Character Creation

Every writer has a different method to creating their characters. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject. There are writing courses galore, software you can get to help you plan your protagonists, internet advice abounds.

You will see in novels a disclaimer that says, ‘no characters in this book were based on living people,’ or something along those lines.

Of course you can’t take someone you know and implant all their characteristics into one of your fictional characters because quite frankly, that character wouldn’t be fictional now would it? That much is obvious. And the last thing you want is a lawsuit.

All I can tell you is how my characters come about.

I don’t sit down and create a character by listing how they look, their age, their weaknesses, their strengths, their political leanings, their occupation etc. I don’t do this because for me it simply doesn’t work. I have tried it but by the time I come to put them into a story I’ve lost interest in them because I know all about them. It is like creating a robot you are going to control to the nth degree and from what I’ve read you can’t even do that with a robot.

If you are a writer reading this and do use that method please don’t take offense. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use that method, I’m purely saying it doesn’t work for me.

The idea for The Eight of Swords came to me from a newspaper article. Once I read the article I couldn’t get it out of my head. It isn’t uncommon for fictional stories to be created from real life events because how else would stories be created? They say truth is stranger than fiction and this is very much the case. However, in this instance I created something strange, dramatic and exciting out of something pretty mundane. I know it wasn’t mundane to the real life lady but the outcome was pretty mundane to my mind.

The article described an immigration officer who came home to find her house overtaken by gypsies (well they may simply have been squatters I can’t remember now but I decided in my story they would be gypsies). In real life, the lady in question used the law to have them evicted within 24 hours or maybe even sooner. I’m a little hazy on the details because I didn’t keep the article and we are talking nearly ten years ago.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it for some time. Then out of the blue I was struck down with Pleurisy and became very ill. I didn’t realize it was Pleurisy, I just thought it was a bad cough. After a few weeks I went to see a doctor who suggested I buy myself some flowers and chocolate and to prepare myself to put up with it for six weeks. My protestations that I had a business to run fell on deaf ears. I ignored her advice and tried to carry on with my daily life but I became more and more poorly and suddenly experienced sharp pains in my ribs so sharp I could barely breathe. I went to see another doctor who told me I’d probably cracked a rib coughing. By the next day I knew I was in serious trouble, not all of my ribs could be broken surely?

By now I wasn’t really well enough to leave the house but another doctor told me to get in a taxi and visit a GP who specialized in respiratory matters. He at last told me I had Pleurisy. This time I went home to my bed and stayed there. I couldn’t just lie there and try to get better, my body might have been in trouble but my mind needed to be kept busy, so everyday I dragged myself into my office and I started to write about an immigration officer who came home to find her home taken over by Romanian gypsies.

I became Jayne Patchett, I could imagine how she might feel, a woman perhaps my own age, coming home and not being able to get through her own front door. Unlike the reality of the article I had read, Jayne had far more trouble dealing with the intriguing family who now inhabited her home. The characters all came to life vividly and the story progressed as if it were actually happening to me in real time. If I had been reading the story instead of writing it, I would not have been able to put it down and that’s what pretty much happened when writing it, I struggled to leave the keyboard until the fatigue of my illness forced me to.

The gypsies were addictive to me, I loved learning everything about them: their way of living, their attitude, their beliefs, and mystique. I researched how Romanian gypsies lived and Jayne became as intrigued by them as I was. In the story she gets drawn into their world and begins to question her own.

So my characters developed organically if you like. They came out of nowhere and took over my mind and my story. I found them leading the way. My decisions on what would happen next belonged entirely to them. I could never have planned the story from start to finish. I had no idea how it would end, what would happen to Jayne or any of them and exactly the same thing happened when I came to write The Putsi.

And again, with my new book of short stories, it is the characters who have dictated how the stories unfold. I don’t think I have ever started a story knowing where it will end up. Perhaps that’s why writing is as much a pleasure to me as reading is. I love to be surprised.

I know I am fortunate to have such a fertile imagination. It developed as a young child. My siblings were much older than me so for much of my childhood I entertained myself and lived in my own head and for a while alongside my imaginary friend Bert, who I suppose was the first character I ever made up.

That’s pretty much all I can tell you about how I develop my characters. The truth is they develop themselves. They are real to me even though they are entirely fictional.

Tomorrow I will tell you more about my imaginary friend Bert, who has a story all of his own.

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