Don’t panic, I’m not about to go off-piste and bang on about the wonders of writing love and romance. I’m in my happy place as a writer for children, and could no more dip my toe into the hazy pool of romantic fiction than fly to the moon with my Spellboda and Prophecy characters Trevor, Roger and Midge. But I am passionate about passion writing.
One early piece of advice I was given was ‘write what you know’. That was easy to put into practice in my teens, and made stories flow more easily for sure, but in more recent years, I’ve come to realise it’s more the other way round… know what you write. Researching, and trying to live in your characters’ shoes. All of them, not just the key ones! Maybe empaths make the best writers, maybe not, but writing what you deeply care about is a must. No matter how else you approach the process, having passion for every character, every scene, and every plot tool that hits your page, this will surely mean your story impacts your reader. Why not make a list of what you’re passionate about, then muse over how these things can infuse your story? Wildlife conservation is a huge passion of mine. I’m also passionate about empowering young people who feel insignificant, or lacking…just not good enough in some way. These two passions, along with a long-standing love affair with birds of prey in particular – yes sorry, getting all romantic again!– all made for an irresistible mix for me when writing Spellboda became reality. As soon as I let these passions find each other, by writing them onto the page, the sense of fulfilment that followed was a turning point for me as a writer.
Back to empaths. How deeply can we empathise? Isn’t that a key part of our skill as writers? I find increasingly that the more fully I can immerse myself into the psyche of one of my characters, the more I can almost become them in my head, then the more powerful they grow in my writing. On a writing course I was taught a valuable exercise in character development: imagine your character from birth onwards, not just from when they appear in your story. This should apply to all characters, no matter how small a role they play in your book. Your characters will transform from black and white to colour. Rich, strong lives will intertwine to immerse your reader and resonate with them. See below for an example of a checklist you could use to start off writing character profile, although there are loads more details you could include. Don’t forget that much of what you write in here will never make it into your book, it’s making it into your head at this point that matters.
So should we limit ourselves to writing only what we know? An author friend once told me a story about how they were asked to remove a character from their story, at the point right before publication, as a preview reader’s response had been to question how that person as an author could possibly be able to write that character authentically, as their life and situation was so different. In this instance, the publisher upheld the point and the character had to be re-written. Thank goodness no-one found out that CS Lewis had never made friends with a talking lion, or JK Rowling had never been to Hogwarts, before their stories hit the light of day!
I’d say the answer to that question is we should limit ourselves to writing what we love. And try our best to make a difference to someone’s life - even if it’s just one person! - through the passionate stories we have loved into existence throughout our writing process.
General Character Analysis
What’s their full name?
How do they feel about it?
If they could choose another name for themselves what would it be?
Where were they born?
Who’s their best friend?
What’s their favourite subject at school?
What food won’t they eat?
Indoors or Outdoors?
Cats or Dogs?
Do they believe in ghosts?
What did / do they want to be when they grow up?
First, middle, youngest or only?
Colour of their bedroom wall?
Do they have a secret crush?
Party piece/special skill ( Singing, cracking knuckles or holding their breath etc)
Who’s their second best friend?
Who came to their last birthday party?
What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to them? (That doesn’t include parents)