Friday, 20 August 2010

Getting to know your characters

OK so there is no milk in the fridge this morning and all I have is 2 bananas and a glass of water.  But hey I'm feeling a bit flush so if anyone's up for going to starbucks then I'm paying!!

Currently I am researching the characters for my dusty novel. I have 2 female leads, 1 female supporting baddie, 2 male love interests and 1 male brother/best friend (not sure which yet).  No two characters are alike so it's difficult to get them right in my head. I had visualised 4 out of the 6 but am currently struggling with the other 2, probably because they didn’t always exist in the novel. They kind of joined late and while I feel they are quite important they just don’t appear real to me. If I imagine my novel to be made into a film then its definitely a brit flick. Kind of like a Richard Curtis Rom Com but the actors have never appeared in his films. Some of the people I imagine to play the characters aren’t actors or even famous for that matter. Some are real people some are made up faces in my head. I’ve employed techniques to get to know my characters. I’ve had imaginary conversations with them, written up character bios and now I am having a lot of fun flicking through old magazines where the characters jump out at me. At the moment female lead no 1 is a cross between Natalie Portman and Keira Knightly and the other I imagine as a cross between Agnes Dene and Sarah Harding. These images have never wavoured in my head and I find this technique bring them to life a whole lot more.  I have even made a scrap book with all my characters different looks and traits.  This has been my favourite technique so far but I am sure there are more out there.

So my question today is:  What techniques do you employ to get to know your characters and which has been your favourite?

So those are my tricks for the time being. How do you get to know your characters?


Denise said...

I'll go to Starbucks, any excuse for a coffee!

So far getting to know my characters has been done by scribbling through endless pukka pads and notebooks. I start off with a vague idea of how they look, their personality traits and their friends/family. As I go on the details get clearer, but I never have a very fixed idea of how they look, though I'm sure of how they'd think and behave.

I like the idea of getting pics from magazines, but fear how long I'd spend doing it!

Something I got from a course was asking some possibly irrelevant but telling questions. Things like what kind of watch they wear (my main character doesn't and is always late!) or what film they'd choose to see. I find this sort of thing defines them better as a person, and I then start comparing them with people I know in real life - though that can be a danger in itself!

JJ Beattie said...

Ooh Starbucks for me too please.

The mother and sister of my MC appeared in front of me: they're both paintings but I saw one in a magazine and one in the 'flesh.' Both characters began talking to me immediately. I didn't need to ask any questions at that point. I learned why they were the way they were as I wrote them.

But my MC... she's more of a problem. I've never managed to find the right image for her. I imagine a taller Anna Friel when I write her but it's not as rewarding as my other two females. The problem for me with using a celeb is that they take on their personality....

I think I have to keep wandering around portrait galleries to find new characters!

Karen said...

I'll have a banana, thanks!

I find it quite difficult to visualise my characters as 'real' people as I often don't feel I really know them until quite a long way into the novel, and as JJ says if I picture an acutal celebrity they tend to take on their qualities. However I recently saw a lady in an advert for milk or yoghurt (the one with a cow running across a beach in slow motion!) and thought 'that's my main character'. Weird, I know.

In my last novel however, I did find that when I changed the name of one my of male characters, imagining him as actor Luke Wilson really helped him take on new characteristics, oddly.

In other words, it's all a bit random!

Anonymous said...

Who needs milk? Black coffee for me please. Starbucks, starschmucks, their coffee is rubbish. Give me Costa any day.

Some of my very early work had characters that were at least partially based on real people, either famous or just people I know. Perhaps ironically, I feel that those characters are the ones most lacking in depth. I'm not trying to make any judgement about the shallowness of famous people (nor my friends) but rather to say that this didn't work for me as a technique.

Looking back, I think the method was too prescriptive; I was following a kind of recipe rather than being more creative with my characters. I don't think there are any short-cuts for me, I simply have to get inside their heads and be those characters. Method acting, if you like. It's a journey rather than a formula. You never know what they're going to say and do until you start writing. And keep writing.

All this leave me with another problem: how do you breathe life into the minor characters? The ones who do not get their own point of view. Most of mine are two- or even one-dimensional at present.

Someone at wh@c, I can't remember who, said that you should "interview" your characters to find out about them. I haven't tried this yet, perhaps it's worth a go.

Talli Roland said...

Yay for Starbucks!

I get to know my characters through the first draft. Then in the second I go back and fill in the bits that are flat as a result of me getting to know them.

Debs said...

I don't think we have a Starbucks over here, so am more than happy to go there.

It depends, but I look at pictures in mags, movies, to see if I can find someone that fulfils my vague picture of my hero/heroine. Then as I get to know them better, they begin to take on their own look and I go from there.

I take an age to choose the right name though, I can't really get going until I have a suitable name for my main characters.

sheepish said...

Oooh as I've never been in a Starbucks[I know, I know where have I been?] I shall come along to see what all the fuss is about.
As to my characters, they seem to grow along with the novel and are a mixture of fantasy and people I have known. Just hope that no-one recognises who my villain is modelled on. Whereas I am sure people will notice some familiar traits in my main character. I do write notes on them all but the hardest bit for me is names. As a large number of my characters are French I trawl through the local paper for names that I like, but also visit the cemetary as I need real local family names for some of them. And I feel sure that they will grow as I continue with the second draft as Talli said.

Bluestocking Mum said...

I must tell you the method I used to find characters for my third novel because it's a little random.

I have a couple of Linda Goodman's horoscope/star signs books. She's very good at giving guidance with the compatability (or incompatability)of different star signs. And don't ask me how, but she can give amazingly accurate descriptions of facial characteristics and the build of a person based on their sign.

Anyhow, I thumbed through and found two signs that were supposedly compatible and a star sign that was incompatible, read all her blurb and their characteristics and into my imagination sprang a really clear vision of my main three characters that has lasted throughout!

HelenMHunt said...

I tend to flick through magazines to get an idea of appearances.

For personality traits I find I have to 'live with' the characters for that to come out. With my present novel the chapters I am writing now are set in the MC's childhood and early adulthood and I hope that process will mean I know her really well before I come to write her 'present day' chapters.

Following Captain Black's comment - for a master class in breathing life into minor characters, read Kate Atkinson!

Leatherdykeuk said...

I still don't know what some of my characters look like after seven years, but I know exactly how they'd react to any situation.

Most of my characters grow out of writing flash fiction. I'll write something, and a month or two later finding the same character turns up in laverstone.

Annieye said...

I'm up for Starbucks too, although I suppose you've all been and gone by now.

My characters just sort of pop into my head, completely made-up and not based on anyone. I actually saw someone walking towards me in town once and must have given her a very odd look, because she WAS my character. It was eerie.

My characters sometimes don't do what I want them to do, though. They most definitely have a mind of their own.

LilyS said...

Thanks Everyone!

Some great comments, hints and tips there which I shall definitely take on board.