What if my normal isn’t normal after all?


I have encountered this week a particularly pernicious breed of self-doubt.

On the surface, everything’s going pretty well with the edit – fantastically well in fact. I’m a few pages from hitting the halfway point, and well on my way to getting this round of redrafts completed by the end of the month. My characters are being extremely helpful as I try to tweak the various elements of their story, and the conceit I’ve adopted to deal with some of the bigger problems with the way it’s told seems to be working – at least to my mind.

But this is where the doubt is seeping in.

When I shared my thoughts about the challenge of writing dreams last week I got some really useful feedback, but it did make me realise how completely subjective peoples’ experiences of the world are: that something I think is entirely normal might be entirely alien to someone else. This might be particularly pronounced when it comes to dreams – they are after all not bound by any of the normal rules of reality. But it’s not only this that worries me.

Way back before the summer, as I got ready to release the first draft to my initial readers, I had a niggling sense that maybe my main character wasn’t very nice. I knew why – she’s on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster but doesn’t really know it, and that’s manifesting itself in a combination of abrasiveness and shyness, shutting herself away. I’d been there, and I felt sorry for her. I knew she didn’t mean to come across the way she did, and so did her friends. And anyway, she really wasn’t that bad.

But the feedback I got – not from everyone, but from people whose opinions I really trust – was that she was really quite unpleasant. Completely unlikeable in fact, to the point where important elements of the plot just cease to make sense.

I’m working on that – I can see where they’re coming from after all. But as I change the things Grace says and how she says them, as I try to get her to open up a bit and to demonstrate that she really is a friend worth having, I start to doubt myself. Maybe the reason she comes across so badly is because I’ve modelled her on myself, and maybe I’m just not all that likeable. Maybe my ideas about what makes someone worth caring about are just so far removed from what normal people think that I’m never going to be able to create a character who people will like enough to invest in her story.

And then this makes me wonder about everything else. Things I take for granted as thoughts or ideas or experiences that people will share, that I’m counting on to be able to create the common ground that will form the foundations of the world of my novel: maybe they’re just me, just my warped way of seeing things which will do nothing other than switch people off and make them look away.

I think maybe I’ve been spending too much time in my head.

And actually, even stepping back enough to write this makes me realise that things are probably ok. That this is just another one of those self-doubt demons, adopting an increasingly sophisticated guise as I become wise to his usual ways.

I know that I’m more than a little bit bonkers. And it is this that, hopefully, is going to lend my words the original edge they will need to be heard. If people don’t instinctively identify with the characters and ideas in my story then I will just need to make damned sure that my writing is strong enough to convince them to go beyond their comfort zone.

Who needs normal anyway?


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11 thoughts on “What if my normal isn’t normal after all?

  1. redpeffer

    Oh yes, who needs normal. In fact what is normal? I can definitely relate to your comment about spending too much time in one’s head-I have a huge tendency to do that all the time. And it interests me (and sometimes frustrates me if I’m honest) that some people don’t ‘get’ my head?! Isn’t that a tiny bit arrogant, which is ironic considering my self belief isn’t exactly high at the best of times!! Anyway, I think what I’m trying to say is stick with it, which i think is where you’re at judging by the final paragraph 🙂

    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I get that frustration (and maybe arrogance) too! It’s a funny combination of confidence and self- doubt – hopefully the former will win out in the end 🙂 x

  2. Sadie Hanson

    I gosh… I’ve had exactly the same kind of doubts about my main character who’s locked away emotionally. The thing is, is that all of our created characters have little pieces of ourselves inside: the good and the bad, and the potential for both. What I realised was that I was making my character a little two dimensional on focusing on the negatives too much, I began to round her out and place her in scenes from her life that would make the reader understand why she behaved the way she did and empathise with her. I am hoping she’s a little more likeable! Lovely post, and I’m sure you’re very likeable yourself :o). X #whatimwriting

    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I definitely think my first draft characters are a bit two dimensional – it’s satisfying to watch them rounding out. And I don’t think I’m really too much like Grace. I’ve had my moments but I’m much happier – and nicer – now 🙂 x

  3. Nicola Young

    That’s some great advice from Sadie, but I don’t think that you have to worry about not being normal. We model characters, not only on ourselves, but from people we meet, experiences that we’ve had etc. Any event in our lives can shape that fictional personality, I believe. There is hope for you yet!

  4. liquoriceuk

    I don’t think there really is any such thing as ‘normal’ – we are all very individual and what’s normal to one person isn’t to another. I think we model our characters on aspects of our own personality but I think we also view them in a slightly over-exaggerated way and perhaps when this is reflected on a character we write about maybe can make them seem more unpleasant than intended. I think your worries about whether that is true of yourself are really just self-doubt – you certainly come across as likeable through your blog. Good luck with developing that character in your book

  5. maddy@writingbubble

    Well that’s a very clever self-doubt demon – what a sophisticated cloak he has put on! He’s still just as squelchy and smelly underneath it though so give him a hearty kick! But yes, no one can ever really know what anyone else’s ‘normal’ is. I think we just have to assume that we do have some sort of grasp on normality based on the fact that we are able to form relationships with people and understand their points of view. You come across as completely likeable on you blog and I’m sure you’ll make your character likeable too. Not ‘normal’ though – that would be boring!
    Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting xxx

  6. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

    What is normal anyway?! We are all so different and we bring those differences to everything we do, not just writing. It is what makes us special and unique and interesting. As Maddy says, normal would just be boring 🙂

  7. Morgan Prince

    normal is nonsense. We all have our own normal and our different perspectives are what make us able to tell stories in our own unique way. That self-doubt demon can be evil sometimes can’t it? Finding clever ways of tricking you into thinking you’re bad at something. I’m glad you were able to take a step back and realise that it’s just him, trying to trick you. Good luck on fighting that demon. xx #WhatImWriting

  8. deskmonkeymummy

    You are likeable, no doubt about that. Our characters can sometimes exaggerate facets of our personalities, but they aren’t a complete picture of us. The self-doubt is a good thing (so I tell myself). It makes us able to step away from work we poured our hearts and souls into and look at it with critical eyes, which in turn makes us able to edit it more brutally. Every time I read about your story I want to read your actual story!

  9. Pingback: Don’t look down | Sophie is…

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