Writing a book part 5: one plot in search of four characters

Since the last post about my book a fortnight ago, I've now completed the plot outline of my book. I now have 26 chapters sketched out in Post-It form. The plan is to write an average of 3,000 words for each, so the finished novel will be close to 80,000 words.

Here's how the plot wall looks, now that it's complete.

At least once a week, one of the Post-Its falls off the wall and behind the desk beneath it. So if the plot ends up with a massive hole in it, that can be my excuse.

The final stage was adding a timeline. The book begins in December 2014 and finishes in October 2015, although there are flashbacks to 1933 and 1975 in Spain, and 1983 in Portugal. While there is plenty of finer detail to add to the story, I'd prefer this to happen naturally as part of the writing process rather than planning every little nuance in advance.

As I said in part 4, there's no reason I shouldn't start writing the book now, apart from one thing. Well, four things actually - the characters.

Something that Kerry Hudson told us in her Turn Up To The Page course (see part three) was that you needed to inhabit your characters. In other words, knowing not just their appearance, likes and dislikes, background, accent and so on, but their innermost thoughts too. She had several exercises for this - for example:

Imagine your character is buying something from a late night petrol station. When they leave the shop, there's an injured dog lying on the forecourt. The owner is nowhere to be seen. What do they do?

Another technique is to answer 20 questions in your character's voice, along the lines of:

What is the first drink you'd order in a bar?
What is you most treasured possession?
When did you last cry?
Which talent would you most like to have?

My book has three main characters, plus another who is more marginal, and I have done precisely none of these exercises for any of them. They exist in outline, and I know their main characteristics, but when I tried to develop them it didn't work. I was drawing a complete blank. 

My feeling is that I will flesh out their personalities through the writing process. This is a gamble, because it means I start writing without knowing my characters comprehensively. On the other hand, there may be something quite rewarding about discovering them as I progress - both as author and reader. 

The only way to find out for sure is to start writing!