Thursday, 5 April 2018

Creating Character: Clementine Starke

I always wanted Clementine Starke to be rather unconventional as a character but it took me a number of drafts of the book before I finally figured her out. From the start, I’d had the idea of a reclusive young woman, damaged by an incident in her past that still haunted her, but trying to make her way back into the real world through connecting with people on social media who shared her interest in true crime. The tricky part was getting the balance right.

When the book begins, due to the incident in her past, Clementine doesn’t feel emotion. She’s not a sociopath or psychopath in the traditional sense – she was able to feel emotion as a child – but trauma from an incident left her with a prevailing feeling of ‘nothingness’. In the first draft of the book I didn’t know what exactly had caused this. I’m not a writer who plots the story out in advance – preferring to ‘pants’ it, writing by the ‘seat of my pants’. This made writing Clementine tough. The storyline of her teaming up with the true crime addicts who she met online in the forum of website True Crime London flowed easy enough, but her inner thoughts and deepest motivations evaded me. It was a frustrating time.

In my mind she was a determined female lead, a strong woman, refusing to be kept down by her traumatic past. But I couldn’t write her like a typical action heroine, because although she was the driving force of the story she was also reclusive and doubting. Her behaviour was less predictable, her decisions more erratic. Yet, she wasn’t like Amy, the psychopathic lead character in Gillian Flynn’s amazing thriller Gone Girl. Clementine wasn’t born without empathy; she was made that way by the incident. It always came back to the incident. And yet even at the end of the first draft I still didn’t know what had happened.

I got feedback on the book, and set about improving it in the second draft. I rewrote my detective, Dominic Bell’s, side of the story relatively quickly. I felt it was taking shape. But Clementine’s voice, and her inner world, still eluded me. I wanted her to be strong but vulnerable, make bad choices that put others in danger but somehow still likable, and I wanted her to feel emotionful, even when she couldn’t feel and understand the emotions herself. I needed to know what happened in her backstory. I had to know more about the incident.

In the end, the key to Clementine’s character – the motivation that drives everything in her life – and her own voice, came to me in the middle of the night. It woke me up. But it wasn’t divine intervention or ‘the muse’ or anything mystical that helped me, it was Gillian Flynn. Not actual Gillian Flynn in person, obviously, but something she’d said in an interview. Earlier that day I’d been watching a youtube video of her The National Writers Series appearance, speaking about her writing process and creating characters. It’s a great talk – I recommend you check it out – and I’m pretty sure that’s what kicked my subconscious into overdrive to figure out what the hell I was going to do with the Clementine.

I woke up with the opening paragraph to Clementine’s chapter in my head, and a sudden realisation of what the incident was, so I groped for my notebook (always on the floor by my bed) and scribbled down the lines that are still the opening lines in chapter one:

They say I was dead for three thousand and six seconds. They say that when I woke I was different, but I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that my world became a different place once every one of those precious seconds had expired.

Then I got up, took my notebook with me, made myself a mug of coffee and sat down at my desk. I spent the rest of the night writing Clementine Starke.

My Little Eye by Stephanie Marland published by Trapeze Books

Can a group of true crime addicts take on the police to catch a serial killer?
KISS THE GIRLS… A young woman is found dead in her bedroom surrounded by rose petals - the latest victim of 'The Lover'. Struggling under the weight of an internal investigation, DI Dominic Bell is no closer to discovering the identity of the killer and time is running out.  AND MAKE THEM DIE...  As the murders escalate, Clementine Starke joins an online true crime group determined to take justice in their own hands - to catch the killer before the police. Hiding a dark secret, she takes greater risks to find new evidence and infiltrate the group.  As Starke and Bell get closer to cracking the case neither of them realise they're being watched. The killer is closer to them than they think, and he has his next victim - Clementine - firmly in his sights.

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