character development

typewriter characterOne of the (many) things I’ve loved so far about our #WhatImWriting linky has been finding out about the ways other writers develop their work. Two recent posts by Sadie and Nicola described an interesting process where they had taken characters from their books and put them into different situations to see how they’d react. The idea with this is that you can learn more about your characters than you could just keeping them within the confines of your book. And the more you learn about them, the more real they seem in your writing which is a very good thing for the reader.

I’ve been struggling with my book recently so I thought I’d have a go at this exercise to see if it got me past the block. I decided to explore a scene in my main character’s past. Eighteen years into her past to be precise! It’s not an extract from my book but writing it has revealed things about my characters that I wasn’t aware of. Here’s what I wrote:

“Is it time? Do you want me to call them?” Sam’s anxious face was close to her own, his breath hot in her ear.

Irritably she swiped him away. “Just… wait.” She said through gritted teeth “It’s nearly… ” She exhaled and slowly stood upright again, rubbing the small of her back with both hands in a steady circular motion. “Right,” she looked at him, “how long was that between contractions?”

“Oh, um, I’m not sure, I lost count.”

“Sam!” She snapped “You had one job!”

He dragged a hand through his tousled blond hair and gave her a weak smile. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m not much good at this.”

Staring into his worried, brown eyes Ruth felt a flash of sympathy for him; she knew he felt out of his depth. He was normally so organised and together. ‘Sam the man with the plan’ was what she had teasingly called him in the early days of their relationship – he always knew exactly what was happening in his life and when. His marriage proposal was organised down to the tiniest detail: even the sun had come out on cue. But this was one area where his plans didn’t seem to count for much.

Of course they had a birth plan, just as they had done with Tilly eighteen months earlier. Ruth had painstakingly created it herself based on that experience – all natural if possible, no drugs, overanxious relatives to be kept at bay – and Sam had crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s before she’d placed it in her maternity notes. But, well, anyone would think this baby didn’t know about the plan, because here they were on day three of the painful, exhausting, stop-start ‘is it actually going anywhere this time?’ contractions and she was already thinking fondly of diamorphine.

“Now!” she barked more harshly than she intended and gripped the doorframe as she felt another contraction building.

“What? Now? Oh.” And he peered at his watch as though his life depended on it.

Ruth breathed her way through it. They were getting strong now, maybe this time it was going somewhere. As her muscles relaxed again she looked up at Sam questioningly.

“Forty-five seconds that time… and five minutes since the last contraction I think. Do you want me to call the midwife now?” He stroked her back tenderly and she leaned into him.

“Yes. Good idea.” She said wearily. She wanted to add an apology for snapping at him but the words wouldn’t come. They were tangled up with the heaviness of her limbs and the ache in her back. She had no energy for explanations, besides which, Sam would know she was sorry and he’d understand. Ruth smiled at him weakly as she watched him on the phone across the room. He was a good man, just perhaps not the best in an emergency situation.

She groaned and leaned forwards as the vice round her insides started to squeeze again. Then there was a sudden rush of hot liquid down her trembling legs. Dammit. “Sam!” she said urgently “Tell them to get here now!”

I wrote this in an hour or so yesterday and I’ve not edited it much so it’s still a bit clunky. Writing it was an interesting process though. I knew Sam was the highly organised sort and that he had an anxious streak but I didn’t think he’d react quite like this. I actually like him more now than I did before.

What do you think? How do you develop your characters?

Nikki Young Writes

13 thoughts on “character development

  1. Chrissie Metcalf (Kristina)

    It’s amazing what you can discover about your characters when you throw them into a situation you weren’t expecting. I like the way you’ve said that Sam isn’t what you expected him to be. Most birth partners (who don’t do it professionally) get flustered when seeing someone in that much pain – it’s very distressing to see a loved one in agony and not be able to help.
    There are a couple of -ly words (I don’t know the proper name!) to describe the way they communicate with each other (questioningly – for example) which could probably be tidied.
    That’s all I’ve got. x

    1. Maddy Post author

      The three day stop-start labour came from personal experience! I expected Sam to be very calm like my husband (who is also an uber planner) but his anxious streak really came out!

      Get you with the constructive criticism! I hadn’t noticed the ‘ly’ words – is there a writing rule about them? (I often wonder if there are rules I don’t know about), It’s definitely not a final draft but then it doesn’t need to be… unless I suddenly decide to change the book hahaha! Thanks for sage commenting as always xx

  2. Carol Cameleon

    Well Maddy, what a fantastic piece of writing. I want to read more now. An exciting ‘little’ exercise and not bad for a first ‘draft’ at all! When it comes to developing characters I may have in future longer pieces of work, I’ll definitely be trying this :) A great tip to share for #WonderfulWorldofWriting, thanks.

    1. Maddy Post author

      Thanks Carol! It’s a really interesting exercise. As it happens, tragedy awaits Ruth in her future and I feel that even more keenly having written this little extract, so it could help how I write the book. Thanks for hosting! xx

  3. Nicola Young

    I love this piece and I’m so pleased you tried this and got so much out of it. Child birth is definitely a scenario that is going to reveal certain sides of a personality that you didn’t know you had. I can understand Sam begin flustered because it’s that feeling of no control. A normally highly organised person would find it difficult knowing that there was absolutely nothing they could do to help their partner. So is this the birth of a character from your book then?
    Thanks for linking up with #FridayFiction

    1. Maddy Post author

      Thanks Nicola! Yes it is the birth of quite a pivotal character! Thanks for the idea – it was a really useful exercise & thanks for hosting #fridayfiction

  4. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

    This seems like such an interesting and useful exercise, and I can see how it would reveal things you didn’t know/hadn’t thought about. I love this particular piece, although my first labour wasn’t three days, the feelings of frustration and inability to apologise even when you know you should are very familiar :) #FridayFiction

  5. Funky Wellies

    This scene really drew me in straight away, well done.
    The more I read about character developing, the more I get ideas on how to do it. :) xx

    1. Maddy Post author

      Thanks Katia! Yes, I had never considered doing this exercise until Nicola and Sadie suggested it. It’s a good one to try.

  6. sadie hanson

    I really enjoyed this and it’s great that you got so much from it – that you like Sam more; and birth is always going to make a very organised (even controlling) person feel at a loss and vulnerable. His nerves are palpable. X

    1. Maddy Post author

      He’s a good bloke is Sam. Actually I need to find a way to make him really loveable. The more we love him the tougher the central premise of the book becomes… Thanks for the feedback xx

  7. Sophie Lovett

    A great little scene – it really drew me in, and left me wanting to get to know more about the characters and their story. It’s such a useful exercise isn’t it? Reading this has made me want to find the time to do some more exploration of my characters too! x


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