Even though fiction is made up it might still be factual in terms of the places the story takes place in and perhaps the way certain characters behave. Often the experiences of the characters are based on the experiences of real people who have been in similar situations.
I read Joanna Trollope’s book: The Soldiers Wife and I know the author spent quite a bit of time with soldiers and their wives so that she understood the intricacies of their lives before she wrote the book. As a result it is a very interesting insight into the challenges these people face as well as being a good story.
Before I started writing Forever Lucky, I went to Highgate Village in London (where it is set) and walked around taking in the ambience of the place, lunching at one of the cafes and taking endless photographs. This provided rich material for me and actually made the writing easier in terms of developing the story around my key idea. As a writer you can mix some facts that you like with your characters and storylines.
I chose Highgate because I had lived there for a short time as a student but that was a long time ago (yes, very long) so I wanted to update my memories with how it is today as the novel is set in present day. Also, I am so much more observant now as I wander around. As a student I was pretty blinkered!
When I first started writing I thought that having to do research would make the whole process too time consuming. I do admire those that write historical novels; you need a really good knowledge of your chosen period (how did different classes behave then etc..) before you can even make a start!
Anyway I’m happy writing contemporary novels hand picking the factual details that serve my story well whilst developing characters that are completely made up. Ha!
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For any story, short or novel length, your main character needs to develop in some way by the end.
In other words, they need to change somehow; it might be that they learn from their mistakes, or maybe climb out of a situation they are thrown into and become a better person for it.
James Bond is a good example of a character, who does NOT develop from start to finish from one film to the next. He remains reliably arrogant, charismatic, charming (?) and the ultimate hero throughout. You know that whatever scrapes he gets into, he will be beaming at his latest conquest as the credits roll. James Bond films rely on extreme action to thrill us. Having said all that, I think Daniel Craig has been an improvement on the rest in this regard.
Character Development in Action
In the novel I’m currently penning, Forever Lucky, middle-class Katie is left at the end of Chapter One with no husband, two spoilt, demanding daughters who are used to a certain lifestyle, and very little money. Her character develops to meet the challenges she faces, and the story evolves through how she does this and what she becomes as a result.
So when you start your novel, think about how their character will develop to shape the story. What or who will influence them? What are they like at the beginning of the novel and what are they like at the end. It’s a good place to start.
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