Writing a novel: a writer’s journal part 3

It takes character

To write a short story or novel it takes character. The character of the writer, that is. If the writer has the characteristics of discipline, persistence, patience and a good idea, the story will happen.

But the story also has to have characters. Novels have plenty of them; short stories can get away with one or two, maybe three and not many more.

There are stories where the novel is heavily plot driven. Adventure and stories high in action are like this. In other stories we observe that they are firmly character driven. What motivates the characters? What is their problem?

Australian writer Garry Disher writes: ‘I believe that character is the central element of fiction writing. Characters help fiction writers enter, tell and shape their novels and stories, express ideas and drive and develop plots.’

Over the last few days I’ve been doing some intensive work on the characters in the novel I am writing for my Master of Arts thesis paper. This is even before I have written a single word of my novel. I am getting to know my characters before they appear in the story, even before I start  some major plotting work.

Who are the characters in this novel?

Here is a summary of what I have done so far:

  1. I have decided on who is going to be the main character. This changed early in the planning stages because my secondary character took over my thinking. At first I was focussed on an Australian boy living in rural Nepal. But Adarsh, the Nepali boy, started taking over my thinking. He was demanding to be the focus.
  2. Who are the secondary characters? These need to be sketched in detail, but not as detailed as my main character. These include the Australian boy Joshua, and the older brother of Adarsh. Two secondary characters is probably enough at this stage, but others may emerge in the writing.
  3. Then we come to the minor characters, people like the parents of the boys, other siblings and people living in the village.

Focus questions:

The next stage in my planning was to ask some key questions. These questions will focus my thinking on various aspects of the people in the story.

  1. What are the goals and desires of the main character Adarsh?
  2. What motivates and excites him?
  3. What does he like and dislike?
  4. What frightens him?
  5. What worries does he have?
  6. What are his dreams?

Then I came across some further ideas in Garry Disher’s book which will head me in the direction of plotting.

  1. Which characters help Adarsh?
  2. Which characters hinder Adarsh?
  3. Which characters influence Adarsh?

It’s all starting to develop nicely in my mind. Even thinking about the characters has thrown up a few plot ideas which might make it into the novel.

I’ll keep you posted in a day or so.

Reference: Disher, G. 2001: Writing Fiction: an introduction to the craft. Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Go to the contents page to read more articles in this series.


One Response to “Writing a novel: a writer’s journal part 3”

  1. write says:

    thank you for your info