I have been writing since I was a small child, though back then most of my manuscripts never made it past the first chapter before I either got bored or had a burst of inspiration for another story. Cleaning out my desk a few months ago, I found about twenty different exercise books, in which I had scribbled out plots and character templates to use for a series of stories I was planning to write.
The matter is now humorous considering, ten or so years on, I am studying how to do that professionally. What seemed like years of mucking around and having fun, may in fact turn out to be what I do for a living one day. It goes to show that people can discover their calling even at so young an age.
Despite all those years, however—all of the high school English classes and a year and a half’s worth of studying professional writing, I find that my methods of creating a story haven’t changed that dramatically. I still write in exercise books and write out my ideas on post-it notes; I still draw inspiration from music, film, literature and art, and continue to plunge into a story that has not yet revealed itself to me.
I have always believed that characters make a story. If they are not strong or relatable enough, the story will not be as successful. This is why I tend to start with them.
I feel as though a writer must care for and treat their characters as though they are their own children. Of course, we all want to look after our characters, to protect them as we would our kids. But we also know that they have to make mistakes and run into trouble every now and then in order to survive and grow. It’s a harsh world and we cannot mollycoddle them forever. It has been a struggle to do so, but eventually I had to learn to just let go and let them experience that thing called life.
Once I feel I have a grasp on who my characters are, the rest kind of writes itself. Every other aspect of the story holds a smaller significance and I tend not to spend much time on those things. I choose whatever setting feels right for the characters or the storyline. Something I feel I know reasonably well and that speaks out to me. The rest, you can say, is history.
Lucky for the trees, I now have my own computer, so I don’t use as many exercise books as I did before. Though, I’ve still kept them all, hoping that one day I’ll finish one of them off.
They also serve as a security blanket and a reminder, on those days when I don’t feel as motivated or inspired, that this is what I have always wanted to do, and will hopefully continue to do for a great while longer.
Hayley Thom, novel student
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