Saturday, 16 February 2013

Bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers

Characters are my favourite part of being a writer.

I suppose that isn't suprising. As a reader, I think characters are my favourite aspect of a story as well. Sure, I might initially get sucked in by an interesting premise, or the promise of some sort of exciting revelation, but ultimately it's the characters that keep me hooked.

That applies just as much for writing. The aspect of writing I get the most joy out of is writing characters. I love putting them into situations and seeing how they respond. I love sticking them into a scene together and observing how they react to each other. No matter how good (in my opinion) my story ideas are, it's the characters that keep me interested in the writing.

To me, the aspect of character is so important that when I'm planning a story, once I have the basic idea, most of my time is working out who the characters are. I figure that once I have that sorted, the outline of the plot will come naturally.

People often ask me where I get my character ideas from. After all, I suppose I have some pretty strange ones. I guess some of them are obvious. I'm not going to deny that character types in Magnus Opum, such as the Kertoobis, Cherines and Glurgs are totally derived from Tolkien's Hobbits, Elves and Orcs. 

But what about some of the others? What about the Doosies, the incorrigible gossips with ears on the back of their heads but only one eye. What about the permanently energised Pharsheeth, or the Great Oponium? These characters are much less Tolkien and much more me.

And what about some of my other stories? What about the constantly bickering Flidderbug tribes, or the assortment of strange people Neville Lansdowne meets in his adventures, like the Toaster People or the Aimless  Girl or the Shouting Man? Where do they come from?

People seem to assume I have a very strong imagination. Perhaps they're right - I'm not sure if I'm the one to judge. I know that often the inspiration doesn't come from so far away.

It's mostly just from viewing people. Being with them. Listening to what they say. Seeing them on TV or reading about them in the news. There's one basic thing I take away from it all.

People are bonkers.

And once you've figured that out, coming up with strange and unexpected characters is not that difficult. To be honest, I don't think my characters are anywhere near as odd as a good proportion of the people I encounter. The sheer bonkersness of most people is beyond what I could ever capture as a writer.

Of course, that doesn't apply to me. And I'm sure it doesn't apply to you either. Have a great (and not too bonkers) week. 


  1. I have mixed feelings here. I tell myself I’m not especially interested in characters and yet I find I’ve written quite a few that jump off the page but not all. In some of my short stories all you have is a talking head and you might not even know the gender under well into the piece. I like writing these little monologues—they’re invariably in the first person—but I’m not so sure how they’ll grab an audience. There’re a couple in my new collection so we’ll have to see. I often find—and you’ll see this time and time again in American sitcoms (but also in Dickens so it’s nothing new)—that it’s the supporting cast who’re often the more interesting and the lead can often be quite dull. It’s certainly the case with my first novel. I didn’t set out to make Jonathan the most boring man on the planet but the show belongs entirely to the weird an wonderful characters he encounters especially Truth who Ken Armstrong described as “an 'Enfant Terrible' of quips, verbal side-swipes and non-sequiturs,” and I couldn’t’ve put it better myself.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I agree with you re the main characters - I think it works well as it makes them a kind of blank canvas that we can project ourselves into and then relate better to them - I call them "blank heroes" (and I've been meaning to do a post about them - maybe next week).

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