When I wrote Beside Me, I loved my heroine, Corinne. She might have been prickly at times, but I never opened up a chapter on my screen without wanting to find out how she was and what she was going to do next.
So how come I’ve just spent two weeks wishing I’d never met her? How come the feisty but vulnerable teenager I had so much empathy with turned into an annoying, argumentative 15-year-old?
The answer is, as all the authors on here will know, that characters take on lives of their own. Writers create them and, of course, control them – we can choose what they look like, how they talk, even whether they live or die. But if you don’t give them their fair share of freedom, they don’t come to life on the page.
I know Corinne doesn’t really exist, except in my imagination. I also know that parts of her are as alive as I am, because when you “invent” someone you take characteristics from people you’ve met, seen or even just glimpsed and put them together to make someone new. One character in Beside Me was born after I saw a group of teenagers in a cafe; they were clustered round a girl whose body language and tone of voice showed that she was obviously the Queen Bee.
This week, Corinne and I have become friends again. I know why she’s seemed so uncharacteristically arrogant and I’m glad she’s had the courage to admit that she was wrong. What she doesn’t know, of course, is that she’s got some huge challenges ahead of her: I think I know how she’ll cope, but I could be wrong.
That sounds as if I don’t plan. I do, but plans only work if you build in flexibility. Writers work in different ways: I know some who write lengthy back stories for all their characters, some who write detailed chapter by chapter synopses and some who think about ideas for months then write with nothing but that mental framework.
But no matter how detailed your plan, you have to allow for “What if?” moments. What if you took a character down a different route? What if you introduce someone, or something, just to see where that takes you?
As a reader, I like books which keep me guessing. As a writer, I like to keep myself guessing – because if I don’t want to turn the page, neither will anyone else.