“Peter, are you saying I need to develop a new character?”
“No, it’s not about you, it’s about developing a character for one of my books.”
Protagonist, antagonist or minor player, the character must be clear, uncomplicated and ‘jump off the page’. Often they will be similar to someone you, the reader, knows.
In fact, it has often been said that Syd and Marge Bousen, owners of Majalin Downs in ‘THE CONDAMINE BELL’ are my wife Noela and me!
Could have been worse – they might have picked Lurch, the Drug Dealing Bikie Antagonist, and May his long suffering wife!
When developing a character, I figuratively put on the ‘hat’ I see the subject wearing and then write accordingly.
It’s how I see them in my mind.
I often concentrate on the extremes when developing a character. It makes them more volatile, more interesting and their actions easier to understand. It also makes them easier to remember. Extreme characters also help develop interesting dialogue. I cover ‘writing dialogue’ in a later Blog.
I try to disguise the motives of sinister and seedy character. Although the motive is often money, sometimes it’s not. I try to encourage the reader to exercise their own theories, make up their own sub-plots. Sometime I might allude to a certain line of reasoning then reverse it later at ‘show-time’.
Tony Brown of Hornsby Sydney who bought ‘The Condamine Bell’ off me six years ago, phoned me a week ago to ask me who killed Archie O’Hare, the long term stockman on Majalin Downs, before Adam Mann arrived. The killer is alluded to by Adam’s discoveries, but Tony had missed it – probably not concentrating – and I wouldn’t tell him! Sold him ‘Yellowbelly’, the sequel, to find out. And I’m not even sure that’ll help him!! Posted his signed copy last Monday. I’m sure Tony will ring again. That’s great – he’s a super guy.
We all live in our own minds so whatever we think becomes real to us. Describe the same thing to several different people and it will depend upon the individual’s level of concentration, understanding and experience as to what they will later recall. The simpler the explanation, generally the more accurate will be their memory. Therefore I try to make it easy for the reader to climb inside the book – assume a position of enmity with the character. Short chapters and good character development helps this process.
Whilst I will talk in later Blogs about the use of short chapters to keep the plot flowing, I mention them here because short chapters also help in developing a character. They give me the opportunity to keep the character alive, keep the reader involved. Keep the reader wondering why Mr Evil or Miss Interesting has popped up again. Wondering what is planned for the protagonist. What will the Protagonist do? It also allows me to introduce another side to the Protagonist’s character – draw-in the reader, involve them. Just as I did in ‘Yellowbelly’, when on-the-run, red-head Antsy-Pantsy-Nancy arrived unannounced on Majalin Downs, with her aboriginal baby son. Remember Adam has mixed Aboriginal heritage! Assumptions flow. It was great to listen to what the readers said to me when they got to this spot. Sheer consternation. Loved it!
When I am developing a character my prime focus is on how the character interacts with the story line, plot or sub-plot. They are usually strong-minded and imprint their positive or negative personality on the reader within one or two sentences. Indecisive characters are soon forgotten – make no impact on the reader.
When we read, we form pictures in our minds. Long detailed sentences and complex plots muddle the picture forming process. That confuses us, often breaking the thread. What do we then do? We re-read the paragraph, or go back to the start of the chapter and try again. It’s at this point that we either plug into the plot, or character, or return the book to the library.
Or they do what Tony Brown did – phone me – buy the sequel. I like that.