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Plotting My Novel ‘Portraits of Celina’, by Sue Whiting

I am not a plotter. I am more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of writer – particularly in the early stages of the writing process. To me, there is nothing more exciting than creating a cast of characters, plopping them into a situation, then letting them go and watching the mischief they create. I am nearly always surprised!

Of course, this method isn’t an efficient way to write a novel. It usually involves many false starts, frequent wrong turns, impossible corners to try to get out of, and many drafts and much rewriting as you make connections and figure out what the heck your story is really about. But, oh, for me, it is a much more thrilling ride.

When writing Portraits of Celina, my characters absolutely derailed my initial intention for this novel. I didn’t set out to write a creepy story. Suspenseful, yes. Creepy, no. I certainly didn’t plan on writing a ghost story, but Celina O’Malley had other ideas.

When I started writing the novel, the character of Celina O’Malley was just part of the backstory, an element of the tragic history of the house at Tallowood, which Bayley and her grief-stricken family move in to, in a desperate attempt to mend their lives.

Much like the way Celina wheedles her way into Bayley’s life in the novel, Celina wheedled her way into the forefront of my brain and subsequently into the main storyline. She didn’t want to be merely backstory; she wanted a lead role, and what Celina wants, Celina gets.

At first the living teenage Celina appeared to me as a happy, joyful, free spirit, a leftover flower child, who had much love in her heart. Slowly, ever so gradually, the real Celina began to reveal herself. I started to see another side to her – a much darker side – and the cunning control-freak who manipulated those around her to get her own way started to show her true colours. Now, almost forty years after her murder, forty tortuous years for Celina, the ghost of Celina is just as manipulative as her living teenage self, but also much more sinister and determined, and intent on exacting revenge. No matter what.

This enigmatic, demanding character intrigued me enormously, and, I have to say, it was a delight to write her, to give in to her demands and provide her with the prominence she yearned for. The result, of course, added to the suspense of the story – but it also meant that, without really intending to, I had written a creepy ghost story. This also meant lots of rethinking, revising and rewriting as I worked through the numerous subsequent drafts. I am really glad I listened to Celina and glad that I wasn’t so bound by my initial idea. I was able to change tack and follow the mischief this character created. It was without doubt a more thrilling ride because of it.


Sue Whiting’s author website:

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Freaky by Sue Whiting     Helene Young, Safe Harbour

Writing Novels in Australia

One Comment Post a comment
  1. karen #

    Terrific article. I love it when the characters start jumping off the page all by themselves!

    May 16, 2015

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