Getting Into Character

Rena George Characters' Names, Crime Fiction 10 Comments

people-43575_640I’ve just murdered one of my characters. I hadn’t planned to, but when his body turned up at the ferry terminal in Truro, I just kind of went with it.
I always feel a tad guilty when my characters take over like that, especially when they do things I hadn’t even thought of. After all, it’s my book, my characters. I’m in charge.

But, am I? Is any author truly in control of their characters? Do we even want to be? Is it right that characters should know themselves better than the author who created them. or is it a sign of a plausible, convincing character when they begin to take over their own persona? …When they start to do things that your conscious mind hadn’t even considered?

I recently read an article by a highly rated novelist who said she got angry with authors who claimed that their characters took on a life of their own and they just followed them around going with whatever they would do next.
‘Ridiculous’ wrote this writer. Characters are an author’s creation. The author is in charge, not the characters. Well…hmm. I’m not sure about that.

All the best books and short stories are populated with strong, believable characters. Just ask the folks at The People’s Friend.

They will tell you that great characters are just as important, sometimes more so, than plot. I wouldn’t argue with that, after all, The Famous Story Magazine has been publishing fabulous fiction for more than 150 years, and they know what they’re talking about.
I’m always thrilled when readers say they can’t wait for the next book in a series to come out, which is why I’m currently working on a new Cornish Loveday Ross Mystery.
No one would be the least interested in reading a sequel to anything if they hadn’t connected with the characters first time around.

And what better proof that a character is working than if he/she is strong enough to take on a life of their own.

A wonderful article on characterisation in The Writers’ Workshop, says.

“Strong characterization is based on knowledge. The best way to write really strong characters is to know them inside out – at least as well as your best friend, let’s say. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character is essentially a problem of knowing character”

Hear, hear to that. You can read the rest of the article here

Author Sophie Novak advocates ‘being’ your character.

She says, “When you immerse yourself in your writing, you get lost in that alternative world and you start living it. This is when the magic happens and you become your character.

“By self-reflecting and walking in your character’s shoes, you allow yourself to experience what you’re writing about first-hand. The more it feels real to you, the bigger the chance that the reader will feel at least some of it too.”

If you can relate to the above being true then maybe it explains why we allow our characters to take actions that were never in our original story plan. By stepping into their shoes we could be making our characters more like ourselves than we realise.

Haven’t you ever done something you hadn’t intended doing, and then wondered where that came from? Isn’t that exactly what our characters are doing?

What do you think? Do you keep a tight control over your characters, or do you let them surprise you? I would love to know.

Rena x



Comments 10

  1. I must confess I’ve been working, sometimes more off than on, on my novel but I can’t let go. My characters seem real to me and I’ve even found myself tearing up at the odd sad bit – and I’ve written the scene! How daft is that? Someone once advised me to let this one go and write another but somehow I can’t let them go.

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      Getting emotionally involved in your novel isn’t sad at all, Anne. That’s what happens when you put yourself in the shoes of your characters, which you obviously do so well.
      I hope you don’t give up on it. Sounds to me like you’ve got something that works there. x

  2. Hi Rena, we change our minds in real life, and do things out of character, so it would make sense for our fiction ones to do the same. In my novel, I had an inkling who the main character would end up with. Now everything points to the other male….. see, our characters do take over, you’re right. xx

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      Susan, it’s a weird thing this business of characters taking over their own persona, isn’t it? If it doesn’t sound too long-winded, I feel that as long as the author has a firm grip of the character arc it’s okay to allow them a bit of leeway. x

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  3. I’ve given up trying to control my characters. They are real so they take on a life of their own – it’s when I start telling them what to do that I know I’m in trouble! I love that one of yours went and got himself murdered x

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