This is what I do when I need a few more characters.
I go and sit in some public place – not a coffee shop or a pub, I need a constant flow of people. I’ve used Trafalgar Square before.
Then I sit down and watch people. I watch people go by, and in those few seconds, I give them a name, a job, and a couple of characteristics. It has to be based on the way they look and walk, and the clothes they way and what they are doing. Are they bankers or hippies, polite or rude, smart or scruffy?
You shouldn’t pick and choose. Try and do this for everyone who walks by, that way you get a good mix of people that perhaps you wouldn’t usually think of.
It’s hard work at first, trying to come up with all that information in the couple of moments it takes them to walk by. But, the more you do, the quicker you get. And when I do this, by the end of an hour or so, I’ve usually got a couple of characters, with names and looks and clothes and jobs and quirks ready to slot into a story.
A lot has been written about writing with accents. Do you spell the words the way the character would say it and risk having the reader not understand? Do you just suggest the accent, by say, making your German character not use contractions, and use occasional German phrases(which also could be a risk for losing the reader?)
It’s a fun debate but in the end, what I think is more interesting is the character’s reactions to each other’s accents. Let me give you an example. I had a Southern friend who could say just about anything, and because she said it in that cute drawl, people were never offended. She was the most blunt person I had ever met and people loved her.
On the other hand, I have had friends from New York or the Northeast, who talked so fast, and gestured so wildly, that I could start to take offense well before they finish. Accent, the pace at which someone talks, their use of vocabulary matters. And it’s harder to suggest than you might think. But having a character react to that way of speaking, could make it easier.
Yay, I’ve finished the second draft!
I know I said a couple of weeks ago that I was in the halfway trough, but I’d actually written that a few days before. Then, as predicted, the hurtle towards the end started.
Normally I write for an hour a day after work, usually enough for half a chapter. But I took some time off work, and wrote a lot and wrote at least a couple of chapters a day and now I’m done. And thank goodness, I’m exhausted.
The first draft is like the wooden frame of a building, the second is the brickwork and building itself. When I wrote the first book, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so the brickwork was just light brick cladding. This time, armed with everything my agent told me to do to the last book, I’ve built a solid stone structure, with turrets and basements and decorations and all kinds of things. It’s very long, and I hope more complex than the last book.
Of course, it’s nowhere near finished. It needs a third draft (the wiring and decorating stage) and a fourth (installing the furniture, I suppose). I still have a lot of doubts. I’ve already thought of two new characters I have to squeeze in to ensure the reader thinks what I want them to think and not what they ought to be thinking. And that final showdown scene needs a lot of polish.
But for now it’s done. I shall leave it alone for a month, whilst I do research. I have Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor to read, which seems vital for any novel set in Victorian London. I need to make a few visits to places in the book. Most of all, I need thinking time, and space before I go back.
But oh, it is a nice feeling to finish!
Too many times, writers rely on TV, movies, or just plain, “What everybody knows” instead of researching whatever they are writing about. Let me give you an example. I am from what most folks call a large family. I have five brothers, four sisters, a half brother, a half sister, a step brother and a step sister. There are larger families out there but I haven’t met many people from them.
And yet, people tend to think they know my experience. Let me tell you folks, it wasn’t “Seventh Heaven”or Eight is Enough.
For instance, not very long ago when I was out with my oldest sister, who needed a bit of help getting around after knee surgery, a stranger mistook me for her daughter. This has been happening all my life as I am number 8 in the family lineup.. My oldest sister, who was resigned to it by then, politely told the inquirer that I was her younger sister. I’m pretty sure I never saw that one happen on “The Brady Bunch.”
Another thing you don’t see on TV is the difficulty of group shots. There aren’t all that many pictures of all of us as a family together. First off, you need to take the shot from a long way away to get us all in. Secondly, since the age range was so huge, many of the older siblings were off somewhere (married, in the service, whatever) by the time some of the younger ones came along. And last but not least, when they did get us all together, someone was inevitably strangling someone else in the shot. As the younger sister who was getting strangled, I can tell you that I don’t know why my Dad didn’t notice and stop the older brother killing me off either. All I can assume is that when you are trying to get that many people to smile at the same time, something is bound to be missed.
Even now that we’re all long grown up, whole family gatherings are impossibly loud, and incredibly hard to arrange.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Before you write, get the scoop.
I was reading a biography of Margery Allingham (Golden Age Detective author of the Campion books) and found this quote, in a letter from Lavinia Davis to Margery Allingham.
‘No one ever wants to write but we do want to in that we feel unbrushed, unwashed and horrid when we don’t.’
I’d disagree with the first bit – I do want to write, though often I have the urge to write when I’m supposed to be doing something else. But I understand the second part. I feel wrong when I don’t write. I get what I call an itchy feeling – not physically itchy, but an itchy mind. I cannot settle until I write, and if I stop writing too long, I get extremely bad tempered and depressed. Settling back down to writing comes with an enormous sense of relief. My happiness levels soar.
She compares writing to what we have to do each day to keep ourselves decent, washing and brushing. It’s a necessary chore to keep ourselves healthy and happy. I could agree with that.
Sorry to say, I have no blog entry for you today. Why?
It’s like this…
I was going to write about Procrastination, but I kept putting it off till tomorrow.
Then, I thought I’d put together something about Congress, but I kept being
Okaaaay, I said to myself, I’ll write about Love, but I just didn’t like that.
So I wrote a thousand-word essay on Magic Tricks; it disappeared.
I know, I said to myself, I’ll do a piece about Memories; but unfortunately, I forgot.
How about World’s Best Excuses–that should make for interesting reading, no? It
was, but then my dog ate it.
With deadline looming, I turned to that old standard, Favorite Cookie Recipes; but
that was half-baked.
So I winged it with a story about Pigeons; it turned out awful, really for the birds.
Not being one to give up easily, I turned to a set of short Travel Vignettes, till I
decided I just didn’t want to go there.
Sighing heavily, I began a series about dentists; but that whole story line bites.
Of course you know what happened when I tried to write about oversleeping.
So, obviously, I didn’t even attempt the one about Exotic Diseases.
Then, there was the one about Fine Print. Which was great, except no one
could read it. Ditto, my brilliant investigative piece on Invisible
Throwing caution to the wind, I then penned a fine mystery story; I have no idea at
all where it went.
My biographical sketch of Pro Football’s Finest Quarterbacks has been
intercepted. And the piece about Nighttime was just too dark.
I did a consumer column about Screen Doors; it was full of holes. There
was one about Airplanes, too, but it never got off the ground. The story
about Faux Pas was just an embarrassment, really; and my essay on
Spaying and Neutering? My editor had KITTENS.
I attempted to show you my Etchings; that was too graphic.
Thinking I’d be in line for a Pulitzer for sure, I then wrote “The History of
Editing;” it was cut.
In a panic, I rendered “Secret Codes,” which was too cryptic; “Dull
Scissors,” which was pointless, and “Skin,” which was superficial. “Deja
Vu” seemed too much like something I’d read before, and “Casino Cats”
seemed like a gamble. “Final Draft” just blew
me away, but it was mostly hot air. “Triangles” wasn’t very
well-rounded, and I will admit, my story about Incompetent Tightrope
Walkers lacked balance.
Finally, time completely ran out, just as I was adding the finishing touches to