I was lucky enough to have Love Writing entered into the Amazon Vine Programme, where the book is circulated to many independent reviewers. I’m chuffed to bits that the overall rating, after 23 reviews, is four-and-a-half stars. Woohoo!
My spikethecat question this week was about how characters materialise in my mind. It would be easy to say, ‘Dunno. Ask them!’ But maybe not helpful. So, here we go.
I often get a picture in my mind of how a character is going to be. It might be an actor (Ratty in Starting Over came to me after watching Kevin Kline as the pirate king in The Pirates of Penzance) or a pastiche of people (Justin from All That Mullarkey is a mix of actor Bryan Brown, motor cycle racer Carl Fogarty and tennis player Fabrice Santoro). But Diane, from Want to Know a Secret? began as the woman in front of me in the post office queue who had a long plait of hair that swung about as she talked and gesticulated. The crosser she got, the more the plait wiggled. A real stressometer.
Appearance, however, is just a detail.
I need to know what makes characters tick. So I begin a book with scribbled notes about each character in turn. It’s necessary for central characters’ conflicts to impact upon one another and, often, for the motivation of one to prevent the resolution of the conflict of the other. When writing romantic fiction, this takes the form of creating obstacles that will keep the hero and heroine apart. So I think about that quite early on. Inborn or bred-in character traits come early, too – a laid back hero might allow a heroine’s impatience some rein, whereas if both of them were impatient they’d never be together long enough to have a conversation. Likewise, if one is stubborn, that’s fine. If two are stubborn, they’d spend the book ignoring one another. Yeah, right, like that’s going to work …
Character history is pretty important, too. In Starting Over Tess is wary of men because her last dumping was particularly humiliating – and this has consequences throughout the book. I question my characters, too – why did you do that? How did his action make you feel? Why? Why? Why? Without those building blocks of writing, why? and because …, plots tend to fall apart because there’s an absence of logic. So character development and plot development are inextricably linked.
Characterisation is a bit of a jigsaw. The picture becomes clearer as I progress and my pile of notes about a character grows and grows. When I have a big enough pile of notes and about half a book’s worth of plot points (remember the dot-to-dot plotting?), I begin.
And that’s when I really get to know my characters. When I’m with them on a daily basis.