I Am Pilgrim - CoverIf you love to read then do yourself a favour and get a copy of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. If you love to write, then do yourself a favour and get a copy of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes! It’s not a literary, artsy (you’re an idiot if you don’t understand) type of book. It’s just a damn good read. As book recommendations go, that’s the highest praise I can ever give.

Here’s why (no spoilers):

ONE: It opens in first person with a character you’re going to like. He’s not good, not bad, not perfect, sufficiently flawed but also quiet and self-possessed with knowledge of a world the Average Joe doesn’t have.

TWO: The story almost loses you (or it did me) when it went off on what appeared to be a wild and crazy tangent of back-story. But because you like the character so much, you stick with it.

THREE: The story jumps around a bit to the point that you might lose track of time, but that’s OK because the character is kind of fun to be around (in a twisted sort of distant way).

FOUR: Hayes goes into glorious detail about each character to the degree that even the smallest character is memorable. You might not remember the name, but you’ll have enough of a mental image that you’ll know who they are when they come up again later.

FIVE: The bad guy isn’t all bad because you know why he’s doing what he’s doing. And when you know why someone behaves in a certain way, even if it’s positively evil, there’s still space for sympathy.

SIX: Although the story is global, the focus is all human.

SEVEN: The story isn’t overwhelmed by history and geographical data. There’s just enough to keep it believable. The human story takes precedent over facts and figures.

EIGHT: The pace is balanced and mellow and you don’t feel like you’re having a coronary leaping from page to page.

NINE: Every story line is tied up at the end. Every single one. Not even the small characters get left behind. Very cool.

TEN: The author doesn’t tie himself in knots to show you how clever he is, he just tells a damn good story.

So, for a reader, very cool book. You’ll love it. For a writer, there’s a common theme here.

As my brother, Adrian Konstant, the screenwriter says: “It’s important to like the location, but you have to LOVE the character”.

This book, for me, is a bit of a perfect storm. I really like the locations, the plotting is masterful, but I LOVE the characters.

The way I see it, as a writer, this is what you need:

– You need to know your characters. Here are 108 character development questions. When you’re bored of that…
– Write short stories around your characters. You’ll be amazed at what you find out about them.
– And after all that, make sure you’ve got yourself a literary soul mate – the characters and story-world that is uniquely yours.

Now go play.