Character development

Posted on September 19, 2011

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At workshop with Fiona McIntosh a few weekends ago, Fiona stressed the importance of having a strong female character in the story somewhere, at least if you want something with commercial potential.

As I continue to steadily plod along with Blood Redemption, my urban fantasy, I realised that the female character with the strongest character potential was not nearly well enough developed.

When I am thinking about characters, I need to be able to clearly picture them in my mind. Once I have an idea of them in mind, I usually go looking for a physical model to help further build them on. With female characters in particular, flipping through celebrity picture sites can be very helpful. With the proliferation of paparazzi etc, we can see people pictured in formal poses, movement, even in positions they may well rather not have been captured in. It is a little more subtle than my other approach of sitting in a public place like a coffee bar and watching people.

I had reached a point in my story where I needed this particular female character to come more to the fore. That was when I realised that I was a long way short of having developed her in my mind. The name I had was bland. I had mislaid previous notes about her and could remember virtually nothing of them. Most importantly to me, I could not picture her in mind. Being quite visually orientated, I need that image to be able to start hearing them, understanding them.

So I shoved the work aside and started trying to have a mental conversation with this person who was pretty much a complete, hidden stranger. I thought about how I was using the character in the story, what role they were to play. It started coming together a little but still pretty much a fuzzy, indistinct person.

Sometimes I find just walking away from things and forgetting about it for a bit, can be a good way to allow the right thought to weasel its way into the frontal lobes. There was a pile of DVDs in a pile so I began sorting through them, making sure discs were all supposed to be where they should be. The cover of one caught my attention. I studied it. This seemed promising. I grabbed a disc and slipped it into the player. I skipped through portions of some episodes, looking at the actor in question. That was the one, the look that worked to give me a visual to keep working on.

Refill the fountain pen, grab a notebook and start scribbling. The character now swiftly began taking shape. Not quite the same as the character played by the actor in that particular series, but it wasn’t my intention to just simply copy.

Having discovered my character and had her story, I felt a sense of excitement, wanting to write about her.

Oh, and the actor and series that gave me the needed nudge? Anna Torv in Fringe.

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