Mary, 45, likes cheese, had childhood encounter with jar so afraid of pickles (and so on)

Even more exciting things are afoot out there in publishing world; meanwhile I still have to earn my crust reading reports with sentences like ….’Describe: to describe an action means you write a written overview of the action including references to any supporting material….’ Er, as in, I drank my tea, here’s a report, see picture of me drinking it? I’m not sure what the rest said because I fell asleep. I shouldn’t complain too much though. My crust is very much an all-butter brioche rather than a Tesco’s economy loaf.

Meanwhile in my real job (as opposed to the one I actually, you know, get paid for), I’m about 7,000 words into my new book. It’s an exciting time, especially if like me you can’t work by writing long outlines and character definitions beforehand. I know some people do this, scribbling down long lists of the character’s eye colour, weight, starsign, views on pickled onions etc. Eg ‘Margaret is 5’6 with blonde hair, highlighted and prone to static. Uses Dove Colour Care shampoo. Had unfortunate incident with Guinea pig, now afraid of all small rodents except chinchillas’. It clearly works for some, and many writing books recommend that you do this. In fact some say you should work out all your plot and characters in advance, putting in appropriate highs and lows, tension points, cliffhangers etc, and then the writing is like filling in the dots. I think that’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.

It wouldn’t work for me. I’ll probably make some notes as they occur to me (‘Good swimmer – school champion. Comes in handy to escape mad lakeshore killer?’ etc) but to write long detailed CVs seems to be the most unutterable yawnfest. I’d worry it would push the writing too far down the showing-not-telling route. I hope readers will realise for themselves that my new character is stubborn and doesn’t trust easily, and as for the rest, do you really need to know if she has a freckle on the back of one hand? I’d miss those moments when you see how the disparate ideas of your lot fit together and you’re mentally screaming, Yes! Yes! It does work! (Plus, I can’t be bothered. Me=lazy writer.)

Instead I just start writing with a vague idea of some people, some scenes, some things that happen. (Note to self – really must sort out that elevator pitch). It’s the most exciting part of the whole thing for me, like walking into a room of people you don’t know and finding out all about them (also scary like that, what if they’re deadly dull and/or smell like eggs?) I was surprised to get comments on the last opus along the lines of ‘you seem to know your characters so well’, because I didn’t do the whole ‘Patricia enjoys golf and eats Spam on Tuesdays’ approach. But maybe I know them in a different way, in the way you can feel connected to someone very quickly without an intimate understanding of their childhood and their allergy to mustard. I imagine the people who do make all the notes are also the kind to write up notes on the guests so dinner-party guests are forced to NETWORK. Yuck.

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