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Character conundrum…

May 21, 2011

I’m having a real problem with the characters in my novel.

I’ve got a clear idea of all their names, their roles and their motivations, but I haven’t managed to convey those ideas in the text yet. So, I’m taking a step back and looking at them in a new light.

When I was planning and researching the story – it’s based on historical events – I made some character notes, but I don’t think they were detailed enough, so I just don’t have enough ‘meat’ to work in to the story.

So, back I go to thinking about what and what each of the men are.

I also need to two buildings in the story to be characters, because they both have an important part to play in moving the story forward.

I don’t want to get bogged down in ridiculously long pen-portraits, but I do think I need to get down on paper what each of the characters look like and a bit more about the subtleties of things like their mannerisms. I missed all that out on my first go. Then it’ll be back to my draft and working out how to fit all this new detail into the action without making it look just tacked on.

I think over the next few weeks I’m going to challenge myself to write pen-portraits of people I see and characters I think of, just to get my eye in. So, a large-sized index card for each character and away I go…

How do you start creating your characters? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?

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5 Comments
  1. May 21, 2011 4:01 pm

    Hi Sarah
    I got the same problem, so I read and observed other writers ‘trix’.
    1/ Explain what happens inside their heads.
    2/ Get somebody to tell a story about them, with comments.
    3/ Get them to tell something about their past that ‘changed their life’.
    These were the best ‘trix’ I found, hope others can be more helpfull.

  2. May 22, 2011 12:20 am

    I have the same problem whenever working with a new set of characters. And when I finally get one cast of characters down and I’m satisfied by their voices, the same technique never seems to work for the next book/series. It can be very frustrating!
    However, I have some similar things I do every time. Mostly I research the time period and the culture of the geographical setting my characters are in.
    Strangely, I’ve found watching comedians from different cultures (UK, Iraq, Wales, etc.) really helps me nail down some of those diversities in my characters. That might not help if you’re story’s set way back in the day, but you never know. It could be a step in the right direction.
    Also–and I saw a post from Rob not too long ago on this same subject–I talk to my characters. Literally, I set some time aside to close my eyes and sit down with my entire “cast”, just to see how they all interact in a free, plotless setting (with no scene or motive driving the action). Essentially I just let them hang out and get to know eachother.
    Hope some of that helps your writing! Best of wishes, from one writer to another!
    -Michael

  3. Sammantha permalink
    May 22, 2011 12:44 am

    I start by finding a picture of the character, or someone I want to represent the character. You can’t say the character’s left brow quirked upwards without visualizing it happening. After that how I find the character’s voice – what the character is all about – depends on the story. But I always start with a picture.

  4. May 22, 2011 4:54 am

    Names are extremely important as they are one of the first things a reader will use to ‘pigeon hole’ a character. If Cyril and Demetris got into a fight – which one would you immedialty expect to win? yep – thats right – the one you personally have experience with – perhaps its a neighbours name, a name of someone you know or have read about – but you will have an immediate picture of that character through their name.

    if the piece is historical – research is very important.

    baby books (i.e the ones with 1000 names in them) are a great source of inspiration

    thing of a quality that your character has – and google it with “meanings” or ‘names’ beside it.. you’ll get some names from different cultures.

    if its ‘now days’ and you are really stuck… open up the newspaper and find a feel good story about an ordinary person.. Use part of their name.

    and if all that fails – call them Jo Blogs…. the character will get cross with you and shout their name out to you for sure..

    and don’t be scared to rename the character even if you have finished your manuscript..

  5. May 22, 2011 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the help guys! I can see I’m going to have to take my characters for a coffee and see what they have to say for themselves x

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