Let the characters be your guide

Today’s blog is by DJ McCune, the author of DEATH & CO, which comes out this week! Her novel tells the story of a boy named Adam, who is forced to go into the family business. That would be fine, except that the family business is escorting people into the afterlife, which seriously gets in the way of homework and teenage normalcy. When Adam gets a terrible premonition he realises that he must make a devastating choice, risking his life, his family and his destiny.

As you can tell, this is a rather character-driven story. So to celebrate her publication day, Debbie (DJ) wrote a bit about how these characters kept her going throughout the writing process.

There are lots of good things about being a writer. You can work anywhere. You can live inside your own head for hours at a time without anyone thinking you’re a nutter. Other people think it’s wildly glamorous (because they never see you sitting at midnight in mismatched pyjamas, muttering and cursing because the words won’t come).

But the best bit of all, by a long way, is getting to know your characters.

I love my characters. Every single one of them. It’s hard to explain how real they feel – writing a character into existence is as close as you’ll ever come to playing God. For me the main characters usually arrive first. In Death & Co. Adam was the first one to step onto the screen – sandy haired, awkward, funny, old beyond his years. His family appeared fast on his heels in varying degrees of vivid. Nathanial and Auntie Jo were explosively bright in my mind; Luc made me smile. Elise was thin and French and a chain smoking perfectionist – that was all I knew to begin with. And Aron and Chloe, although they play cameo roles in Book 1 are fleshing out nicely in Book 2.

DEATH & CO._cover

I love the rest of my characters too. I love seeing what they’re becoming as I write them; the qualities they possess that even I don’t know yet. I love Dan’s geeky enthusiasm and The Beast’s real nastiness and Melissa’s incredible kindness and resilience (that girl is in for a really hard time).

There are times when every writer will get stuck. It’s hard to explain that feeling of throwing yourself against a mental wall and bouncing back, bruised and battered. I’m fortunate enough to live beside a lovely beach and I can spend hours stomping along, snarling to myself that none of it is working!


Guess what? Often when I’m stuck it’s because I’m trying too hard to be clever. I’m trying to look ahead and put characters in places they don’t want to be. Instead of letting events unfold in their own sweet time I’m putting the proverbial rocket up them and frogmarching characters from A to B.

And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I realise this is what I’m doing. And that’s the point to stop and take a deep breath and go back to the basics: go back to the characters. What would they do in this situation? How would they deal with it? Instead of cracking an imaginary whip I hold up my hands, surrender and let them take me where they want to go.

I can’t wait for the launch of Death & Co. Most of all, I can’t wait for you to get to know Adam and his family, friends and enemies. I hope you love them as much as I do.

Check out our gallery of Death & Co. character profiles, and look out for Debbie’s book in your local bookstore this week!

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2 responses to “Let the characters be your guide

  1. Pingback: Brief Update | A Place That Does Not Exist

  2. This is exactly how I feel about my characters. They’re real to me and I don’t control them. If I’m lucky, I can coerce them to further my plot, but sometimes I have to give up and admit I had the plot wrong. 🙂

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