So, it’s time for the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain for this month! Well, at the time I’m writing this post it’s not, because I’m writing it on the 8th and setting it to post on the 13th, as I’ve got nothing to do at the moment and I know it’ll take me a few days to get a properly decent post done anyway.
The prompt for this month is How do you develop and relate to your characters? It’s quite a serious post after the funny one we had last month, so it’s going to take a bit more thought, but I’ll take you through my characters slowly. Sorry, this blog post is going to be about a thousand words long. I have a lot to say on this subject :)
First of all, and I know I won’t be the first to say this, my characters have a little bit of me. Jennie, who was the main character in my novel Watching, was very like me – so much so that while reading it, a friend send me a text saying, “Jennie is you, right?” She was musical, insecure, spent her lunchtimes in the library, talked to herself – our main difference was that she was ginger and had magic powers, and I’m not and I don’t.
Sometimes it’s harder to see. At first, Bronwyn was as far from me as physical possible. 19, with dyed purple hair, intent on destroying the world to prove she wasn’t a freak … come on? She’s never going to be anything like 15 year old me! But as I worked through Destroying and then Returning, our similarities came out. Even the simplest things, like her liking for Torchwood, made me fall in love with her that little bit more. By the end of that third book, she was almost my favourite character.
At the same time, my characters are better than me. Lenna’s strong and won’t give in. Jennie knows what she wants. Alys will forgive people whatever they did to her. Sean cares about others more than himself. Mel’s fearless and won’t hide from the world. Leah doesn’t worry about the consequences of what she does; she lives in the present. Cormac has a past of which anyone could be ashamed but he fights to redeem himself. Bronwyn overcomes her weakness, Alys, to do what she thinks is right.
The one character who doesn’t have one particular attribute that’s better than me was Alex. Alex, and I killed him. Alex, who was my favourite character that I’d ever created, who was flawed and broken and messed up and my friend hated him the whole of the first three-quarters of the book, and then in the last quarter she learned to see in him what I saw and she cried when he died. Alex was amazing. It broke my heart to kill him.
Alex was a bit unusual. He existed in various places in my head before he existed in Watching. In several stories I wrote, I had characters called Alex, and when at last I wrote that one novel he was formed out of all those little pieces of personality. I could never quite picture him in my head, though. You know people say they have a solid image of their characters in their head and it stays there? Well, I didn’t. I wasn’t even entirely sure what colour hair he had, although I’d said that it was black – the image didn’t fit.
I think that would have been his downfall as a character, because if even the author doesn’t know what he looks like the reader will never be able to imagine him. But then I met one of my friends, on tour with our orchestra, and I knew, suddenly, what Alex looked like. So, Andy, if you’re reading this, you may just have improved Alex as a character, because I now know what he looks like. Okay, so I’m still not sure on the hair colour. Maybe the bright red does suit him after all. What do you think? You’ve read Watching, haven’t you?
That’s the development of my characters done, and some of the relating too. But what do I do when my characters don’t have something of me inside them? How do I deal with them then?
Well, I’m going to use Bronwyn as an example.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, I posted about her way back in July. She was my antagonist who refused to follow the plot, my bad girl hell-bent on ripping a hole in the world. She resisted naming for about ten hours of solid trawling through baby name websites, and when I settled on Wyn, she refused to grow into it until I’d forced her to use it for about three weeks already (about the length of time it takes me to write 50k or so of novel). She fell in love with my protagonist, Alys; she almost forced Lenna to become a murderer.
Bronwyn was everything that I wasn’t.
And then I did what I used to do as a little kid. When lying awake at night (I’m a total insomniac), I roleplayed her situations. I put myself in her place and tried to act them out as though it was a film and I was playing her part. I got into her head and I understood her. Sometimes, I still wonder if I understand her too well. I kept a notebook by my bed and if I learned something about Wyn that I hadn’t known before, I’d write it down.
I saw how she reacted; I understood exactly how her body language worked in any conversation, and I knew what she thought about everything.
I understood her.
She became me, I’ll admit, but I also became her.
Want to follow the rest of the blog chain? Click here for a full list of participants – and don’t forget to go back and read those that have already posted!