Writing is an art form and everyone does it differently. It is not something that you can ever stop learning, as it evolves and has differing schools of thought. I do not proclaim to know everything under the sun about writing, I don't. However, I love learning the techniques other writers use in order to produce their finished manuscripts. On the Blog today, fellow writer Amie McNee has kindly written a guest post to explain one of her techniques to you, she calls it "Coffee With My Characters".
My name is Amie. I am currently living in Sydney Australia but I grew up in Oxford England. I am a medieval history graduate and an English literature graduate. My top three favourite things in the world are: 1) Sitting in a cozy corner with my dog and a coffee, 2) travelling the world, seeing new things and drinking coffee, 3) writing in a café whilst drinking coffee.
Coffee With My Characters by Amie McNee
It’s my favourite coffee shop. It has the perfect smell. The sea, mixed with coconut sunscreen, coffee and bacon. I’ve walked here. Alone. I’ve ordered some muesli and a flat white. I’ve sat down. I’ve tucked my feet up under my body, (a tell-tale sign that I’m content) and I wait, not just for my coffee, not just for my muesli, but for her. For Esther.
The sea breeze wafts over my hot face and at the same time I see her crossing the road to the café. She has enviably beautiful hair. Long, very dark and very healthy. I curse her for it. I would kill to have hair that silky. But I can’t feel bitter towards her for too long, it would be wrong of me to be jealous, I myself gave her the hair, and her long legs, and her gorgeous Yorkshire accent. I am her maker. A maker should never be jealous of their made.
But despite being Esther’s author, it don’t know everything about her, which is why I’m having coffee with her on this beautiful morning. I’ve got questions to ask. I’ve got mannerisms and ticks to note down. She orders a cappuccino, I think she chooses the cap because it has the chocolate on top, it’s the small child within her. I predict she is going to scoop off the chocolate froth first ... what do you know, I was right. She grins at me cheekily as she does it, she knows it’s a bit childish, but I’m not sure she cares. She orders toast with avocado and tomato. I approve, but it wouldn’t have been my choice. She’s incredibly kind to the waiter. Her eyes dazzle him. She doesn’t realise that she's got his attention. I don't think she has ever really understood how she affects people.
I ask her how she is.
She’s not a fan of talking about herself.
She diverts the question, asks me how I am. I brush it off. I repeat my question.
Again, she shrugs.
I’m fine Amie. Just the same old Esther. Tell me about you.
I can’t help but grin at her accent but I curse myself for making her so closed off about her feelings. But it doesn’t really matter. I don’t need to have a deep and meaningful conversation with her to learn more about my hero. The same waiter returns with our meals. She says thank you the way you might thank someone for a really good birthday present or a heartfelt card. Waiter's big blue eyes get bigger and he looks nervous. I imagine that Esther is enjoying not having to cook for herself. She smiles at me and begins her meal, enjoying each mouthful. I watch the way she holds her knife and fork, the way her eye brows crease inwards as she chews. She looks at me and seems to know what I'm thinking.
Imaginary exercises like this are an endless help to me. Nothing happened with my coffee with Esther. My hero did absolutely nothing apart from share food with me, but I already know so much more about her. The way she eats, the way she sits, the way she holds a conversation and treats strangers. I love to have ‘coffee with my characters’ not just to mend plot holes, (which it certainly can do, Esther’s brother James told me over a hot chocolate how he was going to save the world) but these chats also reveal how my characters simply live their life from word to word, page to page, chapter to chapter.
This is a really great idea! It is very different to the technique that I use, which is acting out my scenes pretending to be one character at a time and speaking their dialogue. This is also unique, but similar to the traditional interviewing of your characters. This version of Amie's is more relaxed and casual, like two friends having a chat which in itself could tell you more about a character than simple question and answer. I think this is a really good technique to use because sometimes when writing we get bogged down on the details and forget that our characters are supposed to be living breathing people. By doing this, you can get familiar with their mannerisms, their little ticks, their manner of speech and slang they use. This helps in creating a more in depth character and to see what they would be like in a real world situation if they did not have the trials they have to go through. These are little things that we forget sometimes while we are writing and we need to remember them if we want our characters to come off the page.
The best way to do this; (1) is in a coffee shop to set the scene or (2) privately, wherever you feel comfortable. Grab a notebook and pen, don't set any questions and instead see where the chat takes you. Introduce yourself as you would any good friend or alternatively, make it like you are meeting a stranger. The possibilities are endless! But remember to have a notebook and pen with you.
I hope that you have found this technique informative and if you have any questions write them below!