On Tuesdays, I am going to post some creative writing. I’ll take the lyrics of a song each week and create a story from them. Sometimes I may tell you the song, sometimes not. I’m not sure about that yet. Comments always welcome. The idea is to get some writing practice. The Friday blog will be about writing skills and techniques.

Here’s today’s story:

I played the message again. I couldn’t bring myself to delete it. What do you mean, you don’t want to see me? You know I love you. I’ll do anything for you.

It’s been a week now and I’ve been leaving messages every day but you don’t return my calls. Then when you do, you say you don’t need me anymore. I can’t believe that. What does that mean, anyway? You don’t need me anymore? Don’t you want me by your side? Don’t you want me there, loving you?

It’s been five years since we got together. Five years of happiness. When I met you you were no-one to me, just a casual fling with a waitress. I enjoyed our time together. You grew on me. I was so busy running the company and you were my fun, my escape. I grew to love you quickly. We spent every spare hour together.

I helped you get your career going really, didn’t I? Look at you now, so successful. It was me that spotted your talent and got you on the first rung of the ladder. Now you throw it back in my face. It’s going to be no good changing your mind, you know. It’ll be too late then, when you find that you need me after all. I’ll be gone and we’ll both be sorry.

The phone rang and I picked up quickly.

I gulped. “Hi, how are you?”

I hear your soft tones. “We’ve had five years of good times.” There’s sadness in your voice. “I still love you, but I need to move on. I need to live life on my own.”

I start to cry. “I can’t believe it. You’re actually leaving me. I’ve done so much for you. I need you.”

I hear a soft click on the line. You are gone.

I’m focussing on blog content rather than blog style. I figure style may come later – hopefully. Please be patient…

I prefer character driven stories. I like trying to get inside the head of the characters. I know they need to be set in a place and follow a plot, but it is the interaction of the characters that drives the story along for me. I have only written short stories so far, but it has been the development of the characters that has interested me most.

Here’s my top 5 points for developing characters.

1. Plan

Start with a simple plan. What age will the character be? From what background? Gender? Religion? What country? You don’t need too many items on the list – I don’t worry about physical characteristics or personality or habits at this stage. My driving force is to get a name. Once I have a name for the character, I can start to get inside their head.

But to get a name requires at least some planning. I use various Internet sources to get a name that is popular for that person born in that year. For example, an Englishman born in 1958 is likely to be called Steve.

Yes, many names are coming back into fashion these days, but that seems a recent phenomenon to me, and I always work on the basis that a name that roughly equates to the year of birth adds authenticity and helps the reader form a picture of that person more quickly.

2. Record the facts

I’m not a fan of building up a huge character profile on a checklist, favourite colours, favourite foods, type of personality, quirky appearances or

whatever. I prefer to let that come out naturally as the story progresses. For example, it may be that Sheila is short or tall based on how she has to deal with an umbrella. (Note that Sheila reached number 49 in the US baby name charts in 1965, so statistically Sheila already implies a woman aged about 45-50).

So: Sheila stooped to bring the umbrella in through the door.

I know it’s not a great sentence but you get the idea. It implies that Sheila is fairly tall.

I’m not great at continuity, and later in the story I could have Sheila struggling to reach the top shelf in the cupboard, so I make sure I keep notes.

I use Scrivener for all my writing, and simply keep a sheet for each character. Then, when I make a reference to some feature of that character, I copy and paste that phrase or sentence onto the character sheet, building up the profile as a I go along.

(Note: this idea is courtesy of David Hewson and his REALLY useful book about Scrivener usage: Writing a novel with Scrivener

3. Dialogue catch-phrases

I do try to make each character distinctive through the way they talk but I do find that really hard. Reading accents is hard anyway, so I don’t bother to try and write an accent. I prefer to use ‘catchphrases’.

We all have words or phrases that we use a lot. On my Scrivener character sheet, I make a note of some key phrases – some characters are more prone to repeating themselves than others, and I do find this helps toward getting distinctive voices.

It could be a phrase like: ‘bits and pieces’.

It could be a single word like: ‘Brilliant’.

4. Childhood memories

Everyone has some. I try to write out a childhood history in first person for each character on a separate sheet in my Scrivener project. I pretend I am writing my auto-biography for that character. I don’t actually use all the contents, but I do try to write down the sort of childhood that character had, then it seems to naturally creep in, and helps me build up an understanding of that character.

5. Character arc

That old chestnut about the character arc. Do people really change? Yes, their circumstances do, their whole life may be altered, but does their inherent, built-in character actually alter. I’m not so sure. Did Scrooge really change his ways for ever?

I like the idea that some of the habits and idiosyncrasies of my character actually stay right through to the end, even the bad ones. A little hint that the story didn’t really change anything after all.

What are your top tips and experiences with character development?

This year the theme of this blog will emerge naturally, but it is important for me to set out the main idea of what the blog is about.

The purpose of my blog is to focus on the creative side of fiction writing for authors, also covering my own story developments, as well as techniques for fiction writing that I learn on the way.

It could cover other things, but that will be its focus and I will keep it as narrow as possible. The more focussed on creative fiction writing it is, the more interesting it will be.

I’m working on a number of posts. I’ve read that it is important to have a few in the bank ahead of time, so that I can make sure I post every Tuesday and every Friday. Regularity and consistency of the topic will be key.

My starting point is to get on with it , rather than keep on planning content.

Do, don’t dwell.

But there are a few basics to sort out today, before getting content in place on Friday.

The title is wrong. It’s not a journal. It’s going to be a blog focussed on fiction writing. So I’ll call it Graham Dinton’s Fiction Writing Blog – too wordy perhaps. How about ‘The Fiction Author’ – I need to be sure there aren’t names out there already that I shouldn’t bump into. Some research required.

The style is a bit too simple really – I could do with a better font, and more stylish format. I don’t want to go overboard at this stage – content first! But maybe some improvements by Friday will help.

Friday will be about character development. I’m a fan of characters driving the story, rather than place or plot. Characters first. So I’ll be summarising my top 5 character development ideas.

Here they are! Now, lets go do it.

No. Goal Description Specifics Dates
1 Novel Well, this is why I’m here and the main aim. Write a 100,000 first draft. By 30th Sept
2 Blog Create a blog Improve the presentation and blog items related to the novel as it develops Every Tues and Fri
3 Twitter Establish a platform on twitter Daily tweeting related to writing fiction 200 followers by 30th Jun
4 Fitness Fresh air and fitness, a healthy lifestyle Walk 4 days a week; workout(30mins) 4 days a week From Jan
5 Read Read novels Read in the psychological thriller genre, and some classics Read 25 novels in the year.
6 Learn Learn the craft of writing Listen to Podcasts, attend courses, observe the experts. 6 hours a week specifically learning
7 Tech Develop my technical capabilities Publish on kindle, improve look of blog, trial videocasts, and multimedia Throughout year.
8 Declutter Scan and scrap, reduce the mess. Clear attic and cupboard of paperwork, scan it and scrap it By 30th June

Well readers, here’s my next test. Somehow I think it a distraction from getting on a writing. But, well, I enjoy the technology side of it all, so perhaps I’ll do those 500 words tomorrow instead.

Here’s my preferred tools for blogging in Action.
It’s supposed to be easy.
We’ll see.
Photo next time.