Today it's my stop on the One Good Reason blog tour and it's my absolute pleasure to be handing over the reins to Susan Stairs to talk about How a character comes together.
With writing, this is where the thinking comes in. So much of writing is thinking. Your novel is in your head all the time, your brain constantly turning over ideas – even when you don’t realise it. Often, while in the middle of a mundane task – cleaning, walking to the shop – a word or a phrase or a plot solution will pop up in your mind and suddenly you have the answer to a something you’ve been puzzling over for days. The formation of a credible character can take some time. The protagonist in One Good Reason – Laura Pierce – was always going to be a girl in her mid-twenties with a couple of siblings. That much was solid from the start. But because I had a good idea of where the plot was going, I realised that she had to be confident, assured and able to speak her own mind. She had to be a little different from the rest of her family, with not much in the way of a conscience, and the ability to keep cool under pressure. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be believable. Once you’re fairly sure where your plot is headed and what, ultimately, the outcome will be, it becomes easier to determine what personality traits your characters need in terms of carrying the narrative and propelling the plot forward.
Names are important too. Laura was Laura right from the start (though that’s not always the way. Often, I name-change many times, even sometimes when I’ve completed a full draft). I wanted her to have a common-enough name, as she comes from an ordinary family and it’s important that readers empathise with her, at least at the beginning. Also, Laura was a popular girls’ name around the time she would have been born (interesting to google ‘most popular names’ in whatever year when naming characters).
After personality and name, the next thing to consider is physical appearance. Or perhaps that’s the first thing some writers think about. There are no rules. How you describe what a character looks like can be a difficult thing to do though. I think it’s best achieved subtly, a line here and there – in dialogue (‘Your hair. I think I preferred it long’) – or throughout the narrative (She spotted him waiting at the bus stop. His clothes were stained and he clearly hadn’t shaved in a while).
Of course, there are many other elements to consider – your character’s history, mannerisms, career, emotional development etc. Often, these things evolve as you write and you find your character making choices and decisions that reveal more about themselves then even you – their creator – ever envisaged.
Laura has never been like other girls. She thinks about sadness rather than feeling it. Anger, jealousy, deceit - they just seem more useful.
So when her family unit is shattered after a violent break-in to their home, she becomes intent on getting even. The perpetrators have walked away unpunished but her father wasn't so lucky, falling prey to a fatal heart attack in the aftermath.
Paddy Skellion - father of one of the offenders - is a renowned artist, who will go a long way to protect his reputation. When Laura's mother Angela gives her daughter her blessing to travel to the South of France, to visit the family in the hope of an apology, she knows little of Laura's true intent.
Laura has one good reason to enter their lives in ways they can't foresee. But even the best laid plans don't always go as intended...
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