A good plot is crucial. But having decent characters to populate your story is, in my opinion, equally crucial. Of course, I’m not published yet and who knows if my own novel or characters are any good? I speak from the point of view of a reader, and I am taking those opinions and applying them to my own work. In my experience a good character can be what draws you into a novel and a bad character can be what turns you away from the story.
So, what inspires me when it comes to character creation? Oh, a number of things really. It’s best to draw on people you know and have actually met because I find that you can serve more realistic responses and dialogue with characters like that. Besides, there are plenty of people in the world with varying personalities and quirks, why should your characters be any different?
The main character of Haunt is based, in some ways, on myself – or rather, the person I wish I was. I’ve taken much of the things I dislike about myself and replaced them with different flaws and insecurities that I want the character, Josh, to explore on his own as the story progresses. A major aspect of Josh that is inspired by myself is that he is a gay man. I’m trying to use this novel as something of a platform to highlight that a character (and, by extension, a person) does not have to be defined by something as unimportant as their sexuality. Josh is a shy, introverted, intelligent young man with the gift of mediumship… who just so happens to also be gay. It’s mentioned in the novel, of course, but never makes its way into the story as a plot point, just as I believe it shouldn’t affect how a person is seen.
Another thing I like to do when I’m writing a character is to picture and actor or actress in their place, especially an actor I have seen in a variety of roles and a lot of different films. This creates a visual aid for me when I’m writing, like a landmark I can return to if I ever feel I’m wandering off of the beaten path. Being able to visualise a person makes it easier for me to map out dialogue and actions. For my protagonist, Josh, my visual reference is the actor Logan Lerman, who I felt came close to how I imagine Josh in his portrayal of Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Logan Lerman serves as a visual reference for my main character, Josh.
When it comes to female characters in my stories – either as the protagonist or the support to the lead character – I always reference very strong female presences in my life. From my Mum, for her nurturing gentility and strength of character, to my female friends, all of whom I admire greatly in their own ways. When I say “strong female presences” though, I also refer to characters that I grew up with. The most influential (and possibly the reason I expect women to be spunky and no-nonsense and always speak their minds) is Ellen Ripley from Alien and Aliens. I know there was a third and fourth film starring the character, but I like to pretend they don’t exist because the character lost a lot of her essence after the second installment in the franchise.
Ellen Ripley from Aliens is always an important character reference to me.
I’ve tried to populate the fictional town of Hatherleigh (the setting of my novel) with a variety of characters that will sometimes appear a little familiar, but will (hopefully) end up not being what you expected. Above all, I want the characters to be likeable (except, of course, for the ones that aren’t meant to be liked). I find that issues I have with books, films and video games, will quite often stem from whether I find the main character likeable or not – I feel like the main character should always be likeable, but that’s not always the case. I have read before that characters must be relatable, and I do agree with this, but I personally believe that likeability should come before being relatable every time. A character with unlikable flaws and undesirable attributes might end up reflecting something in you that you can relate to, but is that what you want when you’re trying to escape the real world with a good piece of fiction? I know what my answer is.
Then again, a good story must have a good villain. I personally find that the ultimate achievement in creating a villain or, less theatrically, a character you’re supposed to hate, is having someone that causes you to feel real emotions of anger and disgust, but that the story would also feel incomplete without. There are three characters that instantly come to mind when I lay out this criteria. The first is Cersei Lannister from HBO’s Game of Thrones (I haven’t read the books), who makes my blood boil every time she appears on the screen, yet I know if she were to die in any of the upcoming seasons of the show I would feel like something crucial would be missing. I also reference Sherry Palmer of TV show 24, who at times made me shout at my TV in frustration, but still broke my heart a little bit when she was no longer in the show. As a person who dislikes and doesn’t believe in or support religion I also find the character of Mrs. Carmody in Frank Darabont’s The Mist a hateable and abhorrent woman. In fact, Mrs. Carmody brings a whole new level of villain to the table because she somehow managed to terrify me. I suppose it was the realism behind her, the fact that she uses religion as a weapon to rally the masses behind her. I can only hope I create a villain who is even partially as compelling as these.
Mrs. Carmody – a truly terrifying creation.
I’ll leave it there for today. Needless to say I have a lot of food for thought now as I dive back into the world of Haunt and try to continue my novel. This blog serves as a good way to open up the writing part of my brain and get me functioning on the right level to try and craft something that passes as readable. I’ll leave you with a quote by Booker T. Washington that was intended to describe the importance of mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual, but can also be applied to the importance of a good set of characters in a well written novel. “Character is power.”