When creating characters for a novel, a writer has a great responsibility to them; they can be almost as real to a writer as the actual living and breathing human beings in the writer’s life. They ghost through rooms and scenery constructed in the imagination, and demand to be heard at the most inopportune moments.
I have said before—when I am working on a novel, and have to stop to run an errand, or keep an appointment, I feel anxious to get back and help my characters out whom I have left hanging. I feel peace and contentment when I extricate them from an awkward situation and vindication when I help them find justice. I sometimes believe that if I don’t hurry and finish a chapter, the characters will get tired of hanging around and get on with it; and once I get back to writing, I find the heroine ran off with the antagonist (whom I despise!) and the butler killed off the rest of them through sheer boredom. Novel writing is a precarious balance between creative exploration and insanity.
I find myself laughing at something a character said while I am picking out a melon at the local grocery store; and I cry while driving home, running through the dialogue between my characters in the next emotional scene. How can you explain these emotional outbursts without seeming like a complete knob?
I sculpt each character bit by bit. I dig into their past to find out where they went to school, and what type of child they were. What is their favourite colour? Which flavour ice cream do they hate. I wonder what they would think of me if I invited them to dinner. I imagine what they are dreaming about, and what they find sad or funny.
I recently completed my first novel and I’m working on sequels and other stories too. I was excited to finally finish a book, but find I miss the characters (the ones who survived that is) and wonder what they are up to now I am not writing their scenes for them. I want to pick up the phone and ask them if I could pop over for a cup of tea—unless the butler skewered them with the pruning shears.
I would love to hear from other writers about their process and any tips they have about character development.