How are you going? Are you doing okay?

I have been working from home since social distancing started, i.e. since March. And outside of work or spending time with family or doing normal things, I have been editing Book 2. And this is the unusual part – other than writing the first 9000 words, the remainder of the book had been written completely on my smartphone, together with finishing one round of editing.

I am relieved to say that it’s close to being sent to my editor for a structural edit.

How very Gen Y, I hear you say.

As you may know, something as portable as a smartphone seems to integrate seamlessly into our daily writing lives and not just to keep social media feeds semi-populated. Whether you are sitting on a train, are in your lunch break at work, or waiting for your car to be serviced – basically, you are one mobile optimised app away from writing or editing a few sentences.

In the past, I would have had to carry my laptop around or if I happened to be at home, found an opening in my day, not tainted by procrastination, to write or edit on my laptop. But it seemed challenging to fit something like this in unless a conscious effort was made to do so.

For some reason, it is not the case with a smart phone.

And the question I cannot help but ask is – what else can you incorporate in your daily life, resulting in near effortless progress? Because, you love it, right?

Exercise – for one. How I miss incidental exercise. But what else?

On an aside, how different would self-isolation have been had COVID-19 happened pre-2007?

Have you ever wondered why different people have different tastes in music?

No?

It may very well just be me. But I believe that not unlike everything else in life, our experience of music is subjective. Our likes and dislikes for things like movies and food, which is most definitely linked to how we perceive these things, also translate to music. The way we interpret music is different from one person to the next.

And as time passes, our experience of music does not just vary from person to person, but for the same person too.

I only have a vague memory of this, but apparently when I was 4 or 5, I used to get up before anyone else on the weekend, find the old Sony Beta tape for the Sound of Music and watch it over and over. It is probably not surprising that I have always loved music and that my taste in movies was largely influenced by this, especially at a young age. But when I listen to the same songs or watch the same film now, my experience of the music is very much impacted by my understanding of what it means and the circumstances that underpin it.

It is not difficult to sometimes find yourself longing for the innocence of the past long gone and the simplicity in which we lived at the time. And now, as our world has changed overnight with the Covid-19 pandemic and at such a broad scale.

So, do our circumstances shape the way in which we interpret music, above all else? Perhaps.

Have you listened to music lately? From my perspective, it affects me in one of two ways right now. It either reminds me of a time when our everyday lives weren’t restricted to our homes, the doctor and the supermarket; or it gives me hope that we might soon be able to go back to our normal lives, in whatever state that might be.

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Coming up with character names, especially minor character names, can be challenging. Long after protagonists’ names have been established, an unexpected change in the plot can result in having to name another character when all you want to do is write and instead, it breaks the flow of writing.

Then I get distracted by the origins of names and that’s another half hour gone.

Recently, I’ve been doing a fair amount of family genealogy research and of course, the most important bit of information to know about a relative is their name, usually found in a paper trail left behind. My rellies were generally ‘from’ or ‘van’ somewhere, which gives additional clues and also makes their birthplace easier to find and research. Useful for genealogy research – not for naming characters and getting on with it.

So, what makes naming characters as important? One reason could be that in real life it may just be the most essential bit of information to know about someone. Like most people, I find myself resisting the urge of an eye roll when someone who happens to have known you for years, calls you by someone else’s name, just because you have the same hair colour, or your names end in the same ‘a’ sound or you happen to be friends. It happens quite a bit.

At the risk of a song being stuck in your head for the rest of the day, this really reminds me of The Ting Things’s song – That’s not my name.

#YouAreWelcome

One of the reasons I think names get mixed up, is that our brains like to group things to make sense of it. This could be by things like similarity, proximity, continuity or closure [Gestalt theory], which makes it even more crucial to give characters names that won’t be confused with that of others, to avoid the ‘who is that again?’ moment for readers, myself included.

So how do you choose a name for a character you didn’t anticipate? All I know is it’s best to keep the shortlist short, otherwise the time it takes to make a decision increases. [Hick’s law]

I told you I get distracted.

It’s 42 degrees Celsius in Adelaide today (107.6 Fahrenheit – I had to look that one up 😊) and only the second day above 34 degrees, so not technically a heatwave yet.

Apparently, you need three days above 39 or five days above 34 to call it one. And although tomorrow is a ‘cool’ 35 degrees compared to today, we’ll enjoy the twenties again soon.
But it’s been long enough.

Unfortunately, much like many other things in life, we can’t control the weather. And unlike other things, we don’t generally try to control it either.

Some people also believe that one of those other things that can’t be controlled, is who we fall in love with. For my characters, of course, the opposite is true. Otherwise we’d still be waiting. Right?

But there is something to it, the fact that most things relating to characters develop organically, out of characteristics long settled. You see, once a character has been established in a writer’s mind (at least mine), it’s very difficult to change their characteristics. And naturally, their thoughts, actions and feelings stem from those traits.

So, who is really in control here?

Okay, still me.

But if we as writers are supposed to write about what we know (to some extent, anyway), isn’t what we know or can imagine based on life, if only a little bit? And isn’t life sometimes unpredictable and doesn’t it fall in the category of things we can’t really control?

We don’t have to settle this right now.

I think this heat is getting to me.

At the risk of sounding like a bad headline, I generally have all the feels when it comes to Christmas. In fact, I’m having one particular feeling right now – I really dislike that I just used the words ‘feels’.

But seriously, I’m usually the first person to put my tree up – as soon as Santa has come to town with the Christmas pageant, in November. And I couldn’t be more excited.

But as the weeks pile on, so does the stress.

What is everyone getting for Christmas? Although, if I managed to be organised, I would have bought the Christmas presents by now.

Okay, so Christmas presents may be sorted, but where are we going on Christmas Day?

And here’s the thing we encounter every year – very few people are as passionate about planning as we are and for most people, committing to an exact time/place that far in advance seems rather impossible.

But, eventually we get it sorted and we have a rough idea about the details of Christmas Day.

So, what are we making (if it’s at our house) or bringing (if it’s at someone else’s) to eat?

And the most important question – who will organise the bonbons?

But the actual reason I’m ready to take the tree down before Christmas is even over, is the fact that my family is in another country, which is a feeling at the opposite of the spectrum of Christmas cheer.

But eventually, the actual day comes… The streets are all quiet, apart from kids and dogs and their new toys outside, and it’s quite okay.

We have lunch, crack a few dad-jokes as well as a wine or two.

And before you know it, everything is back to normal and we’re back planning for the New Year again, waiting for 2019 to feel old.

Example dad-joke:
What does one snowman say to the other snowman?
Do you smell carrots?

As I’m considering the backstories, appearances and other traits of the characters in my next book, I can’t help but think about all the people on our planet and their individual stories, each with their individual challenges and most, I bet, would look forward to things like the weekend, special occasions and holidays, just like the rest of us. I could ponder something like that for days, if only a little bit at a time.

People of the past once had their own stories and challenges too. They also looked forward to things that perhaps no longer exist, and they may no longer be with us. It makes you think, doesn’t it?
Probably best to let that one go. We’d be here until who knows what time otherwise.

But in terms of character development, I sometimes wonder how we can create characters with specific qualities out of nothing. And they don’t stay theoretical either, you know.

Imagine your favourite book, perhaps one you have read more than once. You have become somewhat attached to those characters, right? Now, imagine that you have created and developed those characters over an extended period of time, and you have written and read their stories over and over again, while shaping the words and sentences that surround them, so eventually, it resembles a novel. It’s not hard to imagine how attached you would get, even after only the first draft is done.
So back to the characters in my new book – I think you are going to love them. But I won’t reveal much until they’re more established, just in case his name changes or she develops a quality that is essential to the plot.

But it’s probably too late anyway, especially what names are concerned. I’m already attached.

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Do you ever walk down a street in the centre of town, wondering what type of building stood there before? Or appreciate the historical buildings that are still standing today, but try and ignore the ones that were once considered modern and trendy but are now no more than a dating contrast against the once brilliant facades of more than a century ago?

It’s true that the real historical buildings themselves would once have been considered modern, but for some reason have aged much more gracefully in terms of aesthetics, al be it with the help of the restoration efforts of current owners.

And, occasionally, when I see an old photo on social media of a well-known street today, I can’t help but spare a thought for the buildings that had been replaced with ‘award winning’ parking lot complexes and skyscrapers today.

But lately, the part that strikes me most, is that most onlookers wouldn’t give these buildings a second thought. Or spare a thought for the people who considered it significant, all those years ago, who lived amongst it or whose lives may have been shaped around it at one point in time.

Take AMI Stadium in Adelaide, for instance. Have you seen the open void that is there today which once held thousands of cheering fans at football games, enduring the rain and cold as their team may or may not win?

Fast forward a few generations, and who will really remember doing any of that anymore?

If lost ancient cities or the remains of kings and queens can be discovered under parking lots and fields in Europe, what small percentage of history have we really discovered? And if photographs and artefacts found on site are our only link to what was (or perhaps still is) below the surface where we walk today, what was here before that just hasn’t been discovered yet?

Have you ever quoted a line from a movie you had watched over and over as a child or imitated the mannerisms or repeated the words of someone you had spent a lot of time with, without really realising it or without remembering that you had picked it up from somewhere in the past?

I’m not sure why we do it, but I don’t think we’re alone.

I wonder whether the same can be said of writers’ characters? I think it can. It is true that we include the characteristics we admire in our protagonists and the characters we like, and we include the characteristics we don’t admire in our antiheroes or villains, in the slightly judging way us humans generally do. And we all do it (whether we like it or not) with the natural, yet sometimes surprising predisposition that comes with being creatures of evolutionary inevitability.

But when it comes right down to it, even the people we admire have less-than-perfect days. And so do we, al be it completely out of character. Which is all good stuff for writing, right?

I think I’ve said before, but it often is insanely challenging to write about character traits we perceive as unreasonable. Is this because we don’t often give ourselves permission to act in the same way, if at all? So why should our characters have this luxury?

Because otherwise any book you write would be five pages long and boring. But I won’t be too hard on these characters for too long, because usually ‘just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’

As I’m planning the scenes of my next novel, I am also starting to think about the nature of the new characters I don’t really know yet. You see, I spent so much time with Anna and Daniel, the protagonists of Words for Anna, that it feels rather strange to tell someone else’s story from the beginning and allowing readers to be in these characters’ heads all the time.

And this is the part I find challenging in terms of character development: the balance between relatable and interesting. Because, let’s face it, the ‘perceived normal’ may not always be that interesting, even if it promotes comfort in us to read about.

So how do you add traits to these characters that you may not possess yourself, or opinions that are a little foreign to us as writers, and dialogue that you may not ever hear yourself say?

We throw caution to the wind, dear friends. Avoid that stereotype (or not), spend enough time on those backstories that may seem static at best, and double the dose of empathy for likeability and the human factor.

And keep a record of these traits, that is easily accessible when you are on your tenth edit and you can’t remember whether the female protagonist had been consistently jumpy throughout the book, or whether this only started happening somewhere in the middle of the last edit. Had her mother always been from a small town which made her weary of large crowds, but the most welcoming person she had ever known? And what was the male protagonist’s fall-back behaviour when confronted?

Are you feeling stressed yet?

Have you ever had a dream that keeps popping up from time to time? I have, and it generally goes like this:

  • I am 14 years old, have a piano exam that same day and I haven’t practised.
  • I am at uni, about to sit the final calculus exam (it’s always mathematics for some reason) and I hadn’t attended any of the classes or done any of the practice exercises.
  • I am standing in front of a live audience, about to sing a song, and I don’t know many of the words.

The last one actually happened to a few of us in a choir once, so it’s perhaps not that big a leap.

But what do you think this means? That I like to be prepared for something? I suppose it’s worth stating the obvious. But why then, do I often do just as well at something with little preparation time at all?

Let’s not overthink that one.

Wanting to be in control comes to mind.

It is true that in fiction, dreams often give readers a really good insight into a character or her back-story, without having to give too much away at once and to describe something that should stay a little vague for a while. But I try and use it sparingly.

Now that I have my first book under the belt, I feel a bit more confident in my decisions to include or exclude something in my writing. With Words for Anna, I probably would have analysed a dream scene for days, only to cut it altogether. But don’t get me wrong – structure is still my friend.

I don’t know whether I would be here without it. At least not what my first published book and this post is concerned:

Next post – done.

Tick.