Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Resources for Writers

On Getting to Know Your Characters

AlmostWife 002My novel The Almost Wife, a commercial thriller, features a ghostly presence who haunts Kira, the main character. Those who know my writing won’t be surprised. I’ve written about a wandering soul in almost every one of my novels. My last literary novel, The Spawning Grounds, is largely about the watery boundaries between the ordinary world and the world of the spirit. In The Cure for Death by Lightning, a transforming spirit chases Beth. Augusta travels out of place and time in A Recipe for Bees. And in Turtle Valley, Kat and her family are haunted by ghosts from their past.  So naturally readers are inclined to ask if I believe ghosts are real.

In the years immediately after my mother died, I dreamed of her. In these dreams, we often walked a familiar street and talked about writing, about my kids. My mother offered advice as she always had. Then we embraced and she left me, again.

Once, my father was with her. In one of those lucid dreaming moments that are so rare I asked, “How can you be here? You’re both dead.”

My mother said, “We’re not real.”

But they both felt so real, so very real. I hugged them and said, “I miss you both so much.” I woke, heart-wrenched and convinced I had spent a few precious minutes with my parents.

These are the moments in which we say our goodbyes.

So, do I believe in ghosts? No. I don’t believe our souls survive death. But ask me again. Do I believe in ghosts? Yes. We see the ghosts of those we love in our dreams, and in our grief, we see them walking on the street. They appear at the foot of our bed in the wee hours hovering in that space between sleep and wakefulness.  Sometimes these encounters frighten us. But for the most part I believe that within these final visits with our beloved dead we find solace and closure.

I know for a fact my mother’s spirit lives on, in the stories I tell, in the bits of wisdom I pass on to my children. I see my mother in my own lovely daughter, in her haunting grey-blue eyes, in her grace, her humour, her will, and her ability to read the emotion of a room. I know when my life ends, my daughter will carry my stories and sensibilities forward. She will see me in her own children, and just as I carried on my conversation with my own mother long after she was gone, my daughter will visit me within her dreams.

A version of this piece originally appeared in BC Book Look.

Resource Categories

Blogs on Craft

On the Building Blocks of Fiction

Tips on how to craft vivid scene that allows the reader to experience events right along with the characters.

On Finding Your Big Idea

Insights into the writing process and what a writer's day really looks like, as well as perspectives on research and writing from real life.

On Getting to Know Your Characters

Advice on the many ways you can make your characters come alive on the page for both you and your reader.

On Deciding on Point of View

What is the best perspective from which to tell your story? Writers discuss how they made choices on point of view and voice.

On Choosing Your Situation and Setting

Writers talk about how they use situation and setting to build story and convey emotion.

On Developing Conflict and Structure

From how to work in different genres to finding the real story, writers offer good advice on building conflict and structure.

On Revising

Tips on how to gain distance from your work and to how to re-imagine your next draft.

On Publishing

Writers offer practical advice on the business of writing and promotion, and on the importance of finding a writing community.

On Making a Living as a Writer

Writers offer words of wisdom on living on less.

On The Writer's Life

Writers talk about their life as a writer.

About Gail

Gail's novels have been national and international bestsellers and two have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, among other awards. She works with writers from around the world on her online teaching forums.