It’s time to start thinking about your characters.
Chances are, you’ve already got a good idea of who’s who in your story. My characters have been knocking about in my head for about five years: Bronwyn, Richard, Karen. Unfortunately, this didn’t make planning them much easier. This post will concentrate on your main characters (who the story’s about).
Though you probably have, as I said before, a good idea of who your characters are, you might not have a name for them. At this point, you need to turn to a baby name book or the trusty internet, or simply think about names you already know. Here’s a link to the website I mentioned in an earlier post about naming places; it also does people names- bonus! http://www.namegenerator.biz/
If you’re writing characters from a different background or culture to your own, it’s probably more useful to search the internet for names popular in that culture. My character Bronwyn had been in my head for the full five years I mentioned before; perhaps it reflects a little poorly on my intelligence that it took me until about a month ago to realise that an Asian girl is unlikely to have a Welsh name!- All of a sudden, Bronwyn’s dad was Welsh and he’d met her mum on holiday. (I think there are a few more holes in that back story to patch up before I start writing!).
At this point, your characters have become to form a bit more in your mind. You know when you learn someone’s name in real life and they go from just being a face to being an actual person in your mind? Like that. But you still don’t know them, right? You haven’t really spoken, you haven’t built up trust, and you aren’t really confidantes yet. At present, you and your characters are in this stage of your relationship.
Think of when you apply for university or for a job. The admissions tutor/ company have possibly hundreds of applicants to pick from, all with the same qualifications on paper. They want to know which of these candidates they want to work with. It would be a ridiculous waste of time to get to know every candidate when they are only going to select a fraction of the applicants. So what do they do? They interview.
It sounds ridiculous- interviewing someone who lives in your head? Someone’s who imaginary? In practice, it’s massively useful and also kinda fun. You have to answer the questions as you imagine your characters would. I’ve done two ‘interviews’ so far- Bronwyn’s and Richard’s. In these interviews, their characters as I knew them completely changed. As I wrote in another post, Bronwyn gets a lot of abuse from her neighbours because she’s mixed race. I kind of imagined her being this quiet character that doesn’t say anything and keeps it all in her head rather than retaliating. This didn’t fit with the rest of her character, as I discovered. A girl who answers that her favourite hobby is “f*cking married men” is unlikely to be too fussed about snapping back at racist comments.
Similarly, Richard I had pictured as a pretty attractive, intelligent, suave guy. The bloke was having an affair with a teenage girl while his wife sat at home and looked after the kids! Suddenly, he was a bit of a failure- yes, good-looking, but he hadn’t achieved what he wanted to achieve in life, and he felt he was too young and cool to be settled down already. I had to reflect this in his interview, which gave me an entirely different perspective on his character. Richard, you see, has all these dreams and zero motivation. He isn’t going anywhere. And, really, both his wife, Karen, and Bronwyn deserve better than him.
I found the interview sheets on: http://www.deniserobbins.com/articles_characterscometolife.html
The questions I found especially useful are:
- What three things would you take to a desert island?
- Are you in a relationship? (this one was especially interesting, given that Bronwyn and Richard’s relationship is an affair)
- Do you think you’ve turned out the way your parents expected?
- What was your childhood bedroom like?
- What are you most proud of?
- What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?
- Try a baby name book or your trusty friend the internet to get some names for your main characters. You could try and make them mean something that relates to the character, for example Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter series is named after the goddess of wisdom, which definitely represents her well. Or you could just go for a random, fitting name, as I did.
- You think you know your characters… but you probably don’t. Interview them and try to answer as they would. Really get into their head. It could totally change your perspective of them.
Well, hope that’s useful. I’ve got another character interview to do, and then I’ll be back with the next stage of your character planning!