Friday, September 08, 2006

Developing Characters


This is the last of the workshops I attended with Suzanne Ruthven at Caerleon.

It was very interesting to find that Suzanne Ruthven’s advice on developing characters within your novels, largely reiterated what other authors and editors have said. See:

Tony Bradman's Summary of Common Pitfalls
Rachel Wade's Advice
John Jenkins - On Writing A Bestseller

Suzanne said:

Characters must not be one-dimensional. You need to know who you are writing about and you need to have an emotional link to them. They cannot be too perfect. The perfect person does not exist.

When you start to create a character, develop a mini-biography. Think how you want them to behave and what academic level they are going to achieve. Remember, in historical novels the women may be feisty but they would not have been worldly. Map everything about them:

o Their parents,
o Family,
o Issues,
o Mannerisms and gestures,
o Habits,
o Accent,
o Vocabulary,
o Mental state.

The reader needs to empathise with whom the story is about. This is also true of the supporting cast.

Think of your novel like a play and try to decide whom you would get to play each character. An old copy of spotlight has every famous person’s face in it, which could be used to help with descriptions.

Do a lot of people watching. Everyone has little peculiarities and quirks that identify them as an individual. Watch people’s interactions.

Know your main character as you would your best friend.

Do not overburden the reader with great chunks of text. Describe them in a few sentences. Again, look at the colour supplements and see how they do it.

Some ideas Suzanne suggested was to do little exercises where you give your principle characters problems to sort out and work out how they will react, or go through your family and list their peculiarities and fears.

I hope you found these notes useful. Any comments would be highly appreciated.

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