26 April 2012

On character

Christopher WaklingChristopher Wakling
by Christopher Wakling Opinion, Writing Tips

Without compelling characters, stories are stillborn.

Heap in all the pyrotechnical jeopardy you like, and readers still won’t give a toss, not unless they also care about the characters, be they soldiers, lovers or goblins in play.

The writer can’t know these people too well. It’s a given that you have to know more about your characters than you tell the reader. The old image of the iceberg, the submerged mass of information beneath the surface of the story, which gives weight to the characters visible on the page, holds true.

You need to know where the characters were before the story began and where they’re heading after it ends. Their fears, regrets, hopes, loves and hates. Their taste in music, their thoughts on religion. The kind of underwear they favour. Whether they have ever been ill. The balance in their current account.

Sit down and write yourself a list of a hundred or so things you think you should know about your protagonists, then answer them, and you’ll be part way there.

Which characters from novels have lingered on in your memory long after you finished reading the book, and why?

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