This week I’ve been trying to sweet-talk my main character (S) out of her hide. She has been frustratingly coy since the conception of the book, but I’ve persisted with her because evasiveness is exactly what is required for this role. Her supporting characters have been far more chatty – one in particular, an old man (B), is particularly vivacious and needed no encouragement to introduce himself. So equipped was he that I even considered making him the main character instead of a supporting character, but S is the one who has the most to learn and B is the one who has the most to teach. All this thinking has left me with more questions than answers like: Do you have to like your main character?
You don’t need to adore your main character, but at the very least you need to have confidence in her/him and you must be dedicated to her/his cause. If you’re not your ambivalence will manifest in your writing, making it difficult for the reader to identify with or care about her/him. For me the main character determines the narrative mode – that is, whether the story is told in first or third person, and if third is the voice subjective, objective, omniscient etc? If you can’t identify with your main character your voice will be contrived and the character will not be credible. So, whether your character is a great guy, an egomaniac or a middling, s/he needs to be well-crafted and appropriate for the role. There are a unmber of methods to help us achieve that:
- Bio sheets – bio sheets can be found across the Internet, or you could make your own. Use as much detail as you think necessary. Bio sheets are a good way to get you thinking about the character’s attributes
- Character interviews – interview each character about her/himself as well as other characters. Free-write the answers to see what comes out.
- Mind-mapping – or clustering, is my favourite method for getting to know a character. You could use a general mind-map or mind-map specific attributes.
- Stalk your character – as you go about your day, consider how your character would carry out the same task. What does a typical day look like for your character?
- Go through her/his things – imagine you are in your character’s home. Open drawers, the pantry, check the laundry hamper, do they have an office, or library? Visualising your character’s private world is a great way to get insight into who they are.
- Use techniques employed by actors to “get into character”. There is a great book on this very thing: Getting into character: seven secrets a novelist can learn from actors, by Brandilyn Collins