(But) they (don’t) tell me to stop! I love that song by Kasabian. It makes think about all the crazy voices I’ve ever heard within my imaginings when I’m plotting and writing.
Creating characters is possibly my favourite part about writing. It’s what I’ve been doing for most of today.
Mostly, the process starts with a voice. As I’ve said before, I’m not a visual person at first, so they come to me with a sound or a feeling. There have been occasions, most oddly, that they’ve come to me as a smell first.
One character was the sweet, fresh, taste of just picked apples. With raindrops on the creamy, green skin. My mouth watered and puckered suddenly craving a bite. I then heard her singing, a gentle hum at first, and as she broke out her pitch perfect lyrics I knew instantly that she was a young mother, in another space and time. She was on her way back from the orchard before the rains returned, to gather in the few items of clothing that hung on a line, blowing steadily in the wind. I didn’t see her until after I had seen the clothes. Then she was gone, after a momentary glimpse of her straw coloured hair. she came back a few days later, and I got to know her a little. I tossed a few ideas around in my head to see where she could fit into the story I was writing at the time. She didn’t belong there. She didn’t belong anywhere. Not until I started writing this book.
She only has a small part to play, but she is needed, vital I would say, to the setting and structure of a particular village scene. I think she’s happy there. She didn’t protest!
Regardless, however your characters manifest themselves, it’s so important to get to know them. As you would a person in the physical world, discover them, pay attention to them. Even allow them to anger you, betray you, make you scream or laugh or cry.
Judgements are so often made in reality, upon a first meeting, we privately go through a checklist of sorts:
- What does this person look like, are they wearing similar clothes to us, do they look fun or boring?
- Are there any characteristics that show them to be kind, angry, quiet, studious, etc.
- Is there anything special, weird, or otherwise about this person, scars, a wacky colour hair, crazy jewelry for example.
As you progress in the getting to know you stage, you discover more about them. Where did they come from, where are they going? What are their favourites – books, music, colours, foods, drinks etc. And what is it that makes them laugh, or cry?
Later comes the deeper stuff, the richer details, such as religion and belief, what football team do they support (yes, it is that deep! 😉 ) Eek, dare I say political beliefs!
More than that, you learn about their secrets, their desires and their fears.
Move in with them and you get to find out oh so much more. As Shrek says, ogres have layers! Live with your characters. Sure, it might get crowded, but you’ll know ’em.
Take careful notice of your characters. They each have to be as unique as we are in the real world. Think about their little habits and idiosyncrasies. The swagger in which they walk, their tone of voice, and inflections.
When it comes to writing them in your book, you will know something of them that no one else does, and it will come out in your writing giving them depth and dimension. It really helps to know these things so we, as writers, can show our readers, not tell them, what our characters are really about.
And, when it’s all over, you get to kick them out and get the house to yourself again. For a while anyway.