By Deana Luchia
I’m 45k words into my new novel. It’s about loneliness, misfits and the ties that keep us close to family, and features, amongst other things, twins, dogs (of course) and several aliens.
Several weeks ago I planned the bare bones of each chapter and each day sees me rushing to get back to my computer to fill in the gaps. In essence, I’m really enjoying writing this novel and spending time with my two main characters – two women, one a human, one an alien.
This time last year I was struggling to write a very different novel, albeit one set in the same location, with some similar characters. Despite working on it regularly for several months, I stopped and told myself it was because I was also finishing off a non-fiction book, I was working on blogs, writing short stories, I was spending time (far too much) trying to turn my first novel, which I’d self-published a few years before, into an actual book on Amazon’s createspace. I simply didn’t have the time for a novel on top of everything else.
But I could have made time for my novel – I had plenty of time for these other things – but I didn’t because I think I knew deep down that it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t the novel I wanted to write and the only way forward was to do some major reworking or scrap it entirely and start something new.
Eventually I opted for reworking and spent weeks changing tenses and swapping first person for third person narratives and back again. I aimed for different endings, different styles of writing, different settings…but nothing seemed to work. And then it hit me that it wasn’t working, not because of tenses or narrative styles or endings, but because I really didn’t like my main character. I didn’t care what happened to her and I understood why other characters were frustrated with her. She wasn’t horrendously behaved (which would have been great fun to write), she wasn’t selfish or funny or self-deluded, she wasn’t a monster or a despot, she was just a bit blah. But the thing that really swung it for me was that I absolutely wouldn’t have been friends with her. And she most definitely wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with me. Not at all. She would most probably have disliked me.
All of these ponderings helped me think about what kind of person I wanted to write about when I decided to start over. (Because starting over was the only option, really. There wasn’t much I could or wanted to salvage from last year’s work.) I wanted someone likeable, someone interesting, someone wrestling with real issues, someone who was a little or a lot ‘out there’ because that’s the kind of person I like reading about. I like characters who are otherly. And so I carried on doing my other writing activities, all the while thinking of how I could make an interesting female character who I would want to hang out with. That’s not to say I would be friends with all the women I have written about – but I have cared about all of them. They may have made me laugh or throw my hands up in despair at their insensitivity, their egos, their bad behaviour, but I was always engaged with them.
And so, here I am about a third of the way through my novel and I like my new human character. I would definitely be friends with her, though she is flawed and needy and messed up and not at all like any of my actual friends. But I care about what happens to her. I want her to overcome her problems. And I think this makes all the difference, for me, anyway. It’s the same with my alien character – the second narrator in my story – she would definitely be on my friends’ list. She’s odd (naturally), and funny and curious about people. And she’s really into dogs.
All of which means I’m keen to hang out with these people, keen to give their stories some substance. And so the last few weeks have seen me setting myself deadlines and goals as I’m having fun being with these people. And I’m aiming for the first draft to be finished by the end of April. And what’s more, I’m certain I will do it. Because when you like your characters you like writing them.
What do you think? Do you have to like your characters? Or is like the wrong word? Is it more about being intrigued by them? Let us know.