Characters . . . escorts, heroes, villains.
Over the last couple of days, creativebarbwire has had interesting blogs on characters (http://creativebarbwire.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/characters-real-or-not/) and it prompted me to think about my own approach.
It’s fairly similar: visions, dreams, plucking at the dusty subfusc of the mind where an image from some past experience may have lodged itself, complete with physical detail. I also love mannerisms, be they a twitch, a way of speech, a repetitive pattern that makes them unusual.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that there is the archtype, the character we just can’t get away from because our experiences will always be filled with archtypes. The difference between a cliched archtype and something special may just be that twitch, or the sweep of the hand through the hair, the tapping of a leg under the table. Something that implies a tension beyond the explicit and which needs delving into.
I enjoy character-driven stories. They are my favourites. The character IS the plot and the setting is just the frame for the picture. The dialogue is the detail, the fine brushstroke that elevates the character beyond the mundane. These are just my thoughts and I struggle every day to bring such thoughts to the reality of my writing.
My work has, over the years, been assessed by Conerstones Literary Consultancy in the UK and Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly have written a small book power-packed with ‘the art of writing’. Titled explosively: How to write a blockbuster!,
there are many words of merit, none more so than the chapter on characterisation. There is an image of a page and if I wasn’t at the beach shack, I could have scanned it and put it up for you all, but bear with me while I describe it. It’s called a character questionnaire and is on page 27.
The following are listed: character’s name, nickname, birthdate, aspects of physical appearance (16 attributes), attitude (11 attributes), current situation (13), background (6), family (10). I photocopied a sheet for each of my characters and then proceeded to fill in the questionnaire, including a photo image of the person the closest to the character in my mind.
As I fill the questionaire, things begin to jump out, things that could actually determine a plot direction. Questions like: the character’s greatest fear or what single event throws the character’s life into turmoil?
Very easily my characters then start to inhabit my study, my house, they walk with me on the beach, run with me when the dogs and I run, they bathe with me (hmm!) and basically become my companions. Which possibly brings me to another point: a writer’s life is solitary to be sure, but is it really? When you are constantly surrounded by your characters and their dilemmas? Maybe that’s a question for another day.
But just before I finish, let me tell you the images I have based characters on. Think of the Masked Ball . . . Richard E Grant and Richard Armitage for Percy and Niccolo. Rebecca has used Alex O’loughlin for Hugh and Pat has used Alan Cumming for Bacigalupo. In my books, I have used Richard Armitage, Rupert Penry-Jones, Sam Troughton, Phyllida Law, Daniela Denby -Ashe, Rex Harrison, Roma Downey, Paul Bettany to name just a few. Pat, Rebecca and I are all highly visual people and as you can see, the image is the thing for us as we create our character profiles.
I wonder what people like Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen and the Brontes did. I can only assume that in their narrow existences and without the benefit of film, TV and the net, that their villages and estates must have been filled with a vast array of character fodder and in addition, that their powers of observation were honed to the highest degree. I envy them that and it brings me back to Andrew Motion’s point in my blog yesterday and I use it to end today’s post:
Think with your senses and not just your brain!