Fiction,  The Writing Life,  Writing,  writing tips

Those Elusive Characters


“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

Ernest Hemmingway

If I had known how much fun it was going to be to write a rom-com with teens travelling across the country by train, I would have done this years ago. What a blast!

But… as I was writing merrily along, I found I was running into more questions than I had answers. They were planning to stay in Quebec City overnight, which, the more I delved into the “situation” the more unrealistic the whole thing seemed, at least for a teen novel. It felt too “adult.” And, was the time in Quebec City really going to be worthwhile? It felt contrived. I also discovered something else. I did not know the characters well enough. Their backgrounds were thin at best, which resulted in vague personalities. It is impossible to create compelling, consistent characters if, as Hemmingway says, they are just some superficial caricature of a person – a suggestion of a person, rather than a living, breathing soul.

One of the things I did was to go on Pexels and find a photo of my protagonist. That was fun and I found the perfect redhead! I have to admit I chose her because of her incredible hair.

Islay – Protagonist

The key to having the character feel like a real person is her back story. You have to know a lot about your character. Much of this information may not find its way directly into the manuscript, but without it, your character will be lacking motivation and personality. How your protagonist was raised, what her parents are like, who she hangs out with, her favourite activities and so on, inform how she will act and react in a given situation. What are her fears? Where and when were those fears formed? Do you see what I mean? There’s a lot more to consider than simply, physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, hobbies and talents, although those will also be part of the profile. For example, your character’s wound, is going to influence her personality, her motivation and will be the driving force behind what your character wants as the plot unfolds.

My favourite website for working through characters in an interactive way is One Stop For Writers. Click on the link and head on over to where Angela and Becca, the authors and librarians, will show you around. This is not an affiliate site for me. If you decide to subscribe, I will not receive any payment of any kind. It is, however, very helpful, and very thorough, if you want a boost as you create your main characters.

Islay’s wound, which was inflicted prior to the story’s openinng, began when her parents got divorced and her mother moved her to the other side of the country. The wound continued to fester over the years as promises are broken and her father never does manage to make that trip to come and see her. Never does arrive for a birthday party, or a dance performance. Fast forward ten years, to a birthday card from her father containing two tickets for a train trip from Halifax to Edmonton, and seventeen-year-old Islay isn’t sure she wants anything to do with this person who has never been a father to her. What she does know is that he isn’t worth sitting on a train for six days. And anyway, why now?

The story begins when Islay gets the tickets for her birthday.

Feel free to leave comments about your characters, or your work-in-progress. To help me stay on track (bad, I know,) I have decided to post my progress right here, on my blog. If you’re interested in learning more about my writing process or Islay’s adventure – stay tuned!

Happy Writing!

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