Tips for Writing Round Characters


I’ve never had a character come to me fully formed and ready to go. They come to me like ghosts and I have to make them real by getting to know them over time. Creating (good) characters is hard work, but when you take the time and effort to make them ’round’ it’s always worth it.

So what is a ’round’ character? E.M Forster wrote in Aspects of the Novel, that:

“The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat… It has an incalculability of life about it – life within the pages of a book.”

Someone once told me that if you can imagine the character existing outside of the novel, if they have lives that reach beyond their role in the book’s plot, they’re round. It’s all about putting life back in those ghostly figures that first appear.

But it’s not always so easy to create a round character. One approach is to let the characters reveal themselves to you, to really sit down and get to know them.

Ask questions.

Write out a set of questions for your character and conduct a kind of interview. This gets your brain thinking about all sorts of random details that you can use for background info to help round out your character. If you’re not sure what to ask, check out this list of possible questions.

HINT: This works even better if you don’t know the questions beforehand. Have a friend do the asking – it’ll keep you on your toes!

Have a chat.

Imagine physically meeting your character for the first time (maybe in a cafe, or at the library – it depends on the character). How does the conversation begin? How do they respond to you? This is great for picking up body language and visualisations about the character.

HINT: It’s not recommended to tell people who aren’t writers that you’ve been ‘talking with your characters’. They just don’t get it. Believe me.

Fill out a job application.

This idea comes from an article on The Write Practice. It’s a great way to work out the facts about a character. Don’t forget the important yet sometimes over looked details like age, date of birth, and previous work history.

HINT: As the article says, don’t hesitate to add more parts to the job application and really scrutinise your character.

Write a letter.

Not many people write letters anymore, so this is a great way to learn more about your character’s motivations, their past, their friends, and so on. It’s a good exercise for creating tone and voice as well as vocabulary.

HINT: Don’t post it!


Happy writing 🙂


Three Things to Know Before Starting Your Novel


Before you jump in the deep end and start writing a novel, there are a few things you should know.

1. The Premise

This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many authors launch straight into writing before knowing the basics. The premise of your story, is the core of it – the skeleton that runs throughout the whole thing. When someone asks you what your book is about, the premise is what you’ll give them. More often than not, if you begin writing without a premise, chances are that your story will have trouble going anywhere.

For example, this author began writing a novel, knowing the character and his physical journey, but unsure as to what the basic concept of her book was. In 9 months, she struggled to write a measly 13,200 words. By contrast, she then began writing a new novel which had originally been a short story. Knowing the premise this time, in 4 months she wrote 60,000 words and finished the first draft.

“With my first book, I had known the main character inside out, known his travels… But I found it increasingly difficult to write. The scenes were random and didn’t build to anything. I couldn’t have told you what the climax of the novel was. If you compare the progress of my second novel to the first, which remains unfinished, it’s pretty incredible. I’m not saying you should know everything about your story before you start, because it does develop and change drastically as you work. But knowing the premise the second time around changed the way I write for the better.” – Novelist/Creative Writer, Darlinghurst

2. Research Basics

Again, this sounds like an obvious one. Some writers find it easier to set their fiction in a real place, have a character with a similar occupation or family situation… things they’re familiar with. If this is you, that’s great. What I will say is: be careful you don’t omit details accidentally. When you know a setting, a job or a person very well, it’s easy to forget that your reader doesn’t.

To those who are creating from scratch, that’s great too. Is your main character a doctor? An air-hostess? Is your novel set in South Africa? Italy? Russia? Whatever your main character does and wherever they are, know the facts, at least the basics. What does their job entail? Long hours? Mundane tasks? Risk? Who do they work with? How long have they been in their position? Are they happy there? Do they earn a lot? These things won’t necessarily make it onto the actual page, but these factors affect a person’s nature, how they behave, how they live… The same goes for the setting you place them in… Do they have electricity? Do they live above a nightclub? Is their living space small or spacious?

“What I found incredibly useful, was mapping out the settings that my characters spent a lot of time in. Whether it was a room, a house or a village, it was a relief to keep coming back to a reference point and know where things were. I also kept ‘Research Profiles’ for want of a better term, so I could constantly layer my work with authentic touches, whether it was for the environment, political climate or a character.”

3. Character

Try and learn everything you can about your characters before you start writing. Naturally, once you get your story going, you’ll learn more and more about them, however it’s always super helpful to know the basics of who they are, what they do, etc., beforehand. Jot down a profile about each of your main characters including details about their: name, physical appearance, age, which characters they get along with and their relationship, where they live, do they have children? A partner? Do they have any particular mannerisms or quirks? Decide where you want to draw the line with how much you need to know before you start, and how much you learn along the way.

“One of the things I wish I had of known before I started my book was a few extra details about the background of my characters, things that make them distinctive from the rest of my cast. I’m now on my second draft and I’m having to redo character profiles and slot these details in second time around – it would have been a lot less hassle to have done it from the beginning.”

There are plenty of character profile templates available online for free that can be a great help. Click here to see one such example of a useful profile. Although it’s quite long and detailed, it does prompt you to think outside the box.

In conclusion, starting a novel is a huge undertaking and a massive achievement in itself, but sometimes, it helps to have something small, pointing you in the right direction. I hope this little checklist has done that.

Happy writing!


A Word Factory Masterclass with Louise Doughty | Words Away


Today on Writer’s Blog, I want to share a fantastic article from Words Away on what she learnt at a Word Factory event. I found the whole thing really informative and valuable for my writing, and I hope you will too.

Enjoy! x

How do you work out if your idea is a short story or a novel? You begin writing in one form only to discover that your work has mutated into something else entirely. I attended an excellent masterclass recently, Where The Narrative Leads, with Louise Doughty, run by the Word Factory. Who better to help you work out if your idea can go the distance or is destined to crystallise into a short story than with an award-winning novelist, screenwriter and short story writer? Tucked away in the basement of Waterstones Piccadilly, Louise chatted about her writing process, touching on the main aspects of plot and narrative structure. There was lots of opportunity to ask questions and do some exercises to apply to our own writing.

Who knows where the origin of a story comes from – something grabs the imagination and grows. Two of Louise’s novels, Apple Tree Yard and Black Water, were each inspired by an image of a single character in a situation and started as short story ideas. So why did those short stories turn into a novel? According to Louise there are two elements at work, the first being your character; Look at their biography. If, as Paul Klee suggested, ‘drawing is taking a line for a walk’ why not take your character for a walk. Ask questions of your character; what age are they? What year is the scene set? Interrogate history and events. Play around with what you find. When something starts bothering you – that could be your idea. Anything that feels ‘noteworthy’, find a way to get it in to your story. Join the dots and make connections. Secondly, scrutinise the world in which the character finds themselves; While on a visit to Bali and gripped by jet lag, Louise was seized by an image of a man mortally afraid and lying awake in a hut, listening to rain on the roof. She didn’t know anything about Indonesia or it’s history but set about finding out. Your own ignorance can be a driver more than the stuff you know about. Don’t be stymied by research; if it interests you it will interest the reader. Go and visit your novel – if possible. Walk it out. There’s no substitute for going on location. A pragmatic decision can become a thematic one. Find your way around the limits of your knowledge.

One of the most interesting parts of the evening was looking at the formal principals behind narrative structure. According to the filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, ‘All stories should have a beginning, middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.’ Referring to the Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field, Louise suggested adapting a few screenwriters tricks to help structure your novel. There was a hand out with a diagram dividing the story into quarters, with a set-up, a mid point and a resolution. Three ‘plot points’ divided the narrative. A plot point takes the course of the narrative, turns it around and spins it in another direction. There’s no going back from this experience. A plot point is not an event that happens but rather when something has impacted on the character’s life to cause irrevocable change. It does not have to be large or dramatic. The point is change.

I loved hearing about Louise’s intuitive approach to writing which she described as a chaotic ‘jigsaw method’ and heartened to learn she writes without worrying too much about outcome. Inspired by an image or a subject she gets up and writes whatever comes into her head that day. Herein lies the joy! Researching along the way, she writes scenes, generates loads of material and leaves gaps as she writes. She’ll go back and fill those in later. She described the physical process of printing out the scenes, then laying it all out on the kitchen table or floor. She looks for her corner scenes, picks out the edges and what might be the beginning or end. She maps it all out into piles of three or four and from this she has a working draft. If overwhelmed she simplifies the story, cutting scenes ruthlessly.

If you’ve never been to a Word factory event, I urge you to go. The guest authors are brilliant if not legendary and, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned scribe, the atmosphere is welcoming and writer friendly. If you’d like a flavour of previous masterclasses click here to read about a couple with Neil Gaiman and Tessa Hadley. It was a great evening with thanks to Louise Doughty, Cathy Galvin and the Word Factory team. I’ve scarpered back to my writing cave to see if I can put some of what I’ve learned into my own writing. Let’s see what the summer brings.


PS: With Louise Doughty’s masterclass in mind, YA author Non Pratt has blogged brilliantly about her approach to writing and revising a novel. And thinking about ‘plot points’ and change, I love editor and writing mentor Andrew Wille’s blog highlighting the wisdom of Ursula Le Guin in Steering The Craft:

Conflict is one kind of behaviour. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.

Links: The Word FactoryLouise DoughtyPaul KleeJean-Luc GodardThe Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field,


Your First Chapter: Getting Past The Fear

ChapterOneFear holds a lot of writers back from getting their work into the world, and when you’re writing a book the fear of the first chapter can stop you in your tracks.

Much of this fear comes from pressure for the first chapter to be perfect. It is drilled into us that first impressions are everything, especially when it means keeping your manuscript out of the slush pile.

But if you don’t get started, you’ll never get going. So here are a few tips for pushing past the fear of failure and writing your first chapter.

Before the First Word

Think about your concept. No matter where it came from: based on a real event, in a dream, a fairy story, your imagination, whatever, you will need to flesh it out a bit and think about where it is going. Do some research into the area, and allow your concept to morph as it takes shape.

Coming up with the plot is the most difficult part, because our ideas change and grow all the time. But if you do a little planning on your structure and develop your characters, the shape of your novel will began to reveal itself. And doing this beforehand will make the actual writing process easier.

Putting Pen to Paper

From all your planning, the obvious place to start should present itself. Try not to overthink it – just start writing and see where it takes you. If you hit a dead end, don’t panic. Back up a bit a try again, or put it in a draw for a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes.

Personally, I have found giving my ideas time to marinade really helps my process. I reworked my plot, my world, some of my characters, and prepared to take that leap into a new first chapter.


There is a lot of advice out there about right/wrong ways to start a book. My advice is: just start writing. If you’ve got off on the wrong foot, the book will tell you. Sure, it may set you back a little, but you’ll learn from that experience and your novel will be better for it.

Think about how your favourite books and films start. Do they jump right into the acton, or is there some breathing space before the story begins? If you can imagine an intriguing scene that doesn’t give the game away, you’re on the right track.

Don’t let the pressure of publishers, agents, or readers intimidate you. First chapters are scary and exciting (like the first summertime leap into a swimming pool) but the great thing about words is that you can change them.

The revision and editing processes are so long that chances are, your first chapter will transform many times from your first version of it. We revise for a reason, so don’t stress about the minor things just yet.

In Retrospect

Although it can be hard figuring out where and how to start, the re-starting of my draft made me realise that the little things don’t matter (yet) and that first drafts never come out perfectly polished the first go.

My biggest lesson: don’t try to write the perfect first draft, because it’s like a unicorn – it only exists in my imagination.

It doesn’t matter that a chapter feels stale, or that the wording for some descriptions aren’t quite right, or that your tense keeps shifting.

Words are flexible: they can be edited, moved around, deleted, and swapped. Just get yourself past the first hurdle and keep pushing forward.

What’s important is that you write, not hide behind the fear that your first chapter may not be entirely perfect just yet.


Why Taking Writing Breaks Is Important


Often when we work continuously on the same piece of writing (especially a long piece) we can lose our objectivity. Sometimes we get so caught up in our writing, we forget that simply powering through can affect the quality of our work. Taking a break allows us to come back to our work with a clear mind and a new perspective. This is important because it also allows us to critique our own writing by bringing a fresh view to our work.

Sometimes when reviewing work after a break we might even change our focus and bring new ideas to our writing. This is very useful when your writing just isn’t working. If you are at the point where you are forcing a story, take this as a sign to take a break from it.  Give yourself time to understand why it isn’t working and allow your creative juices to flow and bring you a new view, a new path to take in your writing, or even the courage to scrap what you were doing and start something completely new.

As writers, we overwork our brains and we don’t realise it. We are constantly thinking, constantly brainstorming, and constantly flooding our heads with superfluous information from blogs to books” – Paul Jun (Problogger)

Remember why you write

There are many reasons why writers write. Some of these are:

  • We enjoy it
  • We have something we want to say
  • Writing gives our imagination freedom to run wild
  • To inspire others
  • It’s our creative outlet

Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t lose sight of why we are writing something and we certainly shouldn’t lose the enjoyment. If you find that this is happening to you then take a break. The last thing you want to do is lose sight of the reason why you are writing. Especially if it’s important to you. Sometimes taking a break to remind yourself of these reasons can be very useful. Take the time to give your mind some breathing space, relax and enjoy life.

Taking a writing break doesn’t mean you can’t think about writing or think about new ideas. As writers, simply seeing or hearing something can spark our creativity and cause our imaginations to run wild. This doesn’t need to stop. Taking a writing break can simply be a break from your current writing project to allow your mind to have a rest and let you re-energise. In the meantime, if you get an idea for another piece of writing, or even for your current project, jot down the idea so you don’t forget it and come back to it later. This will also allow you to assess your new idea objectively.

Time Out and Observation

There are some things you can do whilst taking a break that can help your writing and help you to view what you have written objectively. When you are out, whether it be in a shopping centre, in a park, or when you’re simply around other people, listen to the way people talk to each other. This is one way to check whether the conversations between your characters sound realistic or forced. When you listen to the way people talk naturally, you may realise that some of the conversations between your characters sound robotic or too formal. This is a good way to remind yourself how a conversation between people flows naturally.

“We writers tend to live in our heads and its necessary for us to step outside and enjoy the sunshine more than every once in a while. Shaking up your routine can sometimes, inadvertently, lead to you generating some of your best material” – Mitchell Martin Jnr. (Paper Hangover).

Simply observing people can help you with your character development. Observation can often spark the creation of a new character, add realistic descriptions to your characters and their actions, or even give you a new story idea. For example, you may see a couple who are arguing, even if you can’t hear what they are saying, you might want to use your creativity and make up something that they might be arguing about, something that can be applied to your characters.

Observe (discreetly) the body language of the couple as this can help when you describe interactions with your characters. You want your readers to be able to visualise what is happening and the more realistic it sounds, the easier it will be for your readers. Or perhaps you notice an interesting looking person, someone who is oblivious to what is going on around him or her, perhaps he or she doesn’t seem to notice other people because they don’t seem to care what other people think. Do you have a character like this in your story? If so, some simple observation can give you wealth of inspiration.

Keep reading

Enjoy other people’s writing. Choose a book that you like and read (or re-read) it. Take the time to think about why you enjoy this book so much. Think about things such as:

  • How does the author capture your attention?
  • What methods does the author use to keep your attention?
  • Do you care about the characters in the story? Why or why not?
  • How does the author move the story along?

You can learn a lot by reading books and understanding techniques used by other authors. This can add great value to your own work when you are stuck on how to progress your story or when you need a reminder on how to keep the reader interested.

How long should the break be?

Only you can decide how long of a break you should take. Don’t feel guilty if you end up taking a long break. Take all the time you feel you need. Your writing will be there when you are ready to come back to it and it will benefit from the break. So, if you feel that your writing is getting stale or if you feel that you simply are not making progress, then do yourself a favour and have a break from your writing. Allow yourself time to refresh, get reacquainted with your creativity and revamp your writing.