A Break and Biographies.

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It’s amazing what wonders a break can make.

Last week was half term and I had therefore decided to give my first draft a welcome rest – we needed to give each other some breathing space. Instead I had a restful and fun time with the family. On Monday out came my iPad, my Keyboard and once clipped into place I was set to go.

I found I was writing with renewed vigour and energy as well as a greater sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. My fingers struggled to keep up with my thoughts, stumbling over each other on the keys. One downside of this extra vitality is that my poor brain never seems to stop buzzing and even half asleep I will find myself trying to recall sentences to write down in the morning. The world of my characters are becoming such a large part of my real world that even in my sub-conscious the border between real and imagined is blurring.

When I started this project I knew many of the ‘rules’ of writing a novel and realised from the beginning that I had committed a cardinal sin in my approach. My error – never starting,  no matter keeping up to date, a biography of my characters. Week after week I have winged it, just writing away, everything held in my head. It seemed to work well enough although I was forgetting names of smaller character. After the weeks holiday my memory had lapsed even further so yesterday I finally started my biographies.

First there is the obligatory visit to a good stationary shop for  a new notebook. As all writers know, you can never own too many of these. After throwing away a small fortune on a blue striped ‘Pukka Pad Project Book’ I returned home and set to work.

On a separate page I wrote the name of a character featured in the story and then added detail.  As I need to reinforce my time-line I have given birth dates to everyone as well as surnames, siblings, school names, type of work. I finally got round to writing a clear description of each character, including any particular features, eg. a lop-sided walk, nervous habit of fidgeting, their speech manner. etc. Furthermore I have added their likes and dislikes as well as their fears. Also I like to describe the characters’  clothing, the feel of the material, the look.

Below are a couple of character biographies I completed last year for another book idea which as yet has not been developed further. They should  give you an idea of what is involved.

My Fictional Biographies Examples.

Christine Brazier.

Christine was born on 12th May 1978 in North Yorkshire and lived in a small village called Bellingham. She later attended the highly prestigious Harrogate Ladies College and later studied medicine and in 2002 graduated from Durham University.  She is currently a paediatrician at Leeds General Infirmary. Christine did not have an easy childhood, losing her mother to cancer aged ten and thereafter, although her father cared for her, she lacked love and warmth in a normal family setting. Her older brother was largely disinterested in her. As a result Christine has become a very uptight and controlling person, almost a perfectionist. Although she will listen to others she has often already made up her own mind. This flawed character trait is crucial to the story. She is a keen health fanatic and enjoys spinning at the local gym, road running and races and is addicted to tweeting.  Her guilty pleasure for relaxation is on-line bingo – but always within limits. To start with she has no sense of humour. As the story progresses and she loses control of her life we see her change to a more easy-going, relaxed person, willing to accept help from others as well as learning to laugh in adversity. Christine is divorced with two children who mean the world to her. Christine is very skinny, tall and has green eyes and dark red hair cut short and  straight. She has a habit of tilting her head to one side when listening to others. When talking she tends to talk in short clipped sentences at work and her frustration with people she considers working too slowly is palpable.

Owen Boyd. Journalist, later Christine’s friend.

Owen was born on 23rd March 1968 in a poor suburb of Bradford. He is a disillusioned reporter on the Yorkshire Post, which is based in Leeds, and he has become bitter over the years about his lack of career advancement. His dreams of working for the nationals has never materialised. He left school at 16 to work at the local paper and attended college part time to gain his national certificate in journalism. Boyd, as he is referred to at work and outside, has scruffy blond hair with blue eyes and does not have a keen sense of style. This shows up more than usually as he is tall and has a solid build.  His comfortable style of clothes for work does not sit well with the modern sleek expectations of the office.He never walks or saunters, rather strides purposefully forth as if on a mission.  Following his years of experience in the print press he feels this gives him unique knowledge of how to work and he resents taking orders from younger more senior but inexperienced managers. This often leads to confrontation. However he is often right and his dogged obsession with the smallest detail and meticulous research skills have stood him in good stead.  Following a bitter divorce and estrangement from his teenage daughter Boyd has  became addicted to prescription drugs and started smoking again. His love for the outdoors hasn’t dulled with time and he is still a keen cyclist and gardener. In his childhood he had a passion of keeping tropical fish and this interest has been revived since living on his own and he now has one room at home filled with fish tanks.

“The spirit of man is nomad, his blood bedouin, and love is the aboriginal tracker on the faded dessert spoor of his lost self; and so I came to live my life not by conscious plan or prearranged design but as someone following the flight of a bird.”

Laurens Van Der Post

Word count of first draft: 35,108 words

Battle of Views

Black Tulip

In the past week the Battle of Viewpoints has been fought within the pages of my novel.

Automatically I started writing in the the third person, feeling comfortable and at ease.

Then one of the main characters clamoured to be heard and as an experiment I switched to her first person voice.

The result was not the triumphant powerful success which I had imagined.

Although I enjoyed being in my character’s head and travelling with her thoughts and observations on paper (or screen), my writing suddenly became simplified. This could be as the character at this stage is a young girl aged 10 and my language in her voice couldn’t help but reflect her youth.

Furthermore the passages of description which I feel are critical to the story became lost as the need to describe the settings became superfluous since they are familiar to the character. Any such description became false and forced.

Often writers use first person as this allows the reader to quickly engage and identify with the character, thereby drawing them into the story. I have often written from this viewpoint in my short stories and found it ideal. There is one danger though and that is the reader is limited to that one character’s perception of the story, through their eyes only. It is virtually impossible to introduce any events away from the character. One way to add further dimensions in the first person perspective is to use two or more characters.

Having just read ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd I did consider this approach. In her wonderful book there are two narrators: the slave girl, Handful and the slave owner’s daughter, Sarah Grimké, who alternatively swap the story telling and thereby relate two very diverse and diametrically opposing worlds and experiences.

As I could not imagine two characters alone carrying the my story I knew more would be needed and was concerned this could be become cumbersome.

At one stage whilst discussing my dilemma with a friend she questioned if I could use both first and third person? I hesitated and gave the notion a thought. I cannot remember reading any books written thus, but perhaps they do exist. The mental and emotional logistics of such a narration though seemed fraught with difficulties and pitfalls, so I decided to avoid that route and instead reverted to the third person.

On the whole it was a relief to return to the third person viewpoint. The floaty descriptions returned but now enhanced with a third person perspective. The distant narrator is replaced with a more personal viewpoints of the characters.

Although the chapters are not headed by the which character is leading the story, there do exist ‘signposts’ very early on showing which character’s viewpoint will dominate the chapter.  I now retain the freedom to write about events well outside the characters if required whilst ensuring characters are personable and well-rounded. To avoid confusion I am sticking to four character viewpoints in the third person, this gives me the breadth to explore their emotional and inner feelings and thoughts of each one. The plot will still be pacey whilst other characters and subplots can be easily introduced.

In her book, ‘Sunrise’, Victoria Hislop writes beautifully and in the third person, so effectively at times I didn’t realise it wasn’t in the first person. The pain, anguish, deceit and love of the characters  are depicted with startling vitality.

The battle is over, calm reigns and now I just have to rewrite a couple of chapters. No problem.

I told myself reading was a kind of freedom, the only one I could give.

Sarah Grimké in ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd

Current word count of first draft of my novel:  14,940 words