One subject that keeps coming up in my writing group is how to create convincing characters.
All characters need a context, a goal, a challenge, a history, but do you start with a blank page and watch your characters develop as the narrative progresses, or are you familiar with every aspect of their backstory before you start writing?
Do you write at a desk at home, or in a library or coffee shop? On a park bench, or on the beach? Do you snatch odd minutes when you’re at work, utilising your lunch and coffee breaks to scribble something down or work on a difficult plotline? Or do you write at set times, for a set amount of time, always in the same place? I have a notebook by my bed – I also have a pen with a light on the end, which I hoped would mean I could scribble away at the dead of night without disturbing my partner, but unfortunately the light’s on the wrong end so I only succeed in illuminating the ceiling – but these days, most of my writing is directly onto a screen, in my study at home and, apart from a collection of physical rather than virtual reference books, I try to maintain a relatively paperless office, and yet, and yet…… Continue reading →
It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words but sometimes my imagination goes temporarily awol when I’m supposed to be creating a coherent piece of writing. Staring at that blank page can be daunting so I thought it might be handy if we revisited some tricks for waking your writing mojo.
Remember those six honest serving-men from Kipling’s Elephant’s Child: What? Where? Why? Who? When? How? They help us evaluate every situation and character and once we’ve got past the seemingly obvious questions about who the character is, what they are doing and how they come to be doing it, we can widen our scope and pose other questions that reveal different facets and characteristics and help us build up a character, a situation, maybe a story.
It was my turn to take our writing group last week and as my theme I chose a topic I’ve written about in the past – Characterisation.
As well as what the story is about, readers are interested in who it’s about. They want a protagonist they can empathise and identify with throughout the story, but these characters won’t necessarily be nice people; some memorable characters from literature have been downright horrible – think Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Pinkie Brown from Brighton Rock. Whether likeable or thoroughly villainous, we need to believe that the characters we create are real, breathing people or our readers won’t believe in them either.
It’s important to give your main characters a personality, otherwise they’ll appear two-dimensional. They’ll all sound the same and the reader will find it difficult to differentiate between them. You want the reader to care about your characters (and to be honest, why would anyone carry on reading unless they did?) and to empathise with them. So the reader need to know what drives them. Characters need a context, a goal; maybe a challenge; certainly a history.