Friday, 8 November 2013

Creating realistic characters

During the writing of Torn, I fell in love with Patrick. He was handsome (of course), intelligent (naturally), a bit naughty (hehe) and my kinda guy.

I could see him, hear his voice and tell you exactly how he would react in any situation because I knew him so well.

Patrick has been so universally well received by my readers that I know I'm not alone in my infatuation - everyone, it seems fell in love with him.

However, one of my friends said his eyes were impossible. I'd described them as a very unusual emerald green. She said, "Karen, no one has eyes like that. Green eyes are pale - not the way you described them!"

I'm happy to say I usually take criticism well, but not in this instance. I argued in my own defense that eyes that colour are possible. In fact Patrick's appearance was not a figment of my imagination. Although his characteristics were a composite of many people I know or have met, his looks were purely based on a guy I'd had a serious crush on when I was about 15.

I won't say this guy's name; that would be too embarrassing because the guy in question turned out to be a bit of a dropkick. But I'll never forget how my 15 year old heart always skipped a beat when those amazing eyes looked at me.

Right, now I have that out of my system, I'll tell you about a couple of books that I've found to be invaluable tools when developing characters.

The first is called Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. This book is like a thesaurus for facial expressions, body bits, emotions, foreign names and even has a basic foreign language dictionary of common terms. I bought this book several years ago and I love it.

The second is Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PHD. Ever wanted to understand how a sociopath might relate to friends and family? What about the particular talents of a forger? What makes a person become an engineer or a parking inspector? 

Then there are the physical or mind issues. How does grief affect someone? What less obvious behaviours would you find in a sex addict?

I love this book because it doesn't just give you ideas for characters, but offers enough factual information to add that touch of authenticity to them.

Let me pose my character Anne Broughton from Torn as an example. I knew Anne was an ambitious and vain gold-digger, but what could I write that would demonstrate these traits instead of simply saying, Anne is ambitious, vain and a gold-digger

Look up narcissism, and the book explains that among other things, a narcissistic person:
  • expresses grandiose feelings
  • shows off
  • needs admiration
There's my Anne described to a T. All I had to do was have her say all the appropriately narcissistic things and we were off and running.
"I shall go to court, and ladies will envy me and the gentlemen will fall in love with me. And you, dear brother and sister, you'll be bowing to me."

Of course every writer is inspired by the people and experiences they've encountered. My characters are composites of many people, and friends hoping (or fearing) to find themselves within my pages will be disappointed. I might take the smile from one person, the laugh from another, and apply them to the evil temper of a third.

This is great fun for we writers and I can guarantee - with the exception of one particular character - that every person in my books has been inspired, imagined and kneaded into who they are on the pages.

I'll write more on this subject in a future blog because there really is so much to talk about when it comes to building characters. Particularly if you're like me and you want them to be realistic, you know, heroes who make mistakes too.

 But for now, check out the two books I mentioned. They're well worth it.

And that one exception? That one character of mine inspired by a genuine, living breathing individual?

For those of you who have read Torn, you'll know one of my favourite characters who plays a relatively small role is a leggy blonde lass named Tess.

Here's a picture of me with the real life Tess...sadly departed now but immortalised as the playful pup of the same name in Torn

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