How well do you know your book?

Is it a passing acquaintance or a life long friend? Do you know all its dirty secrets or are you making a massive number of assumptions?

I write murder mystery plays for a living. I started doing this back in 1997 for the am dram group I was  part of at that time. In case you haven't attended one of our murder mystery events, they go something like this:
  • Introduction by the compere.
  • The Play!
  • Interval.
  • The suspects return to the stage to be questioned by the audience.
  • Deduction time.
  • The Verdict.
Initially I co-wrote the plays, publicised the plays, acted as producer to my writing partner's director, helped with front of house, occasionally did lights and sound, and also acted on stage. The rehearsal period and production nights were incredibly busy - my hours frenetically filled with all manner of tasks - but ultimately they were was richly rewarding. I quickly learnt the knack of developing an overview of each production, knowing what stage each element was at and what still needed to be done.

One of the tasks assigned to me was to run the actors through their character histories and practice question times. The audience could be devious in their questioning, imagining motives that my co-writer and I hadn't considered, and on occasion extremely random. Each actor had to know their character inside and out, filling in the gaps in the histories we had provided them, so that they could ad lib convincingly in the face of the audience's interrogation. They had to not only know the bare bones of their characters but the muscles, sinew and tendons that encompassed those bones and held them together.

It's just the same with writing a book. It's not sufficient to simply have a pencil sketch of your characters and the world in which they exist. It is necessary to have all the answers to all the questions that your readers may throw at you:
  • back stories for your characters,
  • the history of your world,
  • cultural rules,
  • physical laws,
  • the condition of the environment.
It may well be that you never write any of these, or all of these, into your book but to have them to hand, to know your world inside and out, to fully realise your character histories lends an assurance to your writing. There is no longer a reason to stop and consider the legal implications of a character's actions or what their house might look like, if you already have that information to hand. 

Try it. Write a history for each of your characters (job, dreams, relationships, times spent in different places, family life) and a culture for the world they live in (landscape, social mores, laws, mythology, religion).  Learn it so well that you can then forget it and still be able to write your world without distraction.


  1. I love that Scrivener has character sheets. I have so much fun with them and really get to know my characters before I start drafting.

  2. I don't use Scrivener but I do enjoy finding out about my characters.


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