Monday, 14 October 2013

The Bittersweet Vine Blog Tour @ Abingdon Writers

This week my tour hits Abingdon Writers. Being an active member of this group has taught me so much.  I wouldn't be where I am today without their continued support! Just checking their site though I think our blog has disappeared from public view!

The post on the blog features a re-vamped version of my Creating Characters post. If you can't get on the Abingdon Writers Blog - the article is below:


Creating Memorable Characters

I have to admit over the last couple of years I have struggled with creating memorable characters and to make up for my failing I have read extensively on how to create characters that will stick in your readers mind. I have also experimented through short stories and four manuscripts to get to this point, and today I am going to share with you what I have learned, so far.

As a writer you are in control of the entire fictional world that you have placed your characters in. Better than that, you are in control of their minds, their actions and their looks to a certain point. And I say a certain point because we all know that our characters, once on the page, soon take on a life on their own and start doing things we never imagined for them!

So where do I begin? A name sounds like a good place to start. In Goa Traffic, my first novel, I picked random names and I thought they would work because I was under the impression that a name is a name. My reasoning was that in real life people have the name that is given to them at birth. But this is fiction. You have to work harder at making it all seem real and therefore it is paramount that you get your characters names right.

Readers want quirky names, which they can pronounce and which are relevant to the era you are writing about (Google is your friend here!). And remember the names have to fit the characters. Hannah is a soft name. Victor is hard. I am not saying here that all Hannah’s are angels and Victors are mean old men but you can use harder sounding names to represent the baddies where necessary.

Don’t use names that start with the same letter. Don’t have an Oliver and an Olivia like I initially had in The Bittersweet Vine, my second novel, which I then had to change. Readers like to differentiate the characters and remember they don’t know your characters as well as you do. If you open a book and three of the four characters have names beginning with L it may be confusing. And this is not to say your reader is ignorant. Far from it! It is just to say think carefully about your character names before you christen them.

As a fun exercise try noting the names of people you know in real life with their personalities and occupations. It makes for an interesting read and will help you develop characterization.  

Once your characters are named add some colour and history to them.  You can easily do this by adding a smidge of physical detail. Previously, in short stories and manuscripts and to some extent in my first novel, I made the mistake of describing every possible characteristic of a character – Whilst this may work in some novels, I believe characters remain more memorable if they are created not on the page but in the heads of the readers themselves. If you describe every detail for the reader you are not letting them do any of the work. A reader may become bored and they will switch off. Therefore they won’t remember the character. However, if you let them create someone in their own minds with a bit of guidance like a hooked nose, grey hair and a mole on their neck (I find 1-3 details works best) they will fill in the other details themselves. Remember the reader knows best.

Once you’ve done that give your character an interesting job, unless your character is jobless (and even then they should have some kind of interesting hobby). I have to admit I am yet to do this but I can see the potential. I recently read Sophie Hannah’s Hurting Distance and the main character made sundials. I think a quirky job gives another dimension to your character and all readers like to learn something new on a subconscious level. Having a quirky job can let you weave interesting facts into the story and even form part of the plot.  And think of this as a bit of marketing as well. Readers talk about the characters of their books and an interesting job is sure to be a talking point.

Think about your characters back-story. Sometime we can give too much of a character’s back-story in the opening chapters.  Back-story should be drip-fed, after all, it creates the characters motivation. What I did in The Bittersweet Vine was to write short stories for each character in their lives before they featured in the book. It got their back-story clear in my mind without boring the reader with it.

I also create a character profile for each character. You may think this is a waste of time, but it's not. At first it will be laborious but it will really save you time in the long run and will show you which characters are lacking in depth. Your characters will appear effortlessly three dimensional if you profile them out from the start. Try the following to profile your characters:

Interview them with a series of questions such as what is your dream job? Favourite food? Favourite colour? music? Keep a folder with each character profile tucked inside so you can refer to it easily. Google image the celebrity, which you would most like to play that character in the film version of your book. Cut the image out and stick that next to their profile. It will make you understand your characters better.

Pretend to be one of your characters. Go for a walk as your protagonist. What would they do in the real world? Would they sit by a river? Would they go to a record store? Get inside their heads!

Make a note of the props each character needs. One character may always need a walking stick another is always chewing gum.  All these things show something about your character without telling the reader this. And give them certain speaking styles too and mannerisms. It is this detail that will make your characters fully rounded.

Remember characterize the villains and the most likeable characters carefully in your novels too. Readers like the good guys to be modest, good at their jobs and a bit of an underdog. We want good to triumph over evil and we are shallow too. Believe it or not we like heroes to be good looking! But don’t make them flawless. Creating reality in fiction is about making people real. A balance is good. And be sure to make that character develop slowly through the book. If you want a reader to hate a particular character make sure they start the book by loving that character. Drip-feed them information about the character until slowly the reader turns against the character. If you can get a reader to change their mind about a character mid-way through a novel then you will have created a memorable character.

I hope the above has been a useful snapshot to what makes a memorable character!

Marissa de Luna is an author with a passion for adventure and travel. The Bittersweet Vine is her second novel.

The Bittersweet Vine is available now
The Bittersweet Vine (ISBN: 978-0-85728-094-7, Thames River Press, paperback and e-book) at
Amazon or other on-line stores and in selected bookshops.  For more information about The Bittersweet Vine or about the author see www.marissadeluna.com

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