8 Month Novel Course BLOG – Give your Character a Birthday


If you’re reading this the chances are you have a couple of characters, elusive and half-formed or irritatingly real, chasing around your mind all day. You may be able to picture them, you may know how they sound and what their most annoying traits are, but how well do you actually know your characters? Have you given them a birthday? It seems simple, but I know I hadn’t.

I’m Kelly, one of Retreat West’s social media marketing interns. As part of our internship, Phil and I are embarking on Retreat’s West’s ‘8 Month Novel Course’. This remote course is a mix of creative writing course with 1-1 mentoring and editorial reviews. It’s a month in and we are loving it! Phil and I plan to share our writing journey with you, giving you a blog article every three weeks which shares what we have learnt and gives you a sneak peek into the course.

Before starting the course I had a very basic draft of my WIP ‘Lily Trap,’ based on my own experiences with a neuro-functional disorder. I like to think of it as a coming of age, fantasy thriller. I’m pretty sure this is not a genre so, as you can tell, I still have a long way to go. Anyway, back to the birthday thing. ‘Give your character a birthday’ was part of an activity provided during the second week of the course. When you sign up to the course (which you can do on our website) you are sent weekly course material with complementary activities that really get you thinking. I’m no writing expert but I have been to numerous workshops and read plenty of articles, and yet no-one had ever encouraged me to think about birthdays.

During my drafting I had given my main character Lily a birthday, 9th February 1999, a date which I had plucked out of the air when I needed it. To be honest, I was thinking of skipping this part of the exercise; suspecting it to just be a matter of plot-device. I’m very glad I didn’t. Now, I’m not a horoscope kind of person and I’m not saying you should confine you character’s traits to them. However, exploring the different characteristics associated with each star and zodiac sign made me realise that I didn’t know my main character well-enough at all.

I knew Lily was sweet, altruistic and un-emotional. What I’d never considered was her level of independence, what factors most affected her decision making, and what enriched her life.  As I read on I found myself thinking about how she would react in an argument, an aspect  that will add so much depth and flavour to my dialogue. I also found myself wondering how she would react in circumstances which my narrative didn’t see her encounter, like her reaction when she found out her Mother had died. Even though I purposefully don’t write about it, it’s still an important part of her life story and thus gives an insight into her character. I even ended up wondering about silly things. For example, would she leave the rest of her apple if she found a hole in it or just eat around it? Now I’d really started to get to know her I wanted to know everything.

Browsing the descriptions for each sign made me more aware of the true complexity of our personalities. In the end I did change Lily’s birthday too, just because it felt right. It is important, as writers, that the personality’s we create on paper are no less complex than those which exist in real life. Readers need to relate to our characters, and to do this we need to know everything about them, including their birthday.

This blog article has given you a tiny insight into Retreat West’s wonderful ‘8 Month Novel Writing Course.’ Find out more here. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then check out the short and sweet six week ‘Start your Novel Course’ on the same page. Also, don’t forget you can receive 5% – 20% off with the ‘Retreat West Author Membership’ packages. More details about membership are here.

Spring Sale! Discounted courses and critiques!

The Spring Sale is here!

Great discounts on courses and critiques...

Until Sunday 14th May there are discounts on:


Online 8 Month Novel Course 1-1   SAVE £100

This course will take you from idea to short first draft in just 8 months with help all the way through a mix of online course content, 1-1 mentoring via phone and email, and feedback on work as you go along. You’ll also get a full editorial report at the end to go away and start your edit with. Just £850 pay in full and £900 on the installment plan. Get all the course info here.
Pay in Full Installments

Full Novel Review   SAVE £100

Get a detailed feedback report and tracked changes and comments on your manuscript (up to 85K words) for just £350.
Buy Now


Submission Package Review   SAVE £50

Before you send it out to agents and publishers give your submission package the best chance it can have by getting it reviewed first. Get detailed feedback and advice on improving your first 3 chapters (up to 10K words), synopsis, and cover letter. Just £115.
Buy Now



From novice to novelist by Christmas

Make 2016 year the year you go from being a novice writer to a novelist with the 8 Month Novel course. The first one starts next month so you could have a complete first draft of your novel by Christmas. You can get all the info on the course here and spaces are limited to just five writers.

It’s a creative writing course that also includes 1-1 mentoring, detailed feedback on your work all the way through, and a full editorial review of your draft and a plan to move forward with at the end.

Not only that, if you book on the April course now you’ll get a 20% discount on the four-night Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat, which is taking place in an amazing spot in Bridport right on the beach at the start of November; and coincides with the point the course moves on to self-editing your work.

During the retreat there will be 2 masterclasses with Debi Alper – author, editor and mentor who has helped many successful novelists improve their work. And one with me looking at a specific extract from your work. As well as time to read, write, walk and enjoy great food, conversation and wine. Get all the the info about the retreat here.

Book by 28th March and you’ll also get £100 off of the 8 Month Novel course fee! Email me to reserve your space.

January ’16 Sale!

Happy New Year everyone!

As ever, Retreat West is kicking the year off with a January sale. You can get discounted retreats, critiques and courses if you book one by January 13th…

  • SALE ITEM #1 – £35 off the Literary Fiction Retreat with MJ Hyland and the Short Story Retreat with Paul McVeigh. Get 4 nights at a writing retreat with 9 hours of masterclasses, time to write, plus great food, drink and conversation in a beautiful Devon thatched cottage for just £590!
    Book Now.
  • SALE ITEM #2 – £40 off the 1-1 Start Writing Fiction Course. Get a 6 week course with detailed and focused feedback to help you develop your writing for just £249!
    Book Now
  • SALE ITEM #3 – £45 off a full novel review. Get a critique report and tracked changes on your MS (up to 95,000 words), plus an hour’s call to talk things through, for just £385!
    Book Now