The mystery of writing fiction, or pulling people out of the ether and asking “Who are you?”

Jackadder Lake, Woodlands, Perth, Western Australia. September 2021. Photo: Emma Bladen

So how’s the writing going, you ask kindly, because you’re curious. I appreciate that you care enough to ask, even if I don’t yet have any exciting news to share.

My book’s progressing, thankyou, albeit slowly.

I have days I worry I’ll never finish the beast. Days I’m tempted to throw it all in the bin and pretend I never started it. But in truth, I inch forward a little each day, and I will finish it. I’ll get there.

You will too, if you’re working on something at the moment. If you’re writing fiction, don’t give up. Be kind to yourself. Be brave. Be persistent. Another word, another sentence, another chapter. You’ll get there.

Some days my progress is easy to measure – as in pages written or chapters edited. Other days I feel I’ve progressed but not in a way I could show you.

That’s how it’s been in recent weeks as I’ve been getting to know my protagonist. Yes. I’ve been spending time getting to know a person named Kat who doesn’t exist beyond the realm of my imagination.

It’s a mysterious process this fiction writing.

It all started at the suggestion of my fabulous mentor, author Louise Allan, who’d read my fourth manuscript. The ever upbeat and highly motivated Allan amazed me when she said there were characters and scenes in my book that she loved.

You know what? I haven’t got a handle on your protag

To think that anyone could love anything about my book at this early stage was a marvel to me and enormously encouraging. Perhaps I wouldn’t shred it after all.

Then after Allan raised a few red flags and queries – all spot on, around areas I know need more thought – she said “You know what? I haven’t got a handle on your protag”.

Author of The Sisters’ Song, Louise Allan

Ha! Her and me both. My main character, Kat, had been worrying me for quite some time.

For starters, she wasn’t my favourite character. While there are others I love, or love to hate, Kat by comparison was a little too conventional for my taste. A bit (dare I say it?) dull, colourless and boring. Ouch.

Did it make sense for Kat to be my protagonist when I have a host of well-developed, colourful, whacky and diverse characters at my disposal? Some are so clearly defined I can almost smell them. Touch them. Hear them breathing.

Yet here was Kat, parked in the centre of my story, stubbornly insisting this book was about her. This journey was hers, no one else’s, and if I couldn’t get that into my head, that wasn’t her problem.

So at Allan’s suggestion, I set about getting to know Kat better. That meant using my imagination to spend some time with her. To have a conversation with her. Ask her about herself and listen to her responses.

I made real progress when I wondered about Kat’s secret … that’s when things got interesting

As I said to someone recently, it’s as if I’m pulling people out of the ether and asking “Who are you? Why are you here? And what is it you’ve come to tell us? What is it that you wanted to say?”.

That was all well and good but I made real progress when I wondered about Kat’s secret.

What was something Kat might have experienced or done, which she’d never told another living soul?

What might she have done – or been subjected to – that she hadn’t told her husband, her best friend, nor her mother? And why had she never discussed it?

That’s when things got interesting.

I was stunned. Truly. I didn’t see that coming

Three possibilities for Kat quickly sprang to mind and as I considered each, one of them jumped out at me. Oh dear, I thought. Oh no. Surely not? But yep, that was it. That was the one. Crikey.

I was stunned. Truly. I didn’t see that coming. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

No spoilers, but I now know what happened to Kat before the start of my story and it explains a lot – how Kat thinks, feels and acts, and why she relates the way she does to the people around her. It gives us a clue about how she used to be, and how her experience has changed her.

I really feel for her now, knowing what she’s been trying to deal with on her own all this time. And we see the cavern of misunderstanding which stands between her and those around her. They have no idea what she’s been through.

I just needed this last piece of the jigsaw puzzle to fall into place for everything to come together

Since then I’ve read a fair bit around this area, and the more I read, the more it feels right for Kat. The clues were already there. I just needed this last piece of the jigsaw puzzle to fall into place for everything to come together.

In the past week or two I’ve been doing a kind of speed edit of the fifth draft of my manuscript, bearing in mind what I now know about Kat. It’s giving me a lot of clarity. Is that what she’d say? Is that what she’d do? Is that how she’d feel in that situation?

I also found the spot in my story where Kat’s secret is revealed, to race the story along to its conclusion.

Now I need to write her secret. To write the incident. To write what happened to her. I hope I can do it justice.

I was concerned at first that Kat’s secret might change the tone of my book. My work in progress includes a lot of absurdity and dark humour. What happened to Kat is big and scary and as serious as it gets. Would something so traumatic fit comfortably in my story with all the absurdity?

I think yes. If anything, the absurdity now looks even more ridiculous. And now we understand why Kat’s so serious – and kind of removed from her surrounds.

I’m thrilled because this book belongs to Kat, now. This is her story. Sure, other characters change. A little. Some not at all. But this book is now Kat’s journey and we very much want her to move forward in her life. To move past what happened. We want her to be happy and to have the good things in life, and to get her old spark back.

Most of all we want her to forgive herself.

Are you writing fiction? Drop me a line at and let me know how you’re going. Let’s encourage each other on this writing journey.