Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Characters - How well do we know them?

As writers we have incredible power over our characters, or is it a responsibility? Creating living, breathing, vulnerable characters is not a simple task. Trying to model them on a single person we know is tempting, but not advisable.

Do we really know anyone that well? Do we even know ourselves?

I don't think so.
At one level we think we know ourselves but in the words of Robert Burns
'O wad some Power the gift tae gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!'
(loosely translated for those not familiar with Scots)
'O would some Power the gift to give us,
To see ourselves as others see us!'

We all clothe ourselves in different garb depending on who we are with.

We are different as parents to our children, than we are as lovers to our partners; different to our closest friends than we are in our professional working environment.
We are also not always good at seeing ourselves honestly, and this is where other people may perceive us to be quite different to the way we think they see us.

All this can feed into the creation of credible characters.

But even our closest family or friends often have sides to them we are surprised by. The person who suddenly decides to do something completely (we think) out of character, such as jumping out of a plane when we were sure they were terrified of heights, or just something as simple as eating olives when we were sure they hated them.

I knew someone who was upset by their mother forming a new relationship when their father had died. The thing that upset them most was that she was suddenly going out a lot socially, getting involved in climbing and skiing, things they thought she would never had done with their father. They were sure she had changed.
The reality was more likely to be that these were things she wanted to try, but wasn't so desperate to do them if her husband wasn't interested. A side of her that no one had seen but that was given free reign in different circumstances.

When we create characters we need to think about the many different faces people have in day to day life, but also the things they hide deep inside.

Sometimes the 'voice' of a character comes quickly, we can hear them speaking in our heads - Yes, I know hearing voices is not something you really want to admit to, but it does happen.

I like to have a conversation with my characters- something that never appears in a story - but where they tell me a lot about themselves that I would never have know otherwise. It often takes the form of a letter or diary entry. Usually they tell me about things that matter to them, people who irritate them and even more general facts about them. All of this is like other research which needs to be thought about, understood and used only to inform my writing.

Where do your characters come from?


  1. Hi Linda
    Sorry - only just found you! Hope you have fun blogging and that you manage to stop it taking TOO much of your time!!


  2. Good to see you here, Nicola. Yes, it is a but too tempting, isn't it.

  3. Prowling in from ABBA. (I hope you do not mind cats coming to visit!) characters tell me what they want. They appear unexpectedly and then have the nerve to tell me who they are and what they want me to write. Infuriating.

  4. Hello Cat, delighted to have you visiting.

    Yup, Characters can be very difficult. I had one who came into a story as a secondary character and then walked of with the main plot.