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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Sunday, 30 May 2010
Pitfalls 2. Habits. Don’t worry, nothing personal, I mean your character’s habits not yours! One of the problems with characterisation is the need to make them do several things. 1. We require them to be memorable. So what do we do to make them stand out when we have a big cast of other characters? We give them foibles, characteristics. For example, a tic – say they sniff when annoyed, or have a particular laugh, or brush their hair back, or walk in a strange way or the use of language which they prefer, so we all know it’s them. So, what’s the problem? Instead of helping, used too often, it becomes an irritant. Oh, not again, the reader begins to say to themselves. 2. We need to impart as much information for the reader as possible. A. We want to know what they are thinking. B. We have to fill in the past – the famous back story. A. Internalisation. How to do it without it being too artificial? One of the most common is to have them looking in the mirror and that gets then having a burst of thinking. And there’s taking a bath – what is more natural? I bet you do it, soaking in the water you start to think. Dangers are lurking though, be warned. With the mirror if they keep looking in them then they appear vain and self-obsessed. And with the bath, some of you may remember that my editor got very worried that my character had a personal hygiene problem since she had to do a lot of thinking and so she had too many baths! Solution? Vary it. When you are having a thinking session yourself note down what you are doing. Walking into town, or washing up or simply sitting in a chair looking into space. So many different ways, and yet we work ourselves into such a state about it. We think all the time and yet, when we write it, it can appear to be so artificial, strange. B. The back story. Your characters are not just suddenly there - they were born they had a life before you put them into your story. As with us the past has moulded them. Their past might be a solution to any behaviour that they show which needs some explanation. The need to know is important, it makes for a more rounded characterisation. However, again danger can lurk - do make sure that the back story isn’t more interesting than the part of their lives which you have chosen to cover. Of course when you write a series or a trilogy the back story can be critical. Although you will be asked by your publishers to write each book as a ‘stand alone’ you will still need to put in what happened. I warn you, it’s worse than writing a synopsis. You are attempting to incorporate what has happened in a full length book to as few pages as possible. Why as few? Because you can’t put it all in or the book will be too big. And since a lot of your readers will have read the earlier books you risk boring them. The danger therefore is putting too much back-story in and swamping the book you are writing. And lastly, a plea. When writing people avoid clichés. Too often I read of red heads with emerald green eyes who are feisty. Of women who lack imperfections. Of fat jolly types, of thin mean types. Think it through, turn things on their head. Why not a thin person who is the life and soul of a party? And make the fat one a depressive. It would make for more interesting reading.

4 comments:

  1. A really interesting blog, Annie, and very timely.

    I'd just been wondering if I'd overdone the verbal mannerisms of one of the characters, and after reading your blog, I'm sure that I have. I shall now go back and address it.

    Liz X

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  2. Thanks for this. This post comes in good time for me too. I hadn't thought about the tics, my characters are too perfect!.
    And I totally agree with the back stories in sagas, if we get to the third one, we've read the two previous ones, so we don't want too many summaries of them, it gets annoying.

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  3. This was a great read. I find that my characters become too predictable at times. I don't want them to seem artificial, and yet I give them certain mannerisms that scream "I'm fake". Time to rethink! Thanks :)

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  4. Bingo - light bulb moment!

    thanks Annie

    lx

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