Don’t Rush the Friendship
So here’s a question: Do you ‘profile’ your characters? And it’s a question that can be asked of both authors and readers. I’ve done a couple of ‘character interviews’ recently and I’ve also encountered those who struggle with creating characters, Personally, I don’t have a problem with things like names and general characteristics, but getting deeper into characters is another matter. Apart from anything else, most of my characters are new to me. It’s like when you meet anybody for the first time. You can’t know much about them. As time goes on, however, you learn and some of the blanks are filled in – though not all.
The Past Is Important
Recently, I’ve begun writing something of the life histories of some of the characters featured in the G1: The Guardians series. This has been necessitated by the complexity many of them feature. Extreme longevity may sound wonderful, but it creates some major headaches for the author! Having even a rough idea of significant dates in the lives of major characters is essential, to avoid inconsistencies. I also have to have some idea of the events they’ve lived through. If a character’s personality is largely the result of their experiences, then it would be rather foolish not to know the most important ones. Then, too, snippets of the histories can be fed into stories over time. These things help a character to grow. Equally, some traits remain unknown, until circumstances bring them to light, when new experiences trigger them. I firmly believe it’s better like that, rather than being like some Athena – springing full grown from the head of Zeus! I’m not a fan of Harry Potter but I’m fairly sure that part of the attraction of the books, and how they were carefully timed and released, was so that readers could witness, and share in, the growth of the three primary characters. It was the same, to some extent, with The Chronicles of Narnia. Similarly, you discover facets of character unsuspected in the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, as the story unfolds and they discover the hidden traits in themselves. It would have been far less satisfactory to know everything about them before they even set foot on their epic journeys!
A Portrait of the Character…
One issue that is, in my mind at least, associated with a character’s profile is their physical description. In my own tales, I tend not to be too specific about them – deliberately. I prefer to allow the reader their right to imagine characters however they wish, within the broadest framework I feel I can get away with. This is not laziness. That leads me to something that I find surprising: the number of books (of all sorts) that are portraying photographic or near-photographic images of the characters within! This seems, to me, a rather problematic affair. I know that many people enjoy thinking up ‘cast lists’ of actors to play the characters involved in favourite books. Surely this is hampered by being so explicit on the cover, with a face that will become fixed in the mind of every reader? I have no problem with hazy, shadowy images, which don’t really show anything recognisable, or back views. I know that the use of clear photos or artwork is, in all likelihood, driven by the common cover changes of books that have been made into movies, where actual stills or clever ‘not quite exact’ portraits of the actors are used. I’m not entirely happy when that’s done, either. I understand that it’s a scheme to grab the attention of those who have seen the movie, to get them to buy the book, while making sure that they know what studio they owe for bringing the book to their notice (even if that’s not true!). It will never happen, but if one of my books was picked up to become a movie, I suspect the deal would fall through very quickly! My demands, as the author, would be far too great, and I certainly wouldn’t relinquish one single, tiny right! Whatever the cause of the trend, I honestly think that authors using photos of real people or very clear artwork portraits should reconsider!