Writing Characters…

...Let them write themselves...
…Let them write themselves…

As a début novel writer, I have found that there are some areas of writing that are more fun than others, those are often more successful. For me, writing characters is really enjoyable… I like to let them write themselves.

Making observations daily, hourly, no… All… The… Time… is a way to see how you can make your characters really shine. However, giving them only black and white squiggles on a page as the only way to express themselves and separate themselves from each other can be limiting when, in life, we can see startlingly different characters standing in front of us.

Let’s imagine the rowdy old lady who always catches the bus outside your house at 8.45am and, sometimes, no, often, you wonder if she’s already drunk because she’s just that damn rowdy. Well, this is a great character to imagine, but how can you, as writer, capture her with only words, when you saw her so vividly that morning or completely in your imagination. You need to implant it into your reader’s mind. It’s challenging, but I have found that there are a few different ways that we can tap into characters and make their, well, character, leap out of the page.

– Firstly, don’t be tempted to describe everything about this strange woman. Instead, let her do the talking… for one, we know she likes to talk because she’s rowdy and wakes you up at 8.45am when you have a hangover as she waits for her bus. Somehow, she always has something to rant about, even in the absence of someone to rant to. So, don’t describe her as rude, rowdy and sharp, let her tell the reader herself before you jump in there. Sure, you can expand on it afterwards, but it’s always more interesting for the reader to discover for themselves, let them have an active role. This is called mimesis, you are mimicking/ giving an indication towards real life, rather than diegesis, which is all narrative. It’s ‘showing’ versus ‘telling.’ If she’s short tempered, give her quick, short sentences. Maybe her brain is a bit frazzled from a lifetime of smoking and drinking, so let her speech trail off, let it not make sense and let her try and get back on track. Speech doesn’t have to perfectly written and grammatically correct, it isn’t in real life, let it be expressive. Describe her physically, yes, but let her speak for herself, it could be funny to listen to her, right?

– Secondly, if you listen to your friends talk, you may notice that they have words or phrases that they will use maybe once or twice in each meeting, maybe once or twice in each sentence. This could be swearing with every third word, or it could be saying phrases like ‘I shit you not…’ or agreeing by saying ‘a hundred percent…’ Maybe when they get nervous they say ‘awww…’ to fill the gaps. Perhaps they always say ‘perfect’ or always describe nasty things as ‘rancid.’ Each of those words holds its own connotations, so if you use them cleverly, they can say something about your character. Maybe your character always refers to their friends with telling nicknames like ‘bunny’ or ‘love.’ This last note can handily give, not only an impression of that character, but also of the person they’re talking to and the relationship they have to them.

– Thirdly, try out the odd italicise to help you. As the writer, you know exactly how a sentence should sound or just how angrily she shouted ouch when our old lady stubbed her toe on the protruding pavement slab, which she does every bleedin’ morning, and always follows it with a rant about the f**king council who never do a f**king thing in her community. By italicising, you are giving your reader an extra hint as to how it should be read, and therefore, getting the full effect.

These three tips are just some writing ideas that I have found particularly useful. It has made the writing of my characters far more enjoyable and, because I now know how my characters talk, the way they explain things, how they sound under pressure, even how they talk to different characters in different ways, it makes the dialogue part of writing really, really interesting.

So, happy writing, and I hope you find this useful or, at least, a little entertaining… we all love a rowdy old lady after all.

Image courtesy of – theoccasionalsaler.com/?p=933

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Michelle Mueller says:

    There’s a lot of great advice here. I recently was having this same sort of problem: figuring out how to write that complex, vivid character (who was quite vibrant in my head) down into words.

    One of the biggest things that has helped me to find her voice is to, as you said, write–to let her write herself. With each scene I’ve written, I learn more and more about her and the other characters — things I hadn’t known, but she had. And this has been crucial.

    Hard to tell who is in control sometimes!

    1. fayelucinda8 says:

      Absolutely agree. Glad you found it interesting. Yes, sometimes, to get stuck into an interesting character, I free-write, so I don’t think about what I’m doing but just let their character spew onto the page. It doesn’t have to be used in the final text, but it can help with finding those traits which make a character really interesting and individual. You’re right, finding their voice is always a great achievement, then it’s a lot of fun!

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