Building characters

mindmap of one of my charactersI’m trying to develop my characters at the moment. I took advice from a creative writing workbook and tried out mindmaps. Some of the stuff I already knew, but other information came out from nowhere – I knew Meryam was impulsive and excitable, but I didn’t realise how much the resentful stubborn side would show up.

I have two different characters, whose purposes are to illustrate different sides of the story, so I’m trying to ensure they’re different enough to be interesting and believable. The next stage is to start hearing their voices. Ideally the reader should be able to tell from the way the story is told which of them is telling it.

I’ve got a third character who is kind of hovering at the edge. During one swim (aka thinking session) last week she was nearly written out entirely, and part of her storyline transposed onto one of the others, but she argued her way back in, pointing out the roles she should play during the story. For now the story seems to be divided into 1/2 Layla, 1/3 Meryam and 1/6 Chantelle, but I’ll have to see how it plays out once I’ve finished planning properly.

I’ve been researching characters, and reading all about how to make them sympathetic/lovable/believable, but in the end it all comes down to: do I really know them? Have I made them realistic? do they have enough detail to be believable? Do I care about them? Do they care about their own lives?

The idea for the story is definitely exploring a world situation, but it’s important to me that it’s not just about the situation, but about how it impacts on real people, because often it’s only when you see the reactions of someone living in a situation that you really understand its implications. I also have characters who are going against the normal way of life for most people, so I have to make sure they have real reasons why they’re resisting normal societal pressures. Then these characters need others to react against, who don’t need to be as fully developed but still need to be detailed enough to work.

Like I said before, writing is not just about stringing words together.


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