bloodstains On The Blog’… ūüėČ

Weekend Wonderfulness

After a few weeks of complete madness – just tooooo much to do – this weekend it’s been nice to chill. Not that I’ve really chilled in the typical sense, but I’ve felt chilled because there aren’t deadlines breathing down my neck. I got the latest OU assignment in on time on Thursday, despite spending more time at work than I expected to, completed the most urgent paperwork for work, and sent off my submission for the ‘100 Stories for Queensland’ book (albeit a little late).

On Saturday I had a really enjoyable OU tutorial in Cambridge. Once again, considering there are about 24 people on this course in what must be around a 25 mile radius, there weren’t that many of us, but it was great to see familiar faces and a couple of new ones. Caron Freeborn is not only a good tutor, she’s also an interesting person with a great sense of humour. Must remember to buy her novels and have a read ūüôā

We had a lot of fun with one of the exercises – we voted on a setting (I was quite chuffed because it ended up being an opera house which was my suggestion!), did some descriptive work, and then Caron made each of us pick a Secret Slip of Paper…this was the character we had to be in the monologue she asked us to write. And of course, the challenge was for everyone else to listen to it afterwards and guess who you were meant to be!

A really interesting exercise, but I was a bit unnerved, as I found it disturbingly easy to write as my character – ‘a 40-year-old alcoholic woman in need of a drink’! Lovely to spend a few hours with fellow writers though.

And today was pretty great too, because thanks to a tweet from Simon Whaley, I found there’s a longlist (well, more of a shortlist!) up for ‘100 Stories’. And – yay! I’m on it. Very chuffed.

A Book That Changed My Life

p> Countryside road

A Book That Changed Your Life

Such was the challenge laid down by Plinky recently… so, here goes.

Paul McKenna’s ‘Change Your Life In 7 Days’.
I borrowed it from a friend just before she moved miles away 4 years ago, and have repeatedly forgotten to give it back (which isn’t at all like me – honest – but these days I’m normally on my summer holidays when I drop in & visit her, and I’ve forgotten to pack the book in all the excitement!)

Anyway. The book. It did change my life in 7 days – and that’s without using the cd. Perhaps I should go and do that now…

It changed my life because it freed me of the guilt I felt for wanting a happy and successful life. At the risk of sounding all deep and meaningful here – heaven forbid! – I had been brought up with the ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it – and be glad you’ve got it, because that’s all you can expect and you certainly don’t need or deseve any more’ rule.

That rule stinks.

In reality, a far better rule is ‘if it’s not broken, but it doesn’t work properly – or as well as something else would – then for God’s sake sort it out before you’re too old to truly appreciate the result.’

In the words of Captain Sensible:

You’ve got to have a dream

If you don’t have a dream

How you gonna make a dream come true?

Within a short time of reading that book I had signed up to restart my degree with a creative writing course, and had put my house on the market. A year later I had moved 100 miles away.

That book really DID change my life, you see…

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