Pleased to meet you

I’ve finally started writing again. No, the studio is not yet organised – the shelves are being fitted this week – but given that I’m used to writing in a dining room, a room with a pile of boxes is no less inspiring.

I’m writing my next book; book number three it will have to be called as I have no title in mind yet. I know very little about this book other than the idea that started it all. I know my main character’s name and her situation but I don’t yet know her.

Getting to know her is just like getting to know a real person. There’s something that attracts me to her and makes me want to find out more. To discover what her past is, what she eats for breakfast, what her favourite book is. Does she even read? I hope so!

I’ve written about 5 pages of this book. I am horribly slow at beginning a new piece. It all seems so laborious. Every word I write seems like the most unpublishable rubbish. But that’s because I don’t yet have my main character’s voice right. And I won’t, not until I write a little more. But writing without her voice is hard work. It’s a circle that goes round and round: because I don’t like what I’m writing I don’t want to write but I won’t like what I’m writing until I write some more and find her voice.

The only consoling factor is that this time I know the process works like this. When I was writing What is Left Over, After I could not believe how difficult it was to begin. To catch Gaelle’s voice consistently so that she sounded like her all the time, not like a distorted version of me. When I began writing Bodies, I hoped it would be different. That I would have learned enough to have the voice hit the page along with the first words I wrote. Of course it wasn’t different. The process of finding my main character’s voice was definitely quicker than the first time but it still made me feel as if I was the worst writer in the world.

So I’m back there again. With my brand new character who I hardly know and whose voice I can’t quite hear. But at least I know that, in a few months time when I’ve got the first draft complete, I’ll have the voice and I’ll know my character. Then I’ll just have the joy of redrafting to look forward to. But that’s a whole different blog.

What about you? Do you immediately hear your characters’ voices in your head? Or do you have to get to know them first?


  1. Great post, great questions! I’ve always started with characters, and kept freewriting until I was sure of their voices before really starting the story. But this time around, I found the narrative voice right away (it’s third person historical), but not the protagonist’s. I’m still figuring him out, but the exploration has been a lot of fun. (As well as frustrating sometimes!)

    • Well done for getting the voice of your character straight away, that must have been a brilliant feeling. And yes, I agree, it is fun exploring a character because we could never explore a real person in the way we explore a character could we!

      • Good point about not being able to explore real people in depth! There is a lot to be said for sticking with character development before starting a novel, but the process for my new novel has been opposite. I’m writing plot-first (very unlike me!, and I’m a third of the way in–and just now realizing how little I know about my protagonist! Sigh. At least the exploring is interesting.

  2. marlish glorie

    Again, another terrific blog Natasha!

    I always find the process of beginning a new book very exciting as I write intuitively. No great plan, just the roughest of mud maps. Just throw everything into the mix, which is why I end up with a bloody great mess! And which takes me ages to unravel.
    Critically, I’m always after the emotional life of my characters, or I certainly am with the current book I’m working on. But it does take quite a while to get to know your characters and is only achieved with a number of drafts before they truly reveal themselves to the author.

    • Thanks Marlish. I’m always glad to hear that someone else’s writing process is as chaotic as mine. I would love to be one of those writers who has everything planned out before they begin to write but alas, that’s not me either!

  3. I hear ya on that circle routine, Tash, it’s killer. And I’m with Marlish on that great big mess too – I’m half way through one of mine and I’m still changing really important back stories, meaning I’ve gotta re-write whole swathes of it =S Still, one of the writers for Startrek writes with a lead pencil because he says that creativity comes out of chaos (I hope he’s right!)
    I sometimes find that new characters that I introduce take on the voice of characters I’ve read in other books to start with and then slowly find their own identity as I write and fill them out =)

    • I agree Nick – I have ‘borrowed’ voices from other books for characters in each of my first 2 books, voices which have then morphed into their own rather than a copy once I’ve become confident with the character. And I think that’s one thing that is making it hard for me this time – I don’t have a touchstone book to inspire me yet, whereas I did have one with my last 2 novels. I hope I find it soon!

  4. Pingback: I hear voices … « While the kids are sleeping

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