I often say this when I meet someone for the first time but what about characters in stories? This week, I have been thinking about how well I know my characters. I often write in the first person so I have been a female hoarder in her early thirties, a high flying executive who stops to give a lift to a teenage girl who died thirty years before, a twenty-something male stalker for whom 'killing her was not part of the plan', a mum-to-be living in a haunted cottage, a father meeting the son he didn't know existed for the first time and a baby girl taking her first unaided steps! I am none of these people so 'writing what you know' has not been the case. When I met them for the first time, I had to find out more about them to hopefully make them credible.
In short stories, we don't have time to explore our characters in the same detail that we can in a novel but the characters still need to read as real people, with real emotions and feelings. When I'm reading a short story I need to be able to relate to that person, to like or dislike him or her, to understand the conflict or dilemma that presents itself. When writing from a character's point of view, I like to get inside the character's head and tap into the thought processes. Sometimes, as with the hoarder and the stalker, I have had to research some real life stories in order to do that. Very often, I've found that the most credible characters have an inner contradiction that doesn't reveal itself until the story unfolds and then I really get to know them.
Teagan Kearney has written an excellent blog post this week on constructing character in WRITING MY NOVEL NO WORKING TITLE YET . She makes the point that her characters are often incomplete when she begins to write and they develop as the novel progresses. She talks about the inner conflict a protagonist has to battle with and how this emerges as she gets to know the character better, thereby creating tension. Here is a direct quote from Teagan:
Having both internal and external conflicts are crucial. Readers become emotionally involved with characters, and how your character perceives the threat is what draws readers in - and keeps them captivated.
In my own novel, Jack is a very fiery, volatile character on the surface and everyone has to walk on eggshells around him but deep inside he is a very vulnerable, insecure person. I'm hoping that this will reveal itself to the reader as the story progresses.
I have just read 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn. The complexity of the two main characters and the way I reacted to them at different stages of the story certainly drew me in and kept me turning the pages. What book has had the same effect on you recently?
Thank you for reading and please comment on how you construct your characters.
**One of my short stories, 'Unfinished Business' was published yesterday on Alfie Dog Fiction If you'd like to download it, please click on the link.**
You'll find my Tweets on @JanBayLit too.