So, here's the thing! I'd finished the 5th book in the Parish & Richards series 'His Wrath is Come', and started a long short for an anthology. As I was writing I began to wonder whether the lead characters in both sounded similar - well, you do, don't you? And it doesn't do any harm to remind oneself of the rudiments of creating characters, dontcha know!
I mean, let's mull over the author's voice. I know, you're asking, what the hell is that? Well, take these bloggy things for example. If someone read this blog - having read my previous blogs - they'd know it was my fabulous work because of my voice, which consists of a number of exceptionally well thought-out indicators: 1) I meander all over the damned place - so I've been told anyway; 2) Toady does a lot of jabbering from behind me, but when I turn round he's never there - how weird is that? There's a name for things that appear in the corner of your eye - they call them shadow people - I see a lot of them, and sometimes have conversations with them, invite them for tea, and...
Anyway, enough about my little idiosyncracies. So, you can see, some authors have a voice you can spot from a thousand other authors. Not all authors have got a unique voice though! If you read ten anonymous chapters from ten of your favourite authors all writing about the same thing, would you be able to say, "That's Stephen King" or "That's JRR Tolkein"? If you're an author, you gotta find your voice, and don't come looking round hereabouts 'cause I ain't stumbled over any strange sounding voices.
Next, is the characters. How do you make each one different from all your other characters? How can the reader spot it's that particular character in the middle of things without you having to say, this is Queequeg - don't you just love that name? I mean, didn't Dickens and Melville steal all the good names, like Uriah Heep (also a fantabulous band), Tommy Traddles, Ebenezer Scrooge, Samuel Slumkey... So many, and now what's left for us poor authors? I've named two characters today - Socrates Jones and Tegryn (Tig) Roberts - See, that's what I'm saying - that Dickens has got a lot to answer for! I've been playing around with Jones though. First I had Balthazar Jones, then Tiberius Jones, and now Socrates Jones - I know, call me wishy-washy - and I'm still not happy. If Dickens wasn't already dead...
So, apart from a name, how else can we make a character different from other characters. Hey up, Toady's made a list!
'Is it a long list, Toady?'
'Long lists are the only good lists, boss.'
'If you say so. Go on then, tell us what's on your list?'
'I haven't had time to put them in order of importance, boss.'
'Be reckless, do it anyway.'
'You got it.'
Differentiate your characters by one or more of:
The way they do things;
What drives them (motivations);
Provide an image, so that readers can visualise;
Differentiate even minor characters;
Flaws, strengths and weaknesses;
Use of similes and metaphors;
Psychologica traits: (Psychotic: aggressive, impulsive, cold, unempathetic, creative, anti-social, impersonal, egocentric, tough-minded. Neurotic: anxious, angry, guilty, depressed, easily stressed, interprets ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult, self-conscious, shy, trouble controlling urges, phobias);
Characters describe themselves;
Create an image of one person, but hint at another inside;
Don't infodump - build up a character's personality slowly;
Physical traits: Height, weight, colouring, features; sight, smell, hair, voice, dialect;
Social traits: Beliefs and attitudes.
Have I missed anything?
The other thing to remember, is to have your characters change over time - to grow. I made the mistake of keeping a character the same, and readers soon grow bored with a character who doesn't develop, mature, and grow over time.
In 'His Wrath is Come' I created a character called Lola Laveque - See what you think:
Constable Lola Laveque was a short rotund black woman of indeterminate age who wore a permanent smile on her face. He’d caught her eating some strange food out of a plastic container.
‘You wanted to see me?’ he said.
‘And you are?’
‘From the MIT?’
‘Okay, take a seat.’
He looked around but there was nowhere to sit. ‘Where?’
‘People usually perch on the corner of the desk.’
‘Do you want to share my ackee and saltfish?’ she said thrusting the fishy dish under his nose.
He hated fish. ‘Thank you, but I’ve just had lunch.’
‘Don’t know what you’re missing.’
‘Chief Kirby said that you’d found something?’
‘I’m always finding one thing or another in here.’
‘A pattern?’ He was beginning to wonder if he’d stumbled into the twilight zone. The tiny office boasted a desk, a computer, a filing cabinet, a chair, and stacks of files on every surface.
Also, I had Lola using malapropisms - that is misusing similar sounding words - i.e. instead of commendation > combination; instead of presentation > impersonation. And she also practised Hiatian vodou. So, you can see that I gradually created a 3-dimensional person, and people have already asked whether she'll be included in the next book in the series.
Oh, the other thing - before I shillyshally back to my writing - is do you know why I used Lucy Van Pelt in the picture? Give yourself a high-five if you do!
Hi, I'm Tim Ellis - I write a lot and I hope you enjoy what I write.