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Question: How do you develop your characters?
My work career was very satisfying, and diverse – two very different paths, fate led me by the hand and I have my own views about the way luck/coincidence/intuition affects our lives. However, inevitably there were times when some of the tasks I’ve had to carry out were mundane and times when I’m cleaning the house (I’m borderline OCD) which I find cathartic. It is also my thinking time. When my head can ramble without direction and that is when I write little stories in my head. A small thing might trigger a little sketch and as I mechanically carry out the task in hand, my mind was totally in a different place.
I can honestly say I simply sit down in front of a blank screen with maybe only half a page of notes and various ideas from my journal. The Quintessential Gemini began with one sentence ‘what if someone really did life their life according to their daily horoscope?’ My mind was buzzing and Katherine was born. When I’m writing I am the character, or rather, I let them lead me. They write it for me, I’m just the scribe.
It’s a weird feeling because another thing that surprised me, and had never occurred to me beforehand, was that I would enjoy writing from the viewpoint of a male character. I loved having James Kingman in my head, he’s the new astrologer who begins writing the daily horoscopes in the book. He was such a lovely guy, but his life too had fallen apart. His style was so different from the unique and charismatic Mark Ainsley-Thomas’ witty, but honest, forecasts. Katherine was in tune with Mark because she had followed him for so many years. She had never met him, but he was a significant part of her life and she felt as if he was a life-long friend.
James, being younger and a very different personality, was an amazing star chart reader but he was very plain-speaking. Mark always painted a picture, whereas James wanted to get down to facts. He also could not understand anyone who would life their life according to their forecast, rather than getting up in the morning and face what was ahead. He could not understand Katherine’s intense desire to ‘control’, or even manipulate where she was going.
Question: Do you outline your story? If yes, please describe your method. If no, please tell us what you do in place of outlining.
No. I have written four fiction manuscripts so far and one real-life story. None of them had an outline. It usually starts with one sentence, in the same way that The Quintessential Gemini was triggered by that one single thought. When I add that to my journal, my head will begin to work on the concept and as little things occur to me I will add notes.
So it began with:
Someone who lives their life according to their horoscope. Funny. Ends up Emailing/complaining when their favourite astrologer starts to get his forecasts wrong. Really wrong.
I re-visited my original notes for this story and it was about three-quarters of a page in total. Not all of the things listed there ended up in the book, I find that the characters end up taking the story where they want it to go and I prefer that, because it means I’m never sure what will happen.
The next question in my mind was ‘why do the forecasts go wrong?’ and from there it was a natural development to start looking at her ‘revered’ astrologer. Of course, if something is going to go wrong in life it is going to be when you least expect it and at the worst possible moment – so then Katherine obviously has to lose her job. The story begins …
Because I don’t outline I have to keep track of what’s happening, the characters who walk into the storyline and their traits. Also what threads develop that need expanding and taking to a conclusion. I do this by compiling a spreadsheet of chapters. I write fifty pages at a time and proof them as many times as I need until it feels right. I then add a little synopsis for each chapter to my spreadsheet and fill in columns that record new characters, traits and the plot that is forming around them. Because I usually write from a number of the characters’ points of view, this method allows me to keep track of the often very different ways in which they see what is happening.
However, one thing that is very important to me is a title. I have to have one before I can begin and I don’t really know why. I think it’s to keep me on track – a bit like a mission statement for a company, the reason for ‘being’. To get my title I brainstorm, writing down a whole list of things that pop into my head and then I narrow them down. Here is the final list I had for this story:
A RIGHT MYSTIQUE MESS – MY PERSONAL ASTROLOGER – A DAY IN THE LIFE OF … - A QUINTESSENTIAL GEMINI
It very quickly became The Quintessential Gemini, probably in the first week of writing and from there on in it was simply a case of sitting down and spending long days with the characters. They become real to me, in the same way that Katherine’s relationship with her astrologer was real, even though she had never met him. It’s exactly the same thing when you are writing. That’s the worst part actually, writing that final word and knowing your association ends there. You want to go on and I can see why so many writers pen sequels.
Question: What are your top inspirational spots or places? Who or what inspires you the most?
Anywhere, everywhere, anytime! I always carry a notebook and pen, always have. I can be on the treadmill at the gym, or in a queue at the supermarket. I often wake up in the middle of the night having dreamt something or with a one-liner. Because I get a lot of random ideas, usually a sentence based on one single thought, I like to write them down so nothing is forgotten. It only takes one small thing, something I witness or feel to trigger an idea that will begin to grow and then I add more notes as things occur to me.
Sometimes a place can give me trigger a particular emotion, or a psychic connection will start my mind whirling. For me atmosphere and ambience often trigger the thought processes. Quiet places like churches, because I love peace and quiet and old buildings. When you sit alone and contemplate, your mind takes you to places you can’t visit when you are embroiled in daily life. It’s cathartic, cleansing and opens up new channels, new places to explore inside of you.
The story I’ve just begun writing was based on one simple observation. A real person who has been married for twenty years and suddenly realizes she is unhappy and has been for a long time. Like slowly dying, one day at a time. She realizes she has never let go of her first love. It sounds like a simply story, but a psychic element kicks in and takes it in a whole new direction. It’s exciting to write and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
In truth what inspires me tends to come from either people-watching or the things that fascinate me in life. So astrology and all things psychic will always be top of the list. Add to that being an incurable romantic, but also I genuinely believe in grabbing life with two hands and that it is what you make it. I know life can be very harsh at times; some people have to struggle though enormous hardship and suffering. Even those who get off lightly will have bad times as well as good. If life was even all the time we would lose any sense of a high and low, it would be boring. So I move forward on the basis that when something bad happens you have to get through it as best you can and look for the positives. What can you learn from it, or how has it made you grow or be more empathetic as a person? If each down ends up creating a positive, it’s then much easier to survive those times and it also means the up times are fantastic! If you can celebrate the good within the bad, then when it’s good all the way you can really party!