Character or Plot?

J. L. Harland   •   April 12th, 2018

Observation and challenge. How do you make characters real?

So, let’s think about the importance of character and plot. Like in the old song with the horse and carriage you can’t have one without the other.
We both find that our characters sometimes hijack the plot so we tend to have an overview of the story arc before starting and then plot a bit at a time. We know where the story starts and ends and some of the main events, but sometimes our characters don’t always do as we expect them to.
We thought this week we’d have a look at character and then, next time we’ll have a think about plot.

Where do characters come from?

What does your character look like? Avoid too detailed a description. The reader likes to be able to use his or her imagination. Give some pointers such as the way they walk or some characteristic that can be seen from a distance and something more intimate. Maybe a scar or a hairstyle.
Most characters, if you want them to be real, are based on people you know, or have met. Sometimes a character is based closely on someone you know. This can be tricky and potentially embarrassing. If you base one of your main characters on a relative, friend or neighbour and they recognise themselves, depending on the nature of that character, you could find yourself in trouble. It’s always best to make characters composite. A bit of Aunty Jean, touch of nosey neighbour Sal, looks like the woman in the shop, speaks like the hairdresser. You get the drift?
It can be easy to fall into the trap of making your characters into stereotypes. Avoid that at all costs. It is alright to have a minor character as a stereotype but your main character needs depth. Try some of the following:

A hairdresser who is also a conservationist
A shopkeeper who is a writer
A secretary whose hobby is belly dancing
A farmer who does embroidery
A solicitor who breeds pigs

Have fun creating your own composite characters.