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I read an excellent post the other day by Alan Chin where he talks about how he creates his characters and how well he knows them. He knows everything from their political persuasion to what hand they use to do what and it was a wonderful insight into how writes work.

I feel such a fraud at times, when I see this level of craft that authors use. I think that I should be working like this. Alex Beecroft has blogged about how she plots every chapter, every scene onto cards and ends up with a whole novel worked out in advance, and then I look at my PC screen and… well, all I have is a WIP which grows—or not—like Topsy.

I did try the character fact-sheet route. After Standish I sat down and started to map out character fact sheets for the two Space Opera merchants that I was planning a series of short stories for, but I only got a few lines down on the first guy before I came to a grinding halt. I DIDN’T know about the character. I knew—roughly—what he looked like: a disarming grin, tousled hair, dark-brown eyes, but that was about it. I had no idea what he’d do in a pinch, because I hadn’t actually created that pinch in which he’d have to do anything. I didn’t know what he thought about puppies and rainbows or whether he got space-sick or whether he’d had sex with women, or anything at all.

I looked at the character sheet, and as so often happens, I felt inadequate. Like I was playing at this, and wasn’t prepared to put the work in. Then I wrote the story anyway and found out more than I ever would have done by giving the character his traits in advance.

You see, to me, writing (and reading) a novel is like making a friend (or getting to know a foe) in real life. When you first meet what MIGHT become your significant other, or your next bosom buddy or the bane of your life, you know little about them. You may have some third hand knowledge from another friend, perhaps they’ve arranged the meeting and you’ll know what they look like, or that he’s vegetarian, but until you’re out together on your own it’s all hearsay, and anyway, how he acts with other people isn’t going to be exactly how he’s going to act with you. Each time you meet you’ll get to know a little more and a little more—and you’ll never get to know the whole package, even if you kid yourself that you will.

So writing is like that for me. I don’t know that person as he hits the page. He might be running (and I don’t even know from what, or where to) – he might be sitting at a desk, he might be in the middle of an argument, he might be lying naked by a river. All I see is the image and as he continues to run, lies thinking in the grass, muses about his poverty, or stops his car at a hotel – until he starts to think and interact with his environment I know as little about him as the reader who is reading it faster than I can write it. Until I throw caltrops in his path I haven’t got a clue how he’ll cope—whether he’s brave or cowardly, whether he knows any kind of fighting, whether he’s corrupt  or has a good soul.

I know this probably sounds like madness to those organised and hard-working authors out there, but it’s unthinkable for me any other way. I’ve found that once I DO KNOW what’s going on with my plot I find it difficult to write, because as far as I’m concerned it’s already happened and I wish someone else would write it down. Same with characters – they’ve got to keep part of their mystery for me, all the way through, even to the end, or I just lose interest in them, which – *laughs * – probably explains many of my endings….

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Going to try and “blog” a bit more, instead of just using it as a journal of random thoughts. You’ll still get that stuff, but once a week at least I’m going to do a blog.

Today I’m going to continue with the much lapsed “a-z” and I think we are up to B.

Which shows you how well i did with it before.


These subjects are particularly “writer-worthy” or serious, hell, it’s me after all. But I hope it might pique your interest, give you a bunny or simply make you go, “gosh that’s interesting.”

B is for beer. Read more... )

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This will begin a irregular series of blogs regarding writing—or at least, the plan is that it will be about writing. It might veer off into other aspects, but really, right now, all aspects of my life lead back to writing in some way, so it's all used and re-used, if you know what I mean.

What I'll say though is that I've come to realise that I'm not a writing guru. I can't write regular (or indeed any)blogs about HOW TO DO any particular subject.  Because frankly I believe that rules belong to other people when it comes to writing (and much of other stuff).But what I will do is speak about how things relate in my mind, so hopefully it might resonate with you.

So we'll kick off with A

A is for Antagonist

Every book should have one, and it doesn't necessary mean a villain in human form. It doesn't have to be human, or alive at all.

It could be a difficult journey, a war, inclement weather, the political climate, the location  of the story—many inanimate things can form your protagonist. Even the protagonist can be his own antagonist if he's beset with issues you could stack up and climb. Vonnegut said that you should be as mean to your characters as possible. I agree, or what's the point? You only learn about your "hero" (if that's who he is) when he's dealing with problems. If I have to read him making omelettes for 20 pages and then having schmoopy sex with his partner I'm really going to get bored easily. However if he's battling trolls or stuck up a mountain with only a toothpick for company, if he's stranded in a tree or trying to win over his parents in law then you have a story to get my teeth into.

Of course you can also introduce people, animals, even trees(!) in as things for your heroes to struggle against, which makes it all the more fun all round I find.

As anyone who's read any of my stuff will know, I like being mean to my characters. It's absolutely delightful (to me) to create a human being (or animal, I don't discount that one day I might try an animal story—War Horse beat me to the post re horses, sadly) which I love to matter his flaws (and there are usually scads of those) set him on his merry way and then throw rocks at . Loads and loads and loads of rocks.

I can imagine a new character arriving behind the scenes in my PC where the older and more experienced characters are and being inducted—or not, depending on how mischievous the others were feeling—as to what he's likely to be up against. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!


There's almost nothing that annoys me as much as a reader as having a book with no conflict, no antagonist of any kind. The hero drifts through the story, handsome, talented—and things happen to him, but never for long and they are never terribly bad things. He might get hungry for a while, or homeless, or cold—but lo and behold there will be someone around who sees his pitiful handsome face and takes pity on him and soon enough he's got his feet under some guy's table for nothing more than a few fucks.

I don't think an antagonist (whether animal, vegetable or mineral) is necessarily conflict—it forms part of the conflict but an impressive enough antagonist can colour the whole book—such as in Gone with the Wind—or can sweep in and made one devastating change.

So, what do you think? What antagonists do you employ that aren't necessarily human? Do you find you have themes?


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