Saturday, 18 February 2012

Blowing Life into A Story

I've been working on the characters I need for my second novel. When I started my first book I knew nothing about planning a novel so I just launched in and typed away until I ran out of steam (around one and a half chapters in). I didn't want to be one of those ghastly people who say, at every social gathering, 'I've got one and a half chapters in my desk drawer but of course I've no time to finish them' so I joined a writing group.

One of the first things they taught me was how to make a character chart - by taking 10 or so names, and writing each at the head of a long column in your notebook. If, like me, you're comfortable with spreadsheets, then do it electronically. Then, you start to fill in the columns with names, characteristics, relationship to the others, jobs, and so forth. It's vital that you have this material noted down in order to avoid those awful mistakes, halfway through a novel or maybe in your third, when the blue-eyed boy becomes a brown-eyed charmer.

Some of my first characters had jobs I've never done or am likely to do, but I researched by reading first and then going to visit the places they might have worked. In order to find out about glassblowing, I went, one freezing cold morning, to watch how it was done. I chose a studio, Bath Aqua Glass, where glassblowing is still carried out in the traditional manner, albeit with the safety equipment my characters would not have had in 1826.

Once I got into the studio and felt the heat of the glasshouse fires and the laughter and jokes of the men, I realised that I did have a stock of memories to give colour to my novel.

My own Grandfather was a surgical instrument maker, and I well remember him coming home from the forge, and what his hands were like, and what he ate, and his tales of the doings there. He had a passion for his work, and a joy in the artistry of it, which I saw again in the faces of the men in Bath. They told me about the history, and the dangers, and that arsenic oxide smells like coconut. This is how the novel has its first quickening, and shows the first tender signs of life.

Fill your paper with the writings of your heart - William Wordsworth

You can find Bath Aqua Glass here


  1. Enjoyed this. That process of character descriptions in columns is a great idea

  2. Like you, Jennie I too am an inveterate 'plotter'. I lay out a list of characters with brief descriptions, historical notes I want included and a brief description of every scene and where it's going - without it I ramble on and go off at tangents without getting to the point. I'm enjoying book 2!

  3. Anita, I'm glad you are enjoying book 2! I've had to do a lot of research to get all the pre-novel notes in order but I'm in a good place to write it now, I think (famous last words, LOL)