Here's a thing that interests me a lot as a writer and something that I am wrestling with in the book I'm currently writing.
How do you make interesting, three-dimensional characters using only language?
Characters can make any story either perfect or awful. We all have the characters that we love and I'm sure that you've had that moment when you finish a book and actually feel like you'll miss the characters you have been reading about. It's a strange thing because in truth you haven't met anyone. That character does not exist and unlike television or film you can't even bond with the person playing that character. The characters in fiction are just ink on the page. However, language can be used to create characters far more real than some people seem to be and definitely more believable than the cast of Hollyoaks.
In my current novel I am writing about an artist who is obsessive and very introverted; he has some real problems and a serious obsession and love for art. I needed to work out how I was going to get this into the language and make this character come alive. After a long planning process I am now three chapters into the book and David, my character, seems to be taking shape.
To get David right I felt I had to get inside his psyche, a bit like a method actor would for a role. So for a start I read several of Freud's articles and cases on obsession and started to work out how this obsessive mental state comes about and works. Once I had some notes I could go back to my story concept and start to see how David's motivations and actions maybe inspired by this condition, what may have caused it and how the action could progress in a way that portrayed his obsessive side. (So that I didn't have to say ' David was obsessive').
I wrote David a back story, which I currently have no plan to feature in the novel itself. This gave me a much better idea of the factors that would later influence David's decision in life (in the novel)-I then briefly reminded myself that David wasn't real so I didn't start talking to him in public and continued!?!
Of course I worked up a character sheet, as so many books on writing will tell you to do and this was incredibly useful. I listed David's physical appearance; I listed his achievements; his fears; his goals and motivations, along with anything else that seemed interesting.
The next things to do was to work up my second character in a similar way. I felt that it was important to interrupt the flow at this point, so that my secondary characters didn't become a secondary in their own 'realness.' Doing the same sort of character sheet as the one I had done for David and working up these characters relationships and reactions to David's character also really helped flesh out David and his world.
After reading a book on method acting, I decided that I should try create some scenes to get into the flow of talking like David, so I wrote up an interview. David is an artist, so I figured he would have to deal with an interview at some point in his career. I wrote this interview to allow me to get into David's mind set and soon the answers (to questions I took from a real interview on-line) really started to flow. I would highly recommend this as an exercise for getting yourself into character.
If an interview doesn't work why not try reading a paper and trying to work out what response your character would have to the story you've read, or sit somewhere and people watch and try to think about what you see from your characters perspective.
At some point you will have to start creating both the scenarios and your characters reaction to them, so if those reactions are already second nature your writing should flow with far less starring into space, walks round the neighbourhood, tidying your desk, or whatever else you do to avoid writing.
Let's not forget, characters are everything!
Ben Warden - Editor of the #SFFiction project and author of 'Life Without', which made the top ten literary fiction e-books on amazon.