“If you treat your characters like people, they’ll reward you by being fully developed individuals.”
Don Roff (writer & filmmaker)
It’s the Geppetto syndrome. We have all the tools and we know how to use them. We angle the chisel just right to take off another centimetre or so here and there, attach the strings securely, first checking for any knots that might stop the limbs working smoothly, finish off with a paintbrush and a final coat of varnish, and then step back to proudly inspect our handiwork. Everything looks just as it should, everything works, nothing slip-shod or sub-standard, but still something’s not quite right, something’s missing. And that’s when we hear with a sinking heart Pinocchio’s cry, “But I want to be a real boy!”
Well, yes, Pinocchio, we’re with you on that, but here’s the rub – how exactly can that be accomplished when making the leap from cleverly articulated puppet to something human is so darned hard? Is it our fault that, like a recalcitrant toddler, the characters in our novel refuse to play ball; in fact, won’t even get out onto the pitch, let alone pick up the bat. We want them to jump off the page, engage our emotions, make us laugh, make us cry, but will they, heck? We sweat, we curse, we pray, but they’re still just puppets; there’s no real spark. And it’s at that point we feel the granddaddy of all headaches coming on…
So what’s a poor writer to do? Retreat to a darkened room clutching an aching head with one hand and a bottle of paracetamol with the other, or fight back? Time to show your characters who’s really in charge by trying the tips below…
Get deep inside your character’s head. Make them complex – a fermenting brew of hopes and fears and unsatisfied longings. Give them problems in their back-story – broken relationships, difficult childhoods – get as far away as possible from the air-brushed perfection of magazine-shoot images. We need to know these guys, warts and all.
Spend as much time as possible with your characters. Stephen King says: “If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind…” Absence in this case does not make the heart grow fonder, it just means you have to get acquainted all over again. It doesn’t work for relationships in the real world, so why do you think you can get away with it in the literary one?
Plant clues and nuggets of information that help unlock your characters. Make the reader think, ‘Oh now I understand why he/she behaved like that…’
Mine your sources
At the start of many novels a disclaimer appears that goes something like this: ‘This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.’ Poppycock! Writers are like magpies and everything is grist to their mill – friends, family, work colleagues, even themselves – nothing is sacred. Believable characters in fiction are believable precisely because they are cobbled together from real people’s attributes and behaviour. Don’t let anyone tell you different!
Move them on
Real life is not static. Everything that happens to us changes us in small or big ways, and the same should be true of our characters. If everything seems to be going smoothly, don’t be afraid to throw a spanner in the works!
Get a life
Finally, don’t retreat to your ivory tower/garret/dusty spare bedroom/corner of the kitchen table – live life to the full. Victoria Aveyard says, “You can’t write real people and real emotion if you don’t let yourself experience them.” Wise words that I, for one, intend to take to heart.
Illustration: Puppets ©pixabay.com
#Carry on the thriftiness
I’m tired of thriftiness – I feel a rebellion coming on…
#Edit my book, write more short stories & get article commissions
Very little to report as have been working flat out on decorating – I have painter’s elbow. Disappointingly, have heard nothing back from either the story that had promising initial feedback or the article I was asked to send ‘on spec’ & we could really do with the money. Worried that I won’t be up to speed when I finally get back to writing properly – feels like my brain has gone rusty from lack of use…
#Do up the bathroom & loos (on a shoestring budget!) Callooh! Callay! It’s finally finished! I’ve said to my husband to shoot me if I even mention the word ‘project’ again this year!!