Characters are the most important things in a novel. Readers follow characters, live their lives, cry with them, laugh with them, scream at them and feel for them. Characters are a small piece of the author but they also take on their own personality. The key thing is not to force it, to let the characters take their own direction, even if it doesn’t fit with what you were aiming for. You might learn something about yourself through them.
I probably sound crazy when I say my characters do what they like, sometimes even I don’t know how they’ll react to something and will completely surprise me. Sometimes they will totally rebel or refuse to do something. Ray is the only one I know exactly what she’ll do. Idris is the most unpredictable but I always forgive him for anything he does.
Hiro turned around to me one day, pouting, “You only love me because I’m Japanese.”
“Say what….” I had to console him for hours and bribe him before he would come out.
So if you’re starting out in writing, or you have these amazing, mind-blowing ideas but don’t know where to start, characters are key. Begin by building a solid character you care about, because if you care, the readers will care. Solid characters don’t mean perfect, it means relatable.
Characters need flaws and development; they can do something stupid, they can do something that you’ll hate them for and that makes them more real.
If you have many main characters, side characters, or characters that come and go then a great way of keeping track of them is to create character profiles for each that you can keep adding to the more they develop. You’ll find after a while you could fill a whole notebook just on your characters; write anything from likes, dislikes, traits and subtle behaviour habits. You might not need to use it all but you might find a small quirk that makes your character more endearing.
I think characters are more important than settings. With a brilliant character you can have them in one room the entire time but still be gripped; still want to know what they’re going to do, what they’re thinking and care about where they’ll end up. A good activity to start with to build your characters and get to know their strengths and weaknesses is to drop them into various settings, like some woods in the middle of nowhere, a fun-fair, a festival, their own bedroom, a basement, a locked room, and see what they do, how they feel and think. Once you experience what the characters are comfortable with, what irritates them and what drives them crazy. You may even discover some habits that they’ll keep no matter where they’re thrown. This could then also inspire a setting for your novel.
Now comes the moment, the ultimate no-going-back decision. Killing off a character.
Some take pleasure in letting the readers grow close to a character, watch them grow and defy all the odds, support them in their goals only to watch their tragic demise. Others balk from the inevitable. Most can get away with keeping all their characters, depending on the genre. I personally kill off a character in every book. Sometimes I know beforehand who’s going and how, occasionally that character is so determined to live, they endure but most of the time it just happens and I’m left staring at the paper in slight shock. But heir death has to be just as meaningful as their life as that often stays with the readers longer than anything else they did.
You know when you’ve got a character that you’re close to when you can’t ignore them. On my busiest days when I can’t write they would run a riot in my head to get my attention. Idris will be setting things on fire, including himself. Ray will stab me with her power, or throw mental blocks at me. And Hiro will threaten to let the vampire roam free.
“What you doing?” Hiro asks, leaning forward, jet-black hair falling into his eyes.
I cover my notebook quickly, “Nothing.”
Hiro just nods but doesn’t look convinced. The next thing I know he’s calling for Ray. Ray pops up in front of me, glittering darkness clinging to her lithe form. I startle, falling out my chair.
Hiro folds his arms over his chest, raising his eyebrows at me.
“She’s up to something,” He snitches on me.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I get up and dust myself off. “Don’t you have bunny rabbits to chase or something?” I wave him away.
Ray’s intelligent eyes watch me like a hawk, then scans over my notebook. “You’re writing,” She states coldly, the accusation spearing my heart.
“No, of course not!” I crumble under the weight of her intense eyes.
Just then Idris swoops down and lands beside me, he folds all eight feet of those iridescent wings behind him. I sigh, hoping I’ll be saved.
He peers over my shoulder. “What are you hiding?”
“Nothing interesting,” I reply casually.
“She’s writing,” Hiro says suspiciously.
“Ah, is it about us?” Idris asks excitedly.
“No, the world doesn’t revolve around you.” I push his wings aside to get past.
“What?” He growls low, red eyes aflame. “What else would you want to write about?” A stack of papers beside me goes up in flames. He holds his hands up, eyes widening innocently. “I didn’t mean to do that!”
Hiro rolls his eyes. Ray is unimpressed and suffocates the small fire with a mere flick of her wrist.
Hiro gives me his most charming smile but it doesn’t work on me. “So what are you writing about me? DO I get clothes? I want to change my hair, I’m bored of it.”
“Go play with traffic!”
Hiro stomps away in a huff and I distantly hear a motorbike engine revving.
Idris is already distracted by his own thoughts and has lost interest in what I’m doing. That leaves Ray, who’s barely blinked throughout this scene. We stare at each other and I shift uncomfortably.
Finally, she stops torturing me and speaks. “You weren’t writing about us before. But you will now.” Her voice floats through the darkness as she melts into the shadows.
Guest post by Yazarah
Yazarah was born in the West Midlands but has moved so many times she still gets lost in her own house. Her love for animals is turning her house into a petting zoo and a hotel for stray cats and foxes. Being raised in a ‘broken home’, she is proud of her single mother and wouldn’t have it any other way. Yazarah is a Psychology graduate and trainee counsellor. She loves delving into the dark places of the mind and her book is as much psychological as it is supernatural and pushes the meaning of humanity to its limits. Her fascination with the supernatural started young: wandering through woods, watching horror films and drawing witches (instead of princesses!). Inspired by her life, religion and fighting for an identity as a British Asian, she is breaking stereotypes through her writing. Her interest in other cultures, features in her writing.