Friday, October 28, 2011

Short Pieces on Short Stories -- A Character

A character forms slowly.  In the beginning you may think you know all the facts about a character – height, hair colour, whether they wear glasses, even shoe size – but then they will surprise you by saying something unexpected, or doing something you’d never considered.  Eventually you realise that you know nothing about your character, and then, rather like the Cheshire Cat in reverse, they glimmer into real being.

Where does this creature come from?  Some say they are universal, ‘out there’ waiting to be written down;  others say they are emanations of our subconscious minds – whatever that means.

I know some characters that are much more real to me than you are – I can hear their thoughts, watch their nightmares and hold their hands when they are filled with regret or misery.  The facts are almost immaterial.  I never worry about shoe size, much.  The character will tell me if I need to know.



Elisabeth said...

And perhaps your characters will hold the pen or guide your fingers on the keyboard, Isabel. Oh to have such an experience. As I expect you know, my characters are much more earth bound.

Friko said...

I suppose characters 'come to life' all by themselves and when they do that, they become real.

I often have it happen that I start a story with one intention, only to find that I'm going off somewhere else entirely half-way through.

Dave King said...

I guess that's the way it should be for most.

Jim Murdoch said...

I never know any of that physical stuff up front and even what I add in later I tend to do for the benefit of readers who care about things like that. In my last book all I say about the protagonist is that she’s called Jennifer (but goes by ‘Jen’), she’s fifty, overweight and big-busted and if she didn’t have a bath in the book I probably wouldn’t have mentioned the last point as most overweight women tend to be on the top-heavy side. Unless there is a reason to mention some physical aspect I usually don’t. When I first started the book all she was to me was ‘the daughter’ – that was her role – and only as the book progressed did I start to construct her personality. In fact I was about 30,000 words into the book before I knew what it was and had to go back and ensure that everything she had done up to that point was appropriate to her character. That, of course, is a novel. It’s amazing how little you can get away with when it’s only a short story. Gender is about the only thing I stick to although I’m pretty sure I’ve written stories where I say nothing whatsoever about their sex; after that I usually feel the need to give some pointers as to the age and that can easily be done by use of language and cultural references. Names I’m happy to skip and often do.

jabblog said...

Characters take on a life of their own and it's not always a life that the author likes!