Five Things about the Characters in What Lies Between Them

J. L. Harland • January 6th, 2022

A woman looking through a magnifying glass. Thanks to Marten Newhall on Unsplash.

We believe that character is the basis on which to start planning a story. If the reader cannot relate to a character and empathise with them, why would they bother caring about what happens? As we are two authors writing about the same character and trying to imagine the thoughts and actions of that character, it is more complex than with a single author and it takes a bit of preparation. These are some of the things we discussed.

  1. A name.

Even something as simple as a name can give a clue to the personality and background of the character. With our protagonist, Elin Fiorelli, there was an immediate hint in her name of her Welsh and Italian heritage, an aspect we wanted to introduce.

The name of the fictional university, Brynderwen, means hill of the oak, a strong name suggesting growth and longevity, suitable for a university. It took a while to decide on some of the names and Catherine, Elin’s mother was originally Elizabeth. We used Google to help us choose names appropriate for the era in which they were born, and we varied characters’ initial letter to avoid confusion.

  1. The physical description.

Sometimes a photograph helps, and we have used them for some of our work to enable us to have a common reference point. With Elin Fiorelli we didn’t have a photograph, but we started with a physical description and made notes using a spider’s web to help us to decide and to keep track of the ideas. Eye and hair colour, skin tone, height, weight, mannerisms all help to build a picture. Although we knew these details, we deliberately avoided giving too much description in order to enable the reader to form their own visualisations. The ‘readerly gap’.

  1. Dress code.

Clothing can help to illustrate how characters see themselves and the persona they project to the world. Elin regards her clothing as her armour, something she shared with her mother. Michael’s status is reflected in the crispness of his shirts and his expensive cufflinks. We discussed colours as well. Sue’s scarlet blouse, Michael’s white shirt, the men in grey suits all helped to add to the characterisation.

  1. How the character speaks.

Elin is measured in her way of speaking; clear and forthright. She says what she thinks. Some of the other characters, such as Sue Deacon, have speech tics or accents. We had to think about this. Nick presented a challenge for us in deciding how to show his use of swear words, accent and slang. Characters also change their registers depending on who they are speaking to. So, Elin’s conversations with her mother are more subdued, softer, than the ways in which she addresses Sue, her students or Michael.

  1. Locations

Where someone lives is also important as their surroundings give a flavour of their character. Although in the beginning we had a vague idea of locations and, as we both live in Cardiff the area is familiar, we needed to figure out where Elin, Sue and Catherine Fiorelli lived so we had a unified description of the actual places. Thanks to Rightmove and various other property websites, we made a shortlist and decided which ones to use as our base. It was a bit like house hunting without the stress. Having real houses and apartments was a tremendous help, to ensuring continuity and harmonise our writing together.

How do you research and create your characters? Drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

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