Today she’s here to talk about how she wrote her novel, Little Sister, and she also has a fabulous free writing activity.
ABOUT “LITTLE SISTER”
When I started writing my second novel, Little Sister, I felt pretty confident. I’d been thinking about the story for six months, I thought I knew my characters well and I had a basic plot outline. It should’ve been a recipe for success but somewhere around the 20,000 word mark – a third of the way into the book – I got stuck.
It wasn’t that I’d run out of ideas, just the opposite: I had loads of options for what could happen to move the characters from Point A to Point B in the plot, but I couldn’t decide which would result in the best story. I thought if I just kept writing the story would sort itself out. But the more I wrote the further I got from my original outline, until I’d bypassed Point B altogether, arrived at an unplanned Point C and was hurtling towards a conclusion that I didn’t knew would be an unsatisfying end to the story.
I was now about 45,000 words and six months into writing. I knew something had gone drastically wrong and I knew I had to fix it, even though the idea of wasting all those words and all that time made me feel sick. So I stepped away from my computer and thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. Weeks later I was still thinking about it when I realised that I’d been so focused on what was going to happen that I’d lost sight of who it was happening to and how they would react (which would drive the next stage of the plot). I needed to get back in touch with my characters – especially my narrator, Al.
So I wrote a letter. Or rather, Al did. I looked back over all the notes I’d made about her: personality traits, likes, dislikes, dreams and fears, until I felt like I’d reconnected with her. Then, channeling my inner Al, I imagined her telling the story of what had happened to her over the past six weeks (the period that the book is set over). The letter took three hours to write and covered 10 pages. At the end of it I had about two paragraphs per day that the book is set over, describing what Al thought were the most significant events. I had my plot – the whole thing. More importantly, it was written in Al’s voice, with her reactions and her leading the action.
I did have to go back and delete about 20,000 words, but after writing that letter I was so in touch with Al and what she’d been through that I actually wanted to start again! Best of all, in telling me her story, Al mentioned a few things that I hadn’t known about her, that became subplots in the book.
It was a hard earned lesson, but what I took away from those torturous few months was that sometimes you have to let your characters lead the story. Trust them, they usually know what they’re doing.
Part of getting to know your characters is finding out their backstories – the things that happened in their lives to make them the people we meet in the story. Try answering some of these questions in your character’s voice:
- What’s your nickname and how did you get it?
- What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
- If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- What five possessions would you grab if your house was on fire?
- What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? How did it change you as a person?
- What makes you smile, even when you’re feeling sad?
- What was your favourite toy as a child? Do you still have it?
- What question would you most hate to be asked in a game of Truth or Dare?
- What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told? Did you get away with it?
NEW WRITING COMPETITION OPENS TODAY – THE THEME IS “THE JOURNEY”.
FIND OUT MORE AT OUR COMPETITION PAGE.