Saturday, 30 January 2010

Creating Characters

Some advice from Anthea Fraser, a thriller writer. Her latest book is called Thicker Than Water.

I have a Faces and Places file, in which I keep photos of men and women torn out of newspapers or magazines – never anyone well known, just people with interesting faces – and when I’m thinking about a new book, I flick through it to see if any of them fit the characters I need. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but I find it quite useful to have photos in front of me as I’m writing; I can look at them and think, ‘Now, how would they react in this situation?’

Mannerisms also help to establish a character. Someone could continually drum his fingers on the desk, or doodle. A girl could keep turning the ring on her finger, or twist her hair when upset. A good tip here is people-watching. Study (unobtrusively, of course!) your fellow passengers on buses and trains, the people you sit opposite in the tube. Watch their faces, their body language, and, if they’re with a companion, how they speak, move their hands, their facial expressions. Try to imagine where they live, what their jobs are, where they’re going and why. Then borrow some of those traits to bring life to your own creations.

Remember, too, that your characters don’t spring suddenly into life, like Venus from her shell. They’ve been around for a number of years before we meet them, and what happened to them in the past has made them what they are. Though you might never mention it, you must be aware of at least some of that past. It’s the iceberg theory – writers need to know more about their characters than is ever revealed.

1 comment:

Theresa Milstein said...

I like the idea of having a folder to keep clippings for potential characters. J.K. Rowling had a book to brainstorm names.

I find myself using hybrids of different people I know, but try to keep myself from using people I know well. Another strategy is to think of the face and mannerisms of a person from TV. But I always distort it, so it's not really any person or TV character in particular.

It's funny if I see the person on TV at a later time, and I wonder why they aren't acting like or going by the name of my character.