Knowing your characters

Since I started from the beginning of my novel idea and vowed to write until the end I am writing quite a lot but it doesn’t feel like I’m gettting anywhere! I seem to be writing this huge back story that I hadn’t really considered previously and I haven’t even made it to the first ‘big event’ yet!

I suppose that is part of the process.  I’ve often read about authors who write an epic amount for their novel and yet only end up using less than a third of this. It’s all about creating the entire story in your mind, even if some of the ‘boring bits’ aren’t going to make it in to the final cut. It’s the difference between living that amazing life and the two-hour movie that documents that life: as the individual in question, you know about all the hardships and minor events that took place in that life, but the audience watching the movie only needs to know about the ones revelant to the journey the film is exploring.

It’s the same with a novel: you have to know your characters and their lives inside out to build up a convincing individual that a reader might care about and follow their story. Therefore, as the writer, you need to know that as a child the character hated playing violin but felt compelled out of a familial duty to follow tradition and learn, just like their grandfathers before them. However, that doesn’t mean that the reader has to have a detailed understanding of this – a simple setence or reference to this in the book might be all it takes to demonstrate the ties the character has to family tradition and sense of duty. Yet, as the creator of this story, this character, this life, you need to know just how that happened and if, perhaps, the character rebelled against this or simply took it as a given that they would play the violin.

I actually find it a fascinating concept: that we have to know the lives of our characters much more intimately than we do anyone else, in particular our potential readers. It’s almost like creating an extension of yourself: you have to know them that well. And, just like in our own lives, we will sometimes misinterpret and confuse meaning in their actions and perhaps not quite comprehend the true reasons for it until later when we cause something to happen and, suddenly, the significance of that previous comment, action or behaviour becomes apparent and it alls uddently makes sense.

It’s exciting to watch these characters grow up – albeit in a warped time frame. There is still so much potential and possibility for them and my novel could trun out completely differently to how I intended but I’m ready to explore where these individuals I have created will take me, and how I might be able to guide them to get there.


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