Characters – Digressions, Petrol, Sharks and Sparks

A novel worth reading cannot be written suddenly.

It requires focussed effort, and putting in long hours.

And so the writer will often digress into daydreams…

How lucky I was as a child to spend tropical summers on a deserted 10-mile beach, infested at one end with gargantuan saltwater crocodiles, patrolled by 3-metre sharks in the middle, and at the northern end, a writhing nest of the most poisonous snakes on the planet. To be allowed to thrive in Wild Nature’s heart-stopping beauty, punctuated by the palpable reality that ‘safety’ is a relative thing, a fact demonstrated in daily reminders that the thin veneer of what is called a ‘comfortable suburban life’ is brittle, that life must be lived fully in each moment… all of this became the fortunate gift of petrol poured onto the fire of my young writer’s imagination.

But even such frothy digressions are not wasted time for any writer (please take note my dear publisher).
Use them as threads to gently tug on, to pull yourself back into the heart of your story.

Your story lives and breathes in the same place that produces such daydreams.
Dance with your digressions as they lead you back to the spark.

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So now that you’re all fired up, let’s get back to –

Character Sketching

Ask yourself:

• What does your main character truly believe?
• What are his/her weaknesses?
• What is your main character confused or unclear about?
• What does he/she have the wrong idea about, especially in the beginning?
• What secret(s) does your main character know/not know?
• What does he/she need to know?
• How are you going to show this to the reader?

• What does you main character really need?
• Who or what does she/he really care about?
• Is this something you as the author also care about? (If so, you are building on your theme.)

• What does your main character desire above all else?
• What does he/she want to do (even if he/she can’t or isn’t willing to do it)?
• Who is he/she hurting, and who is hurting her/him, and why?
• What motivates him/her? (This is what pours petrol on their desires.)
• What is the goal he/she is striving for? (As the result of their desire.)

• Now break this down into private/inner and public/outer goals. (Will these align in your story?)
• How and when will your main character achieve such goals?
• Do they have a deadline to achieve what they most desire? (They should.)
• What actions will you portray them taking to make all of this clear to your reader?

• Who or what is preventing them from achieving these desires/goals? (Conflict)
• How are you going to show your main character’s internal conflict?
• What other frustrations, obstacles or setbacks will your main character encounter?
• What does he/she learn in the end?
• How does your main character change in their journey towards either success or failure to achieve what they desire? (And how will you show this?)

Now ask yourself these same questions for all of your other characters.

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They say 10,000 hours of practice makes perfect.
Remember to stir in a little daydreaming for balance.

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