Although I do a lot of background preparation, and have a plan where the story is going, once I write, I let my characters take the story and run with it. I love the way they become real and often change my ideas of what was to happen next.
However, before starting to write, I work through a series of character exercises so that I know them pretty well. I adapted these from one I learned years ago from a writer called Phil. I think his surname was Rockwell but I can't find him on Google.
- Draw up a graph (I use Excel) with all your character names down the side, one per row.
- Repeat all the characters in the same order, across the top, as column headings.
- Fill in every space with just a very few words, summing up the person on the left's attitude towards the one in the column.
- Marcia Douglas, the protagonist, is a minister's wife.
- Owen is her husband.
- Mrs C (Cartwright) is the old lady who lives across the road.
- Holly is the Douglas's teenage daughter.
Notice that you also fill in the characters' feelings about themselves. I initially battled with this, but then realised how important it was. It helps you figure out how the person actually sees themselves in light of the story.
So you see that Marcia is unsure of herself, fears her husband's rejection, resents Mrs C across the road for her interfering, and is exasperated and worried by her out-of-control teenage daughter.
After doing this, I draw up a Word page for each character, with three main columns. I put the name of the character all the way down the left side of the page, and the names of all the other characters down the right. I then repeat the list but with the characters on opposite sides of the page. The centre column is an expansion of what I had in the first exercise.
So here is what it looks like, using four of my characters from the same novel. (I've added a new character to the mix and dropped Holly.)
Got the idea?
Once I have done all this, I write a short history for each character, so that I have a better idea of why they are like they are. As I write, I often find they reveal bits of their lives that I didn't know about. (After all, I'm only the author.)
Give it a try - and have fun!
OVER TO YOU: Having read about some of the characters of this novel, working title, Hidden Agenda, do you think this would be a story worth reading? Which character introduced so far most grabs your attention?
SHIRLEY CORDER lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally.
Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook.