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Character building stuff

Okay, so last week I was feeling pretty chuffed about writing my book's story outline. It was Friday evening, I had just completed my first blog, and was ready to start writing chapter one of the book on Monday morning.

I hit the blog publish button, sent a tweet, and went upstairs for a glass of wine on the roof of our house with hubby. Rooftop and wine go hand in hand – it’s our favourite place to hangout, listen to some music, remind ourselves how lucky we are, and gaze up at the stars.

No sooner were we up there, however, when I thought: Oh crikey, I need to work on my characters before starting to write chapter one. Yes, I know - an obvious statement. And no doubt highlights just what a complete novice I am!

This week has been all about characters

I read somewhere that if you have your characters really well defined then the story will write itself. So this week has been all about characters – from physical appearance to personality type, to lifestyle and upbringing.

Donald Maass’ article on Characters Light and Dark talks about the difference between flaws (negative) and struggles (positive) and the importance of the inner journey and desire to change. As a benchmark, I kept thinking - were my own protagonist’s struggles and flaws a match for a character like Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean?

At the time, I was having my own struggle: would anyone actually like my protagonist? The Power of the Unlikeable Protagonist by Jo Eberhardt gave me the green light to develop him the way I felt he should be, so long as he has clear motives and is consistent in his behaviour.

Clarity on what my character wants vs. what my character needs

And then there is the matter of bringing all this together and making the story consistent. KM Weiland’s symbiotic triangle of Plot + Character = Theme is a great guide for making sure there is clarity on what my character wants (plot) versus what my character needs (theme).

As expected, I did start to use Scrivener this week, using a Scrivener beat sheet template to map my story outline. It was also a good opportunity to use the character outline section in Scrivener to document my character traits.

So far, so good but it took longer than anticipated to really think deeply about who my characters are. As part of building these characters, I had to conduct plenty of research, especially because this first book in the trilogy is set in the early twentieth century. I haven’t finished with character building yet, and no doubt I’ll keep coming back to it as the book progresses. Allowing my mind to wander and be creative has been a lot of fun, and the added bonus is that I’m growing more fond of my characters every day.

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