Who would have thought I would get withdrawal symptoms from not tapping away on my computer twelve hours a day – not me! But that’s exactly what’s been happening this past week. Due to other commitments (eg three very thirsty visitors and one mother of a hangover) writing ‘Faking it’ was put on ice for a week or so. Despite that, when I should have been out over-indulging in eating/drinking/laughing/drinking/more drinking with my house guests, I found myself pining for my beloved plot line and lamenting on how many words I could have written by now! Suffice to say, it has been a huge relief to get back behind the keys of my trusty computer. When I start my next book, I think I’ll hire a little cottage in the Outer Hebrides so I can write without any distractions!
Anyway, I digress. I want to talk about Characters. Like air and chocolate chip muffins, life would be pretty dull without them, and literature, absolutely impossible! So where do my characters come from? In my past books, I’ve plucked a few characteristics from friends, family, friends of friends and mixed them all together to make one very interesting cocktail. Mostly though, they have been pretty much invented. I have never used the sole characteristics of a person I know – that is, until now. Cue drum roll!
Let me introduce Danni, one of the main characters in my new book ‘Faking it’. This fun-loving twenty-something is based entirely on a long time friend of mine, though whether she remains my friend after she reads the book remains to be seen! I’m kidding, she is aware that the character is absolutely her DNA and has agreed not to sue me … yet. Everything about Danni is my friend – from the funny comments she makes to the way she views the world. Why have I done this? Two reasons really. Firstly, because characters have to be believable to engage a reader and secondly, my friend has such great spirit and wit that I thought she would make a perfect lead character.
With regard to writing characters in general, it doesn’t matter if we are talking about the bitch variety (Leah, Caught by Love , or Mila, Say something) or the reserved type (Rebecca, 143), they have to have some sort of redeeming quality I can lock onto. I don’t believe anybody is truly entirely bad or entirely good for that matter. Sometimes people just make bad decisions. People behave in certain ways for a reason. The past is never dead, we carry it round with us – everyone has baggage of some sort. Whether it’s family related (143) relationships (Caught by love, Guilty hearts) a life changing event (Talk me down from the edge) or just feelings of guilt (A walk into darkness).
Getting into the mindset of different characters requires truly stepping back, removing your own head and thinking about things in a different way. As a writer, you might actually loathe one of your characters but you have to resist the urge to ‘correct’ them , instead you must just let their voice be heard, however ugly. That can be hard, as I always want to see the best in people. With regard to writing a character’s dialogue, people may think your dialogue is clichéd in certain aspects, but guess what – real life people are! Not everyone has the wit of Oscar Wilde, so you can’t throw hilarious one liners or incredible vocabulary in unless it fits the character.
So, characters aside, when I started writing ‘Faking It’ I was determined not to have one person shed a tear. If you’ve ever read any of my books, you’ll know how hard a mission that might be for me! I really wanted to write a light, amusing, feel-good story but after a couple of chapters, I had to admit defeat. I can handle writing one character like that – but all characters, for the whole book? (shakes head). Let’s face it, if you want a rainbow, you’ve got to have a bit of rain!!
Whilst I have kept Danni’s character fun and easy going, Brooke (Danni’s love interest) is the total opposite. She is much more serious, seeing life as more black or white. She is a very principled, decent soul, believing in things as they should be not as they really are. Now Megan, Brooke’s long-term partner is another story altogether. You’ll either understand her motives or you won’t. I don’t want to give too much away about Megan, just to say, life’s complicated and she unfortunately is stuck between two worlds.
When I write, I generally like to throw in a bit of the main characters’ family background to provide a framework, but for ‘Faking it’ we only get to meet Josh’s family. This is because his family history is integral to the story. There are no overly complex characters in my books, they’re just ordinary people we meet everyday, all trying to make sense of the mud life sometimes slings at them.
Quick recap –
• Don’t be afraid to draw characteristics from people you know – it’s the best way to keep them real.
• Remove your head – not literally – that would be far too messy! I simply mean you must remember that your characters are not you, so let them have their own voice. Give them faults – it might make them all the more lovable.
• Look at the people around you whilst you’re out in the world. Observe others (don’t video them, nobody likes a stalker). Look at the way people react with each other as they go about their lives. The way people carry themselves. Draw your descriptions from people you see in the street.
• Make notes of people you read about in papers or magazines – what attracts you to that particular piece – why do you like your favourite actor, singer etc?
• There are Interesting people all around you – take the time to stop and notice. After all, ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk!’
Next time… Writing dialogue!