Writing Secrets: Believe in it – at least, if you expect us to

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

We’ve had someone on our mentoring programme who has been struggling for months with a story, which just hasn’t been coming together.

The main character didn’t ring true. We couldn’t understand her motivations. Large swathes of her life were simply rushed through or swept past, as though they didn’t matter at all.

Eventually, we sat down for a heart to heart with our participant, who revealed: “The thing is, I thought my character would be a vehicle for issues I wanted to bring to light, and aspects of my own life I wanted to use.

“I don’t really care about her. She’s a flibbertigibbet. Sometimes I don’t even know why I’m writing about her.”

Ah ha. And suddenly all became clear. If you don’t care about your character; if you view her as a vehicle for your views; we’re not going to care about her, or believe in her.

Even a comic character needs to be rounded. You, at least, still need to take him seriously. You might choose to create a character who epitomises what is wrong with contemporary society, but she’s still human. There must still be that hint of something we can take seriously and identify with.

If you think you’re going to write something with your tongue firmly wedged in your cheek, I don’t believe it will work. You may choose a sardonic tone, and have the intention of satirising the way we live, but you still need a character developed enough for you to understand. If you don’t, neither will we. And if he’s merely a cypher, we won’t care enough to read on.

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