Saturday 18 February 2017

Getting to know you

I’ve just started writing a new book. It’s all planned, carefully broken down scene by scene, with the ups and downs of the plot mapped out, because that’s the kind of writer I am. But there are always unknowns.

The main one, for me, is who these people are that I’m writing about. I know what their role in the book is, I know what their character is and how they relate to each other in a broad-brush sort of a way. My protagonist, Ravi, for example, is male, sixteen, clever, his shyness makes him seem a bit aloof, likes computer games. That’s more or less it.

So now starts the fun part. I get to move my characters through the plot I’ve outlined and have them interact with each other. As I do so, I get to know them (and so does the reader). And the funny thing is the way they surprise me.

This week I discovered that Ravi’s mum likes to slip healthy stuff into his lunchbox (quinoa salad this time) and one of his best friends always brings an extra sandwich for him and swaps. I learned that Ravi likes the anonymity of school uniform and has gone for a carefully neutral look at his non-uniform sixth-form college so he doesn’t have to think about what to wear. When he was asked to mime a sword fight, I was surprised to see him swinging a two-handed broadsword a Viking would use while everyone around him danced around with one-handed rapiers.

This is the best part of a first draft – it feels like the story is telling itself to you. Just getting all those words on paper can be a terrible slog. Don’t ever believe anyone who says their manuscript came right in the first draft. It’s the editing that makes a book. You plod along, moving people about, throwing obstacles in their way, knocking them down, picking them up, half an eye on the day’s word-count, half an eye on the clock so you don’t forget to pick up Sproglet from wherever. And then, all of a sudden your character does something completely unplanned, something absolutely perfectly perfect that shows you who they are. It’s a little bit magical.

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