Wednesday 17 July 2013

Emotional depth and rounded characters

I haven't written a blog post in quite a while. I keep thinking of things I could write about, but then life takes over and writing a blog post gets pushed to the bottom of the "to do" list.
Since my last blog, I have not done a whole lot of writing, but the book is always in my mind. I had given the first 15,000 words to an editor for assessment and was waiting on that feedback before working further on the book. I had also given the latest draft of The Serpent Sword to some close friends to read and was eagerly awaiting their responses. After all, there would be no point in continuing to polish the book, if everyone hated it. Of course, this is the writer's nightmare, but one that is hard to ignore. What will they say about my writing? Will they like it? Will they lie? How will I know if they do? The insecurities of creativity are rife when letting others read your work for the first time.
So I waited anxiously for feedback, and given the aggressive schedule I had set for myself to get the first draft completed, I really felt like I needed a break. I know that my family would agree with that! So I have taken it easy on the writing front. I did jot down some synopsis ideas for the sequel, and even started to write the first chapter, but most of my free time has been spent doing other things.
Then, after a few days I started to get some positive feedback from a couple of the test readers. This was very encouraging. It appeared they were actually enjoying reading the story that I had written! What a great feeling. All the long hours of toil suddenly seemed worthwhile. In my mind my book was going to be a masterpiece, selling in dozens of languages, made into a film and a super series on HBO.
The Serpent Sword the next big thing on HBO?
Then I got the feedback from the editor and her comments, whilst on the whole positive, chipped away at the image I had of my book. The areas she mentioned needed most work were the very same things that my wife had commented on: the characters lacked emotional depth, their motivations needed to be made more clear through interior monologue.
I railed against the feedback. To add more emotional depth would somehow feminise the male characters in the novel.
Does my bum look big in this dress?
I asked myself searching questions. How much did people, especially men, really think about things in the seventh century?
Then I allowed myself to think a bit more on the comments (and spoke with my wife, who provides a very good sounding board) and I understood that it was not a case of making the characters more touchy-feely, or have them incessantly dwelling on each decision they make. What was needed was to make the characters deeper, and therefore, easier to relate to and more believable.
I needed to make my characters more rounded and three-dimensional
I am happy with the story as it is, but realised that in my efforts to complete the draft quickly I had cut corners which I don't think it is possible to cut and still produce a great book. I had created characters that did not have rich back stories. I didn't know them inside out and so the readers did not fully believe in them.
So, what's next?
I have decided to write detailed back stories for each of the main characters, so that I understand them. So that at each stage of the novel their decisions will make sense. Having these details will also allow me to add a smattering of anecdotes and tiny reminiscences that will add depth and an overall sense of reality.

It means I have a lot of work left to do, but I know it is the right thing. The book will be better for it, and I am already learning some very interesting things about the protagonist!


  1. Historically men have not wanted to show any weakness in front of others but that doesn't mean that they didn't have fears, dreads and demons. The reader needs to have glimpses into their darkest thoughts and secret dreams. I don't think that this would be in any way, "navel gazing", just reality in any age.

    1. You are right. My writing style is quite visual. Almost like a film screenplay. Of course, what I am realising is that the main difference in a novel is that you can see what is inside the characters' heads. What I need to do is add more of that vision into people's thoughts.