by Judith Barrow
I always think that one of the most challenging aspects of being a writer is creating characters. Yet it’s a chance to step back from yourself and assume a completely different persona. Or several personas … without people backing slowly away from you.
Characters that readers truly believe in and become attached to are those that are exciting and alive on the page. On the one hand, with protagonists, they should elicit empathy, compassion, sympathy. Many of my readers have reported that my protagonists, Mary, has lived in their minds long after they have closed the books. A most satisfying thing for any author to hear about one of their characters.
On the other hand, with an antagonist, they must provoke dislike, irritation, even hatred. I hope I achieved the latter with George Shuttleworth, who first appears as a secondary character in the first of the trilogy, Pattern of Shadow, but gains a more sinister presence in the sequel, Changing Patterns and even more so in Living in the Shadows
As I’ve said, it’s not easy to shape characters and make them realistic. But it’s possible. And the only way is to start from scratch.
To get into a character’s mind, to imagine their appearance, live in their world, I build character sheets.
I ask myself how old are they? What do I want them to look like? Their build: body shape; stocky, muscular, thin, big-boned; tall or short? Colour of hair, skin, eyes? Where do they live: city, countryside, village, seaside? What kind of home have they got? Do they live alone or with family; what is the make-up of that family? What is their work, job, career? What papers/books do they read? What hobbies do they have? (And don’t forget, even the most hated character in your book should be multi-faceted. Even George Shuttleworth in my trilogy! He keeps and breeds canaries; such tiny birds need gentle handling – ironic when his violence can cause such havoc. But isn’t such diversity true human nature?)
And then there are the clothes; clothes are a godsend to make imagery for the reader. What do the characters wear? How do they look? How do they feel? In Living in the Shadows, Victoria Howarth’s hippie clothes are the norm for the Manchester of the Sixties, a far cry from the clothes she wore back home in the sleepy village of Llamroth. But even there her twin, Richard, has progressed to dressing as a Mod – something that gets him into trouble when he comes across a gang of Rockers in the town of Ashford, Lancashire where the rest of Mary’s family live.
Clothes place characters in their setting, their era. They give a whole sense of place and time.
That’s all the simple stuff. But there are other tricks to use that draw out their personalities. Think about your characters; get into their heads. Are they dreamers or pragmatic? Are they arrogant, confident, assertive, reticent, shy, placid, fiery, quiet, loud? And any other adjective you can think of. What are their secret (or not so secret) ambitions? What would they do to achieve them; how far would they go? Do the other characters like or dislike them and why? Do they care? Do they like themselves? How are they with their family, with strangers, with children, with animals? Once you’re on a roll the list is endless.
Then there’s the dialogue. How do your characters speak? Are they well-spoken, clear and precise or do they mumble? What does that say about them?
One of my characters in the trilogy, Jean, sister in law and friend to Mary, speaks in short phrases, often repeating them – either for effect or because she doesn’t want anyone to interrupt her. In Pattern of Shadows I have a character, Tom, Mary’s brother, who has a stammer. It’s small things that will differentiate the characters so that the reader knows exactly who is speaking.
And do the any of the characters have an accent; regional or from a different country? How about dialect (be careful here – better to hint at dialect with the odd ‘tip of the hat’ towards that or your dialogue will become difficult to read and you could lose your reader). Or, always interesting, I think, have they worked to hide that dialect? As Jean does sometimes ( a bit of a snob, she tries to portray herself as beter than ‘working class’)
The question of dialect comes up twofold in Living in the Shadows and it was a fine line to tread. I needed to make sure that the characters fitted into their setting. So the characters that live in Ashford sometimes have the syntax of their conversation altered and have accents and phrases to show they are local to Lancashire.And the same goes for the characters who live in Pembrokeshire in Wales.
But when they are ‘outsiders’, as Peter Schormann, a German Pow and doctor, and later, a resident in Llamroth, is, than that needs to be seen as well.
I’ve only given a taster here of how I create my characters. But I hope it’s given food for thought. And I’m fully aware that other authors have many other ways of bringing their characters to life. These are just some of mine. I hope they help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judith Barrow has lived in Pembrokeshire for thirty years. She is the author of three novels, and has published poetry and short fiction, winning several poetry competitions, as well as writing three children's books and a play performed at the Dylan Thomas Centre. Judith grow up in the Pennines, has degrees in literature and creative writing and makes regular appearances at literary festivals.
The author and publisher are generously offering a copy of Living in the Shadows to one lucky One Book Shy reader. The copy can be either ebook format or print. The great news is that this one is open to all, including our INTERNATIONAL friends. The contest will end at midnight (PST) on Sunday, 9/28/15. The winner will be announced here as well as contacted via email. Fill out the form below to get started:
AMAZON US | AMAZON UK | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | CHAPTERS | KOBO
~~~~~ Disclaimer: All opinions expressed on this blog are 100% my own. I do not receive monetary compensation for my reviews but do utilize affiliate links. I may receive books in order to facilitate a review, but this does not guarantee a good review - only a completely honest one. Each review post denotes how I obtained the book.