First Draft in 30 Days, Day 1: Character sketches

I sat down at the craptop and reached for the Guardian supplement, which had been with the pile of books I brought with me on holiday, but somehow haven’t been able to face reading (I’ve been reading Kindle books instead. I’ll have to work out what all that’s about some other time) and it wasn’t there. David had chucked it out.

Fortunately it’s all there on the Guardian’s website (unfortunately, I’m supposed to be passing my copy to a friend next week – sorry, Kirsty). The first day of First Draft in 30 Days focusses on character sketches. I don’t like doing character sketches. I used to do them all the time when I first started trying to write because How To Write books told me to. I never found them particularly useful because characters develop so much in the writing, so I don’t see the point of deciding this character’s Scouse accent comes out when she’s angry or that character once ate a bit of poo thinking it was chocolate (neither of those were me) (ahem) before you even start. But the plan told me to start with character sketches and so I did.

And I actually found them really helpful. Typical. A couple of things popped up that feed into the overall theme in the book and which I had no inkling of until I found myself writing them down (this is my favourite thing about writing – when ideas seem to appear from nowhere). I skipped a couple of bits – family background and backstory – and then got stuck into the internal/external conflict.

Figuring out the characters’ internal and external conflict is actually my top writing tip (I got it from Jennifer Crusie years ago). It makes such a difference and often if I’m stuck in a book it’s because I haven’t figured out one or the other (or, sometimes, both – not fun). This isn’t the same as figuring out protagonist/antagonist stuff, the thought of which gives me the heebies (I hope that’s not coming up tomorrow), but what the characters want and what’s preventing them from getting it. That sounds obvious, I know, but I think it’s the internal/external that really helped me. (With internal being emotional and external being practical/physical/situational.) And it was while doing this part that I thought of something about one of the characters that made me go “Whoa…”

So. Against expectations, Day 1 at least has been incredibly helpful. Just by doing the above I feel like I’ve got more story to get my teeth into and I’m actually keen to get back to writing it. I’ve just got to finish Lilly’s Wish first…


3 thoughts on “First Draft in 30 Days, Day 1: Character sketches

  1. Is the supplement anything to do with the Karen S. Wiesner book ‘First Draft in 30 Days’? I bought the book ages ago from Waterstones and day one is in fact Character Sketches.

    I gave it a good go, but overall i found it too disruptive. It was super organised but it actually got in the way of my writing and although i do love a structured writing session, this book wasn’t for me.

    Hmmm … i’ll see if there is a link to the book (hang on … loads up another tab :0) )

    OK, i’m back here is the link

    1. It is, Dan – the supplement was extracted from the book. I’m not going to try to write at the same time – I’m writing something else – but I hope to have an outline at the end of the month and then I can start writing. It’s just an experiment, because this is not the way I usually write. At all.

      1. Ah … well good luck. In fact i dug the book out of the cupboard just now. You could have it if you like ( or even to pass on to your friend). You don’t have to mind, it’ll go to a charity shop otherwise. Completely forgot i had the book until your post rung a bell.

        If you’re interested give us a quick email at dansite666[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk and i’ll pop it in the post :0)

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