I am half way through my latest young adult novel and want to share with you my experience of reaching that point where the characters ‘speak for themselves’. This may sound strange, a little weird even, but as a writer it makes telling their story so much easier.
Starting a new book involves a lot of hard work and often months of mulling over ideas. Several come along but there isn’t enough material to create a whole book from it. Cast it aside. Think again. Wait. Eventually something will spark an idea with plenty of scope for sixty thousand plus words that others will want to read. Then comes the main character. Male or female? How are they going to tell the story? This is when I am faced with the task of giving my protagonist a ‘voice’. And it has to fit. Be credible to the reader. Chapter one is the hardest. I don’t know this person yet. I can visualise them but not much more. So I start to write. Tentatively at first. The dialogue doesn’t come naturally at this point because I am having to think carefully about what is going to come out of this character’s mouth. Jack, the protagonist is fifteen years old. Choosing his name, hair and eye colour and putting him into a family started the process but writing dialogue for him was a battle at the outset. I had just finished CHEESE BOY, a book about two teenage boys, and I had to make sure Jack wasn’t like either of them. How would he speak? What would his thought processes be? His likes? Dislikes? What will his role in the story be?
By five thousand words I start to feel more comfortable with this Jack character. He is beginning to lift off of the page, changing from a 2D to a 3D individual. By ten thousand words Jack’s dialogue is flowing. He is taking ownership of his ‘voice’. As a writer this is where things become magical for me. Jack has evolved into a fully-fledged teenager with his own thought processes. This may sound a little odd but something shifts in the writing process at this point, from me thinking how he will respond to an incident, to him doing it all by himself. I love this stage. The story flows more freely, Jack says things I type without hesitation. The book suddenly belongs to the characters I have created and they are ready to do their job.
I am currently at thirty thousand words. I know exactly where the story is going. Jack and the other two main characters have got me this far and I am confident they will carry right on to the end. I have a pretty good idea as to how the story will resolve itself so all I have to do now is keep my characters on track with the plot and steer them towards the resolution.
Writing can be a challenging, often frustrating business, but when you reach that point where your characters take on a life of their own, it makes all the hard work leading up to it worthwhile.