Amanda Sington-Williams on: Characterisation.
Characters drive a novel and it is important that novelists know their characters almost better than they know themselves. A writer must know where and when their characters were born, what they like and dislike, what kind of childhood they had, where they’ve lived, what they fear and how they react in a crisis.
In order to hold the reader’s interest, the characters need to be interesting. Though it is not essential that the reader likes them, there must be something about them that makes the reader want to find out what happens to them.
Some novels have an innumerable amount of main characters (Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is an example), but it is probably easier to work with three or four. It is the main character(s) that form a novel and I spend a lot of time thinking about them before I start writing. In a novel, there are usually minor, walk-on characters too; sometimes they can be stereotypical of a certain kind of person and, unlike the main characters, which must be three dimensional, they can be ‘flat’.
All characters are moulded by the events that have happened to them before the novel starts and it is the writer’s job to know why a character is how she/he is. What are their failings and what are their best aspects? Everyone has habits that are particular to them; they have ways of carrying out tasks and using phrases and mannerisms when they talk. As writers, we have the privilege of seeing into characters’ minds and knowing their inner thoughts. This knowledge is exclusive to authors and can lead to interesting dilemmas. Characters do not always act in a way that corresponds to their thoughts and may act in a way that conflicts with what they really want. This may be because of adhering to social expectations, or because of a fear of change. These are just two examples. However, giving a character conflict(s) can create tension.
Individual writers have their own methods for character building. Some use Post-its and whiteboards, others carry out conversations with their characters, others write lists and flow charts.
Sometimes a photograph can be useful if you want to be able to see a character. It is not always necessary to describe how a character looks in a novel. Only do this if it is necessary, otherwise it can appear contrived. But the writer must have both a clear sense of how the characters look as well as their dress sense.
Questions? Comments? Please feel free to post them below. And come back on March 11th to learn about first person narrators…