Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Developing Characters

I hasten to say, our flip chart notes were better than this!
A couple of weeks ago, my good friend Sandra Ireland and I, along with Chris Longmuir, ran a slightly impromptu character development session, at one of the author events we were doing. Slightly impromptu, as we were covering for another writer who had been stranded in North Uist by the weather and had only had a couple of hours' notice that we were doing a second event!

The session went really well - we got the audience to develop a character from scratch with us, starting with general things (male or female? Colour of hair? Married/divorced/separated/single etc?) but as we got more details up on the flip chart, the beginnings of a plot started to crystallise too, emphasising how much a plot can be character-driven. A plot may take many different turns if a different character was involved... imagine Outlander, but instead of the character Jamie being a tall, strong, stubborn Highlander, he was an eighteenth century fop. Or how different any of your favourite novels would be, if you swapped the main characters for ones from a different book.

Last weekend, I needed to flesh out some secondary characters for the current book. Primary characters get massive dossiers filled in about them (see here for a post I wrote a while back about where characters come from), but secondary characters get a less full set of notes (though still possibly more detailed than you might imagine!). I'd done the notes for them and knew what their character was like, but was still struggling to pinpoint what they looked like. Cue an afternoon of contemplating various actors and wondering if they looked sufficiently like the character in my head to be able to use an image of them as short hand for myself.

I had a great afternoon, thinking about various different actors, wondering if he/she could be cast in a TV production of the book. Eventually, I had a handful of pictures which I printed out on to stickers and stuck in the notebook for this book.

As I was doing this and expanding on the notes, the characters started to grow and develop. I hadn't especially been thinking about any further books in the Summer/LB series at this point, but as I did these notes, some of these secondary characters started telling me about where they saw themselves in the next book (or indeed, the one after that!). I can see I may have to rein a couple of them in and remind them that they're not the stars of the series! Though maybe if I write enough books, they might be.

Readers, do you imagine different actors playing the characters in the books you read? Writers, do you have particular actors in mind when you're developing the characters of your books?



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