Writing Fiction – Life, Language and Observation

Observation in writingby Annette Young


I sometimes cannot believe how fast the time goes by. It seems only minutes since I blinked and was ready to welcome the weekend in and now, it’s come and gone again. It was a productive weekend in terms of writing and planning however but I’ve always said that the whole creative process is much more than actually sitting down and committing words to paper. Sometimes, it’s the silliest of things that can spark off the imagination and make you think about life in a whole new light.


Relaxing with a glass of wine at the weekend, I stared out over the surrounding villas with the sun sparkling over the roof tops and the sound of water splashing as children played in a nearby pool. Even though, there was noise, the scene was still tranquil…for a short term before car horns trumpted through the early evening breeze and then a creshendo of voices broke the scene and dissipated. My thoughts turned toward the people who had begun to laugh in their gardens, voices sounding ever nearer as they turned their volume up and was reminded, irrespective of the tranquil scene, just how noisy the Spanish folk around me are. 


While I certainly do not mean this to be disrespectful, there is a noted difference between the cultures here and I am surrounded by many – Russian, French, German, Danish, Dutch and Spanish of course. I am endlessly fascinated by the variety of accents and the different tones and…volume. 


One moment, I was feeling more than a little relaxed, content to watch life go by and the next minute, I was out of my chair, convinced someone was being murdered as the sound of rapid and somewhat volatile words shattered the tranquility around me.  Half-expecting to see a dramatic scene unfold, instead, I watched as a Spanish couple barked loud comments at each other while walking past my gate and then, as if choreographed, and with perfect timing, fell into each other’s arms. 


You may wonder what this has to do with writing but, think about this, when we write fiction, our aim is to conjure up characters that feel real and that are strong enough to connect with the reader. So we have to think about the uniqueness of people, the differences between men and women and of course, the differences of culture too. Sometimes we live parallel lives with others, we may share similar thoughts and feelings, go to work each day, enjoy a drink in the evening to wind down after a day filled with pressure and we may laugh and smile at the same things. Yet under the surface, sometimes that’s where our parallel lives end. 


Language is a wonderful thing but, without understanding the words or the pronunciation, we are left with our imagination, with speculation and to try to read the signals from body language. That’s something to consider when you create your next character. Are they easy to read and understand or complex, hot-blooded and feisty? Where does your story take place and can you blend a variety of cultures portraying them in a convincing and yet sensitive way?


There’s so much you can do with your characters, you just have to absorb life as it happens around you and each impression can greatly fuel your ability to create 3 dimensional characters. Or…………………….you can simply join us on The Fiction Masterclass….and let us bring the technique of characterisation to life for you.

Fiction Ingredients – Add a Pinch of History

Fiction ingredients

Author Editor Annette Youngby Annette Young

Fiction may be dreamed up and coaxed out of your imagination, but there are still vital ingredients that can serve to bring your story to life. Think about the characters, would you like them to be larger than life? Would you like to create 3 dimensional beings that incite dedicated followers? I am sure that the answer is a resounding yes, after all, what author doesn’t want to hook the readers with characters who seem living, breathing entities? To do so, it’s good to create a back story for your characters – especially for the protagonist. We all have a history, some of us have a more vibrantly coloured past than others but the great thing is, you get to play God with your characters and you can make their histories as naughty, fun or painful as you like.

I always advocate the creation of profiles for each of the main characters. I believe it helps writers remember what’s happened to a character in the past and why that character might act in a certain way in the present, but it does something else too, it enables the writer to fully connect with the characters on a deeper level and this equates to writing with confidence. Believe me; your readers will love you for it.

You won’t be able to capture (or think of ) all of their histories at once but, your profile should be a work in progress because you can add to it, amend it, delete sections or add interesting snippets capturing elements to look out for in the future. Once you have an idea of your character, just commit to writing it all down, or do as I do now and dictate using Dragon Software. It was a little odd hearing myself initially but after a while, it became much easier to capture all my thoughts or notions and even though I am a very fast typist, I can capture verbal words a lot quicker than thinking and typing.

Don’t worry about spelling or any grammatical errors; you can go back over it afterwards. Let’s be honest, if the words are flowing, just get them down.

Think about your character’s early years:

  • When was the character born?
  • What does the character look like? List any distinguishing features
  • Early character traits
  • Was it a difficult birth?
  • As a baby, was the character neglected or smothered with love?
  • Did the mother resent the character baby because he/she was the wrong sex?

These are just random examples of course but you can do a lot from this starting point and are likely to be more thorough if starting at the creation of life, rather than looking back. Once your imagination kicks in, you may find you end up with a lot of waffle and if so, just delete it. For example:

  • Jimmy likes cheesecake

This is unlikely to be that important to the story unless you know you will be writing a scene where cheesecake plays an important part, so instead consider something like this:

  • Jimmy had always detested wearing odd socks. His mother was a drunk and rarely kept the house in good order; the last thing on her mind was washing and mending clothes. Jimmy remembered how the other children mocked him about his odd socks-it made him feel like he didn’t belong, he became introverted and was bullied. Jimmy hated his mother and the feeling grew worse as he got older. As an adult, her lack of care now made him extra careful with his whole attire – fastidious in fact. Jimmy became a man of extremes.

From this you can see that a simple and seemingly irrelevant act could lead to the character becoming slightly eccentric or, over-the-top in his behaviour later in life. This could even spill over into his relationships if he married someone who was similar to his mother- even divorce, accidental death or murder if he suddenly snapped at his wife’s careless and inconsiderate washing habits. Extreme? Well, yes but who knew odd socks could be so powerful a trigger?

What happens in the past really will reflect on the present and indeed the future. Other things to consider:

  • Allergies – peanuts
  • Parental influences – good and bad
  • Fears – terrified of the dark as was trapped in a cupboard
  • Friends – loyal and those who let the character down
  • Relationships – love, betrayal and inner angst

The more you know about your characters, the more persuasive your writing will become. You don’t have to dish out every bit of information in your novel, sometimes less is more, but you know why you are writing a scene and will be able to portray it convincingly when you have the benefit of history. Writing a novel or any long work of fiction requires an intimate knowledge of your key players so by adding in their histories, you will be adding a sense of richness to the story-line.