Saturday, 17 May 2014

Lighting up my characters...

If you're a regular reader of the Scribbles, you'll know I've been working on the first novel I wrote, StarMark, rewriting large chunks in what I now feel is 'Genuine Squidge's Voice'.

Recently, I asked a couple of trusted beta readers for their opinion on the 'new' version. One had seen the version that won me an agent (for a while), the other had not read it before. Their feedback was very timely, very honest, and resulted in one of the biggest light-bulb moments I've had for ages. Well, since I did the self-edit course, anyway...

Both of my wonderful readers said the same thing - my author's voice is distinctive and tells the story well, BUT (and it's quite important, this) I sometimes needed more of the character's voice, a closer Psychic Distance, more showing of the character's emotions through their own eyes rather than through mine.

And that's when I realised.

I might well be a good storyteller, but I write my stories by watching my characters, rather than being my characters. Which, as one of my beta readers remarked, was 'a nail on the head observation.'

In a nutshell, I'm not getting into my character's heads.

Now for someone who used to love being in am-dram musicals, who still loves dressing up and becoming other people for a short while in fancy dress, who loves to put on voices when reading stories wouldn't think I'd find it a difficult thing to do.

But I find it SO hard.

I try when I'm writing - I do, really - and I am getting closer to the characters I've written. Problem is, whenever there's a bit of raw emotion coming up, like...someone dying, a chase, a fight... I think I subconsciously distance myself from the emotion.

Others who know me might disagree, but I don't think that I am a strongly or outwardly emotional person; I do the British thing and keep what I'm really feeling under wraps. So, apparently, do my characters. I need to begin tapping into my feelings so that I can pass them on to Irvana and Mikal...

The lightbulb has been well and truly lit - and I will be shining it on StarMark from here on in.

If this is something you're struggling with in your own writing, here are a few links I've found useful;
Emma Darwin wrote a great explanation of Psychic Distance -  what it is and how to use it, Debi Alper shared a comic version of Psychic Distance, drawn by the lovely Jody-Klaire (fellow graduate of the self-edit course I attended), and Sophie Jonas-Hill wrote a fabulous post about how she got under the skin of one of characters.


  1. Meditation, Squidgy. I think it can really help in getting in touch with the self and the feelings. I guess, I'm saying the more you experience of yourself, the easier it will be to do so with your characters. Anyway, it's a thought. Well done you for identifying the issues!! FP xx

    1. Thanks, FP! And yes - definitely about getting in touch with yourself!

  2. However you do it, if you get your readers to emotionally connect with your characters, you've sorted it

    1. True. But it's being able to write in such a way that that happens...

  3. There's so many different ways of doing it (getting into your character's head) and what works for one person won't work for another but you've definitely 'hit the nail' in terms of watching your characters vs being your characters. Thanks for all those useful links in one place :-)

  4. Fascinating! I have written 2 novels, one maybe 15 years ago which is gathering dust and I need to update, and one a couple of years ago as a tongue in cheek erotic novel.
    For both of them I struggled with exactly the issue you mentioned. When people that knew me read them, particularly the comedy fantasy one, they said they could hear me as they read. That's a good thing in a way, but probably tied the feel of the content too much to people that knew me - that's no good for a novel.
    Good luck with the experiment!
    cheers, Gordon

    1. Ah, Gordon - that's the thing, isn't it? We can have distinctive author voices, but we can't let them intrude too much on our characters...otherwise we lose the characters and just hear the author telling their story.