For a story to really work you need to have these three things:
- A main character
- A plot
- A setting
Your main character needs to have a strong voice and something to say.
I never search for characters. I discover them by listening to music. I sit back, close my eyes and let the music draw me out of my mind and into my imagination. Then I wait to see who floats in. When they appear I get interested in them. I look at the expression on their face, what kind of clothes they're wearing etc. I imagine what their voice is like. I have a little conversation and ask them what their name is. I absorb all these details through my senses and then I ask them these questions:
What makes you unhappy and what would help to make you happy?
And then I sit back and wait for them to tell me.
In my book Shine, Tiffany hates the fact her mum steals things. She wants a normal Mum who she can trust. In Glitter, Liberty thinks her dad loves her older brother more than he loves her. She wants her dad's praise and love.
Characters have to have a goal. They either want something or they want to get away from something, and then the entire story needs to be built around this need. I find it helpful to imagine my character holding onto a golden rope that threads through every word, keeping them on track of this goal. Working like this stops me straying from the point and getting lost in unnecessary happenings.
Then I ask my character other questions like:
- What are you scared of?
- Who is in your family?
- What secrets do you have?
This kind of information is really helpful because when I'm busy with my story and something happens I need to know how my character will react. I need to know things like, if someone shouts at them whether they'll laugh, or cry, or run away and hide.
The more I know my main character the more believable they'll be.
The Plot is all the things that happen in the story, the things that travel along the golden rope. For a story to be really interesting and keep the reader reading you need to:
First, give the reader a little taste of the character's normal life.
In Shine, I spent a bit of time describing Tiff's chaotic life with her mum. In Glitter I described how much Liberty loved her school and how afraid she was of her dad.
Then something needs to happen, something that tips the character's normal life off balance. In Shine, Tiff's mum goes to prison. In Glitter, Liberty gets pulled out of her boarding school.
Then other things need to start happening that get in the way of the character achieving their goal.
If the character gets what she or he wants straight away then the story will be pretty boring. Readers like tension and surprise. In Shine, Tiff's mum doesn't understand that she's done anything wrong and with her mum in prison it seems impossible to Tiff how they'll ever work out their relationship. In Glitter, Liberty's dad refuses to let her play the violin and she knows if only he would let her, then he could be proud. This is where your smaller characters come in. These are the people who either get in the way of the character achieving their goal or encourage them to keep on trying.
After several failed attempts at getting what they want, your job as a writer is to bring your character to a point where they feel like everything is lost, like they're never going to achieve their goal
This place is often called, The Dark Night Of The Soul. It's the place where the character feels she might as well give up. They'll feel sad, frustrated, angry, alone, lost and hopeless.
Then you either let them get what they want, or you don't - it depends whether you want a happy ending or not.
At this point your character will have learned some kind of a lesson from their struggle.
In Shine, Tiff struggles to trust her mum, but once her mum has confessed all the bad things she's done, apologised to all the people she's hurt and promised Tiff that things will change, Tiff makes a decision to trust her again.
In Glitter, Liberty uncovers the truth about why her dad seems to hate her and why she's not allowed to play the violin. Once this is uncovered she starts to see the truth, which is that he's loved her all along but hasn't been able to show it.
Show a little bit of the new life.
To give your reader a satisfying experience they'll want to read just a little bit about life after the struggles, about how the character feels about the new world she's living in.
You don't always need to go into huge detail about where your story is set but it helps the readers imagination if they have some idea (especially if it's a fantasy story). You can create a setting really effectively by using smells and images and impressions, rather than long descriptions.
Throughout the story an important thing to remember is: Show not tell
She felt very scared because she could hear someone following her - isn't so satisfying for a reader as - Fear raced through her body. Her heart was pounding, her hands were trembling.
I find it useful to keep a little notebook with me all the time so I can scribble down ideas as they pop into my head. Or sometimes I'll record my ideas onto my phone.
The most important thing when you're writing is to remember to have fun, because that's really what it's all about!
Lots of love Kate xxxx