Monday, 4 March 2019

Moving On to Meet New Characters
My novel 'Whispering Olive Trees' is out on submission and I'm playing the waiting game. There's nothing more I can do until the decisions start to come back and I'll replace each rejection with another submission. Although I've started planning and writing scenes from my new mother/daughter saga, I'm finding it hard to say goodbye to one of the characters I know so well from my finished novel. 
The reader will meet Elin, a talented young artist, when she
The fishing port that greets Elin when she arrives
arrives in Greece to spend the summer of 1979 to attend the Simonides School of Painting but I know much more about her, facts that don't feature in the book. I know about her early life living and growing up in rural mid-Wales that made her the quiet, sensitive and talented young woman she has become. 
An only child, she has been left devastated by her father's untimely death. She has decided to spend the money he left her to further her studies in southern Greece as a tribute to him and his enthralling tales of the country he loved so much. Part of the novel is Elin's story, written from her point of view. 
I have experienced the whole gamut of her emotions. Having been in her head, I know her thoughts and the reasons for how she acts and reacts, why she says what she does. When a tragedy happens on the island, the school closes. I have been party to the dilemma she faces and understand the decision at which she arrives. Elin leaves the island of Pefka earlier than planned, keeps her life there a secret and she never paints again. Twenty years have passed and the reader meets her daughter, Alexandra, fondly known as Lexi. By telling her story, the reader gets to know why Elin left Greece and felt compelled to keep her time there a secret. I enjoyed getting to know Elin and Lexi and the other characters and loved writing the novel. I have to leave them for now but I hope that one day you will be able to read their stories.

And so, I need to get to know the characters in my new novel as well as I knew Elin and 

Lexi. The time period is earlier, at the outbreak of World War II. Mary Ann Evans, Annie, also lives in rural mid-Wales but her life is much, much harder than the comfortable upbringing experienced by Elin. Annie runs the household for her widower father and two brothers whom she idolises, as well as working long hours at the stables of the local manor house. She's a hard worker, feisty and very determined. 
Even when his lordship refuses her offer to replace her brother as groom when he is called up to go to war, Annie is persistent and does not give up. When he does eventually agree, she is determined not to let his lordship down. 
She is fiercely loyal and misses her mother especially later on at a time when only a mother would understand. When she is faced with a dilemma, she makes a decision that breaks her own heart rather than break her father's.

There are many ways to get to know your characters. I use coloured post cards on which I write notes about each character after creating character profiles. Much of the information will not be used in my story but the more background I have to each character, the more information I will have to inform how each character acts or speaks.

In her article 33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters, Kristen Kieffer discusses how to breathe life into your story by 'creating characters as real, tangible and complex as the people around us' in order to avoid 'caricatures and cardboard cutouts'
How many of these do you use? How do you get to know your new characters? 

Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.


  1. Ah, the 'W' word... Juliet & I have decided, waiting is our superpower! I feel for you. Just because it takes as long as it takes, doesn't make the waiting any easier. The very best of luck with your submission! You deserve it! Having a next book to focus on is crucial.

    I'm not a prolific writer, as in, I can churn out one or even two books a year. (Terrifying thought!) It takes me a long time to write a book therefore I have time to get to know my characters. When they first arrive - sometimes fully formed (Cadi in Ghostbird) - at others, complex & with their own agenda[s] (virtually every other one!) I simply give them time to bed in & make their presence felt.

    Like you (albeit in a different format) I write detailed character profiles & backstory. A huge amount of what I know about them never makes it into the books. It's essential background though, in my head & heart, & keeps me connected to them. xXx

    1. Thanks for your good wishes, Carol. My novels took a long time to write so perhaps that is why it's hard for me to say goodbye to the characters I know so well. I'm sure that the character profiles and back stories will help me get to know the new characters as well as I got to know Elin and Lexi.

  2. Fingers firmly crossed for your novel out on submission, Jan - if only there wasn't so much waiting involved in writing!

    1. Thank you, Sara. Some publishers are quicker than others in giving a decision. While they still have the manuscript, however, part of me thinks that maybe it's being considered, ha, ha!

  3. Jan, I know what you mean about knowing so much more about your characters than actually appears on the page. That extra information is so important, because it informs the way you write about the people in your story, adding depth and colour to their personalities and lives. Elin and Lexi have been part of your writing life for quite some time, but it won't be long before Annie and others in your new cast get embedded in your mind. Sending you all good wishes for your submissions. I hope you don't have to wait long for good news.

    1. Thanks for your good wishes, Sue, and your continued support. I'll keep you posted.