Character development, and the weekend of rewriting

The novel has turned into a bit of a slog, partly because winter and cats are conspiring to keep me tired, partly because I just couldn’t get under the skin of my story. Last time I wrote it I loved it. What had gone wrong?

Well, last time I write it the main characters were Jack and Ianto (from Torchwood), or at least facsimiles of them. They didn’t hunt aliens, weren’t in Cardiff and didn’t have any other recognisable friends, but they were, at their heart, Jack and Ianto. I knew them, inside and out.

Greg and Rob, not so much. Rob is giving me everything, often more than I think I need to know. He’s forming up nicely, and will have an actual personality by the time I come to edit. But Greg is a whole different story. Greg is flat as a pancake, two dimensional if we’re feeling generous. He’s a caricature.

And today I realised that that was good. It was hell for the writing process, because I hate not knowing a character, but it was also perfect. Because until the scene I just wrote, Rob – who is my POV character – doesn’t see him as a real person, and so neither could the story.

Greg, you see, is a ghost, and Rob didn’t believe in ghosts until Chapter 1, when Greg started following him around. He still hasn’t got his head around the fact that ghosts are real, let alone started processing that the man only he can see was once a man, who lived and loved and died, and isn’t just a figment of his imagination created by stress and lack of sleep. Greg is real and Rob has just realised that he has feelings.

So now I can start to flesh out Greg’s character through Rob’s eyes, something I couldn’t do until Rob started to notice him. Now I can spend a couple of hours diving into the backstory to find out who he really is, so that I can then present him to Rob as a complex and ultimately fragile person, and Rob can start to work on making amends for his thoughtlessness.

The story has turned its first corner.

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