29. I ask advice.

Writer Quote

Let’s talk characters.

I’m starting to think about the third book in the series now that The ‘Ohana Tree is almost out (2 days to go!) and in my little moments of musing and dreaming, I’ve been focusing on characters.

I’ve been asked a few times about how I come up with my characters. I usually vary my response depending on who asked because the honest truth sounds a little nuts. The more I get into this book making stuff, the more I realise that there is a side to it that I’m not sure I’ll ever understand. To say it plainly, it can be spooky.

Since I am confessing here, I’m going to go with the 100% honest, Rebecca is a crazy woman, version.

When I’m writing, I try to silence one side of my brain and allow the other side to do its work. The side I’m silencing is the one that says things like, What time is it? I’m hungry. This is terrible. Gah. So cliche. I wish I could write like her. Is this a silly book? Should I be writing serious literature? And on, and on, and on.

It used to be hard work to shut this side of myself up, but the more writing I do the better I get at putting a lid on it. One of the strategies I have for this is routine and discipline. In a writing phase (as opposed to an editing, or just about the release a book freak-out phase) I write every morning for 3 – 4 hours. It becomes a habit and I find that as soon as I sit down, I slip easily into a creative space.

So now I’m ready to work. In my first draft, I write quickly without much conscious thought, and this is the spooky bit – I don’t feel as though I’m in the driver’s seat. My characters come to me strongly and they’re fully formed – their names, appearance, fears, mannerisms, likes and dislikes – they’re all there. I learn the way they speak by writing down what they tell me. For example, there’s a nickname in the second book that appeared on the screen early on, and I had to sit back and look at it for a second because it surprised me so much.

The even weirder thing is that sometimes my characters will reveal something of themselves later in the book that feels completely new to me, but when I read back over what I’ve previously written, I see that there are details and clues about this seemingly new revelation already in the work. This happened in both The ‘Ohana Tree and in the second book in the series.

They also wake me up at 2 or 3 in the morning and tell me new things about themselves.

I know they’re not real people. But they feel real. The experience of being deeply involved in writing a long book is a consuming one, and it often feels like I have voices in my head or there’s a movie playing that I can only see in my mind’s eye.

So there you have it.

Now for the advice. I thought I’d turn things around and ask you about characters.

What do you love in a character? What do you hate?

Who are your favourite book characters of all time?

What kind of characters do we need to see more of in books?



  1. Oh my goodness, yes! My characters are most definitely in the driver’s seat. Yes, it may sound strange to non-writers but wow, it makes their story so much more genuine. I love characters that cut the crap and pretenses and just get real. Characters you can relate to, mothers who love their children so much they would literally give their lives over and over again and yet at the same time can’t handle one more word coming out of their child’s mouth or want to lock themselves in a toilet with a cup of tea just for two minutes of peace. Romances that are true to life with the edge of fantasy, life is real…but look at how passionate and dreamy we could make it. Real life characters with real life issues to overcome – they always have something to teach us. You do this beautifully Rebecca.

  2. Thank you! I love to read a true to life mum as well. I read Liane Moriarty’s book The Hypnotist’s Love Story recently and I thought her character ‘Ellen’ was brilliantly written. She was very real, very honest about her flaws. The author held nothing back. There were times when I thought, Oooh that was brave, as I read it.

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