Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Creating characters

Throughout the year I'm going to be doing WriYe - basically a group of people on a forum who get together and encourage each other to write a certain amount of words/projects/challenges throughout the year.

One of the challenges suggested was to write blog posts on set topics throughout the year, so I though, 'why not?'

The first topic is 'Characters'.

I find characters can be the easiest and at the same time the most difficult parts of any story. If they're not done well the whole story can fall apart - after all, is anyone interested in a hero that you can't understand, or a villain who doesn't seem to have any personality at all?

When I'm creating a story I usually start with a train of thought from my main character. Sometimes a story will even start with a character rather than a plot. I have to decide how old they are, and what gender, and then I just get them thinking about something that's going to happen in the story. Quite often what I write won't make it into the finished story, but it really helps me get to know my characters. It gives them a personality, a speech pattern, and opinions. Sometimes the character hasn't even got a name at this point, but after I've written a few paragraphs of their thoughts I've usually got a much better idea of who they are.

Another thing I use to create character is clothes. I describe my character and then try to delve a bit into why they dress the way they do. Does the woman in the red dress wear it because she likes bright colours? Or is she a hooker? Is she wearing the dress because her boyfriend has told her he likes to see her in it? Does she feel uncomfortable in it? Has she tried to hide it under a cardigan, or is she accessorising with diamonds? Is it an expensive dress, cut to flatter, or does it pinch a bit too tight and show all her lumps and bumps? Is she mutton dressed as lamb, or is she absolutely stunning?

When I'm writing descriptions I also try to think about any tics or characteristics the character has. Do they appear to be nervous? If so, how is their body language showing this? What is their hair like? Is it tidy or does it look as if they keep fiddling with it, or running their hands through it? Are they playing with something in their hands, or are they relaxed?

Here's an example of the way I create a character. (It's just train of thought typing, so please excuse any typos, etc...)
She's sitting at her desk in front of the computer, reading her emails. She keeps looking around as if she's not supposed to be doing something or she's afraid of getting caught. 'Come on, reply. I need to know the answer now. Do I have that job or am I stuck here? I hate this place. It's mind numbing. There's nothing for me to do here, I'm always tired, I go home feeling miserable. Maybe if I get this job I could get a pet. I'd have more time. I wouldn't have to drive 50 miles to work each day. I wouldn't be so tired in the evening. I think I'd like goldfish. They're relaxing. And I want time to read. I wonder if Shelley would like to catch up for lunch sometimes? I'd be able to take lunch breaks and actually get some fresh air. I'd like that. Still no email though. What will I do if I don't get this job?'

She looks up quickly as someone walks past, clicking from one window to another on her computer. She keeps tugging at a tube bandage on her right hand - the resultof RSI from her job. Her hair is pulled back untidily into an unflattering ponytail, more to keep it out of her face than for any style reasons. She's wearing a woollen dress in an odd faded mustard colour. It looks well worn. She pulled it on because it's comfortable. She has to leave the house so early in the morning to get to work on time that she doesn't pay much attention to her clothes as long as they're clean.
She's not wearing any make up - again, there's no time for it. Bags are showing under her eyes and she has a spot on her chin. She's in her thirties maybe, but she looks older and very tired. You'd feel sorry for her.
From this I could start to think more about how she acts with her colleagues, the way she acts and speaks, and why she needs the new job. I've also somehow come up with a friend for her - Shelley - although I don't really know who she is yet.

The story may be how she escapes from the horrible job she hates or it may be that she has to stay there, but either way I have a better idea now of who my character is and how she might act.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you describe using clothing to help create the character. For all my love of fashion (it's not much), I never considered it that way!