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Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines Blog Tour

Getting To Know Fictional People

For me, writing a book always starts with the characters. I need to know who the people in my story are, before I can begin to imagine what might happen to them. And it’s strange to think that these people who, by the time the book is published, feel so real and alive to me, all start as nothing but a scrap of an idea on a page.

All characters are different, and they definitely all develop their own characteristics and personalities as I write them. Some wander into my brain almost fully formed, without me even having to think about making them up (Jasper, a secondary character in my two YA novels, Love, Lies & Lemon Pies and Secrets, Schemes & Sewing Machines, was the most complete character I’ve ever had just turn up and insist on being in a book!) whereas others take a lot more thinking about and planning. But either way I find it’s always useful to establish some basics before I start.

A lot of character worksheets list endless things you need to know about your characters before you can write a story. Things like their eye colour, their star sign, what their bedroom looks like, how tall they are, where they had their first kiss… I don’t tend to bother with much of that stuff. Maybe later, I will sit down and type that stuff up, just to keep it straight and consistent through the story. But when I start, I only need to know five things.

1.      What do they want? More than anything in the world. The really, really important stuff. What one or two things do they honestly believe would make everything all right in their world – even if they are wrong about that. For Lottie, in Love, Lies and Lemon Pies, it’s to keep her secrets. For Grace, in Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines, it’s to win the lead role in the school play. But it could be anything – to not have to go to school today, for example. 

2.      Why do they want it?
What is it about this goal that matters to them? Why do they want it so desperately? In Lottie’s case, she thinks it’s the only way to keep her family together – even if that’s just her and her mum now. Grace wants nothing more than to prove herself, to win a place at the top of the heap again, after a year of setbacks and a huge family disruption. A character - let’s call him Neal - might desperately want to not have to go to school not because he hates science lessons, but because he’s being bullied, or because something is happening on this exact day that he just knows will change his life – for the worse.

3.      What’s stopping them getting it?
This is where the conflict starts. The moment a character wants and needs something they can’t have, they have to start fighting for it – and that’s what makes a good story. Lottie has the school on her back, Grace missed the auditions and can’t smile her way into a new one. Neal has to go to school because it’s the law, his parent’s don’t believe he’s sick again and his dad drops him off right at the school gates – where his head of year is waiting for him. 

4.      How far will they go to get it?
What is my character willing to do to get what they want? Will they lie, cheat, steal – even kill? Lottie lies to everyone who matters to her – even her boyfriend Mac. Grace schemes and plots, all the way up until opening night. Would Neal fake an illness, or set off the fire alarm, or do something bad enough to get himself excluded for the day? 

5.      Do they win?
Whether your character gets what they want in the end is entirely up to you. Sometimes a character wins, gets everything they dreamed of – and it turns out it’s not what they wanted at all. Sometimes they fail – and realise what they have already is better anyway. Sometimes they win and live happily ever after. And sometimes they decide, over the course of the story, that they want something else altogether. Lottie and Grace? Well, you’ll have to read the books to find out if they succeed in getting what they want. And as for Neal – if you want to know what happens to him, you might just have to write it yourself…