Monday, 3 June 2013
Plot, Character and Icebergs
You must know your characters. Whether they are inspired by real people you know, or a figment of your imagination, you must know them: know their background, their likes and dislikes, their sense of humour, what drives them, their personality type, what they desire most and fear most. So how do you nail all this down? It's a bit like snatching cobwebs from the air and trying to write with them.
I've used character profiles sheets given to me in a workshop, but I also use visual aids. I ask myself, what does he/she look like? And then I browse images on the net to find a lookalike. In this way, I put together a group of people to exist, especially for my story. It doesn't matter if they're famous people, (particularly if it's a cute guy!) what matters is that it inspires me.I can see them moving, talking, interacting, in my head.
Next I think about their background, working on what I call 'The Iceberg Principle.' 80% of who the character is remains under the surface of the story. What I know about them shapes everything the character does and says. I know about their family background, past events, deepest desires, unresolved conflict. The reader gets to know these things, infer these things as they read, but perhaps never know all of it. It creates a sense of mystery, of sharing secrets, of getting to know someone. I want the reader to feel for my character: be exasperated when the character can't see something obvious, admire the character when they are brave, feel the character's pain.
It also helps to turn to books I love, authors I admire and see how they introduce their characters, how they let us into their world. What makes the character likeable? Or if it's an evil dude, what makes them magnetic?
Well, I'd better get back to it. One of my characters is about to make a huge decision and I don't want to miss it!