Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Where do characters come from?

A few interviews I’ve done on various blogs recently have asked the question, “How do you find your characters?” or “Where do you get inspiration for your characters?” so I thought I’d write a little bit about how some of the characters in Treespeaker came to be.

Faces are what usually inspire me to create a character. Faces have always fascinated me. Some people have faces that tell stories by themselves. The truth is that if I hadn’t seen one particular actor in a children’s programme I was watching with Dynamo, Treespeaker might never have been written. He was a very dry, serious actor (at least in that programme), small, broad-shouldered, gravel-voiced and with a face full of character. I had that bearded visage floating in my head for quite a while before the other ideas came together and gave him a world to live in.

I tend to get in trouble, when people critique my work, for not giving enough description of my characters. There’s a reason for that. As a reader, I don’t like to be given much detail about characters’ looks. I much prefer to imagine them for myself. Funnily enough, after a group of people had critiqued Treespeaker from beginning to end on Critique Circle, they got together and started discussing who would play Jakan in the film version of the book. (If anyone ever wondered why I felt encouraged to e-publish this book – there’s your answer.) Despite the fact that I’d described Jakan as having gingery, curly hair and blue eyes, the consensus was that Morgan Freeman would make a great Jakan. Did that bother me? On the contrary, I have to admit that the demeanour of a younger Morgan Freeman would fit perfectly with Jakan. But I’m not going to tell who he’s really based on.

There’s a great advantage to using lesser known actors as models for characters. If you start to lose that feeling of closeness with the character, then you can watch them on a DVD for a while and they come alive again.

My other characters were less clear in my head. Kattan, the chief elder, was very loosely based on another actor. Dovan, Jalena and Grifad were purely from my head – mixtures of lots of people. Dear old Hekja took on a life of her own without any planning. She wasn’t even meant to be there for more than a page. I had plotted for her to come in, do a bit of healing and then leave again, just some little old wise woman, a bit part. But Hekja had a mind of her own. In she walked, sporting the totem tattoo of the Arrakeshi at her throat (she was supposed to be Carlikan) and then she took over the scene. It just seemed right to let it happen. She’s popped up in the sequel I’m writing, too. I found myself in a difficult spot plot-wise and in she walked. She’s ancient now, but just as strong willed as ever.

Needless to say, no matter how well I think I know what is going to happen in my stories, detailed planning is a waste of time for me. But plotting is a whole other post. Now I’m off to see what Hekja thinks she’s up to. There’s another post too – the idea of talking to characters inside your head.

1 comment:

Julia Hones said...

Very interesting. You are right. Some faces can tell us stories. I tend to write stories that are mostly character-driven, so characters and relationships are the leading theme...