Having an affair… with my characters

June 16, 2022

‘Are you listening to me or thinking about them?’ is an accusation my children regularly lob my way when I think I have my listening face on, but actually I’m wondering how to unpick a particularly thorny plotline. It’s really tricky, having a whole other family and set of friends over in imaginary world that only you can see (at least until the book’s published, and then if you’ve done your job right, they’re there in glorious technicolour for everyone to love as much you do). I try to leave them behind on the laptop as I close it for the day, but they’re persistent little things, and pop up in my thoughts when I’m with my other family, the real one.

‘I’m not a character in one of your books you know!’ is another familiar accusation when someone I love doesn’t act in a way I’d like them to. And that’s the nub right there. My characters are my creation, they get my humour, they respond to me in exactly the way that I want them to. They sometimes do unexpected things, but then they are really good at making me understand why they’ve behaved like that. It’s one of my favourite games actually, thinking how my characters would behave in real-life situations: someone jumps the queue in a shop, how would Jess react? Someone’s got spinach in their teeth, would Leila tell them? Surely Eve wouldn’t stand for someone parking in a disabled space with no blue sticker…

In order to make our characters believable, writers need to believe in them, and for that to happen, they need to stay sat on our shoulders for the duration of writing the book. Often the saddest part of finishing writing a book is saying goodbye to these reliable friends as they reluctantly climb off you and slink back into your laptop, until a new best friend magically appears a few weeks later and the affair begins again…

 

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