On characterization

Just think what we would have missed without the rich, apt, quirky characters of so many worthy authors. Of course, everyone has their favourites, but for me, Dickens is squarely in the spotlight for such a wealth of them. The sad but brave Tiny Tim, put-upon Oliver, the evil while wonderful, avaricious Fagin; doomed Miss Havisham and David Copperfield. Then there’s the resilient, long-suffering Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s pen, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird – who epitomized the good in man, and countless more noteworthy fictional human beings, enough to fill a large tome.

OliverOnce you have your story/plot figured out, how interesting it can be to people your work with characters. One of the many joys of writing, is the freedom it gives you to do – within reason – whatever you like. Most authors will have a pretty good idea of the genre of their book, and of the beginning, middle and end. Not all though. I’ve read of some writers who only have a rough plan and let their characters pave the path forward. You can read a plethora of ‘how to’ books, some with similar advice, some with original ideas, but, when it comes to YOU as author, the words will emerge from YOUR mind, which – remember, is totally unique.
Over the years, I’ve attended one or two writing groups where a few of the members have had only the woolliest ideas of how to write a novel, and our very intelligent, experienced teacher of one, tried guiding them in the right direction. One man was hung up on sex and paid little attention to characterization; he didn’t stay the course. Another, a sweet-natured woman, wrote a thick book wherein the sun always shone, everyone had irreproachable manners and the characters wouldn’t say boo to a goose. When gently criticized, she lost her temper and departed. Fortunately, most serious writers want to learn, and while I’m ‘rich in years,’ I know that the more I absorb, the more there is to learn….and that’s part of the joy of writing. Curiosity usually pays off, if it doesn’t polish you off….If you push yourself beyond your self-imposed limitations, you’ll doubtless improve. While, self-satisfied writers, I’m sure, are two a penny, serious writers should always strive to better themselves and give due attention to all aspects of their work, from the story-line/plot -. which is vital – to characterization, which could put YOUR book up there with the greats.

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The trials & tribulations of a writer

maltese-greenstreetAfter the unmitigated triumph of my novel STRANGLERS IN THE NIGHT some twenty plus years ago, I strode purposefully forward in my Bali Manic shoes and Chanel suit, inhaling the sweet smell (No.5) of success, sipping champagne en route to a glittering literary future. And then the cookie crumbled, as they say…
The head Judge in the competition which led to my book’s meteoric rise, was foolhardy enough to admit having bribed the other judge as he was hopelessly in love with me… Sales ceased, interest flagged, and talk of a film was out the window. I was totally flabbergasted and cast down; as was the overweight, aged Judge who managed to bankrupt himself. A deep abyss yawned before both of us. I was vaguely flattered, but how could he have done such a thing?!

If you believe that, you’ll believe anything! I don’t even know where it came from… Do us writers EVER know? There must be some mysterious conduit into our psyches. Who cares, as long as it happens and continues.

Now the semi-true bit…

I woke up at 4.30 am thinking about characterization, but obviously, lines were somehow crossed.

Having worked hard on a collection of short stories, I had five in the bag. All eclectic and a bit zany. One was titled TAKING TIME & OTHER THINGS (confessions of a kleptomaniac), another HARD FEELINGS (the intimate memoir of a concrete manufacturer). The sixth was proving a problem. I tapped my teeth with a pen, as writers do, and realised it was just limping along, (the story that is)…Why? That trusty light bulb then pinged on. Of course, it was my antagonist!. He had as much menace as a new-born baby. Totally unsuitable. There lay a teaser…What to do? I’d interviewed a few ‘baddies’ before he arrived and begged me for the role. In a weak moment, being a soft touch, I said yes. He was in my office awaiting further instructions and I felt deep dismay at what I was about to do. But it had to be done.

Morning, Kevin, I said. You okay? How’s your mother’s leg now?

Mornin;’ better. He replied, looking crestfallen as if anticipating the worst, took a pristine hanky from a pocket and blew his nose. Loudly. He then drew himself up to his full five two height, sniffed and said:

You’re gonna fire me, aren’t you?

Afraid so…

Was that a tear in the corner of his pale blue eye?

Fuck it! he said, mildly shocking me. He never swore… and continued…

I’ve played the role of Tiny Tim on the stage … been someone’s cowardly younger brother and died of tuberculosis in a film, but I’ve never been a hero or a villain. Thanks for nothing! And he marched out of the room, missing my pathetic Sorry, Kev!

willemdafoe_7_rgb-470x335There were two more hopeful candidates sitting outside my office, I invited the ugliest one in. He was chewing gum.

Morning! Please take a seat. Name?

Hank James

American?

Yeah, ma’am.

Any acting experience?

Yep, was in HOW RED WAS MY VALLEY and VAMPIRE LEADER, he told me, still chewing.

I took in his shifty, dark eyes, his tall, rangy, but wiry build, and his cauliflower ear and quickly said:

You’re hired!

 

 

Ciao for now.

Joy x