Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Martin Willoughby on The Evolution Of A Character

Some characters drop into my mind fully formed, others take their time and go through several iterations, causing me stress and hassle, while others are a downright pain the backside.
For Tempers Fugit, two of the main characters, Alan and Mae, were fully formed from the start and needed nothing more than fine tuning. The third main character, Carla Neill went through several iterations before I settled on her character and looks.

Mae, once the book turned into a comedy, was easy. A girl raised by robots with a simple outlook on life and plenty of confidence, an attribute enhanced by knowing her pet robot would always be there to help her. Alan? Shortish, chubby and balding, always feeling alone and apart from the world he lived in. Based heavily on me. (All together now...aaaaaahhhhhhhh)

Carla started out as a blue-skinned alien, morphed into the ship’s captain, then into the woman she is now. Even so, after two books, I’m still not sure what she’s really like or how she would react in certain situations. No doubt I’ll find out the hard way as she reappears in future books. The two half-formed characters left behind in her wake became people in their own right and play significant roles in the unfolding story of love, greed and stupidity.

Carla was always going to be Mae’s mother, no matter what, though how she came to have a daughter went through hoops. Originally she was a blue-skinned alien who first met Alan when he appeared on the bridge of the Atlantic. Over a convoluted storyline, they fell in love, got married, she was kidnapped by a ‘Human First’ group who tried to change her appearance and genes into a human, fell pregnant by Alan, was whisked back in time, gave birth, pulled back to her own time (Leaving her unnamed daughter in the past) and finally gets reunited with said child when she is pulled forward in time by Harold.

I had problems writing that.

Some of the secondary characters, in the original iteration as a piece of serious SF, were too comic for their own good. The evil Dagon, Furteen, and Harold Kennedy, the arrogant controller of time (Imagine Dr Who with a huge ego and no common sense), were more suited to a pantomime than SF. I was told, through aggressive character behaviour and some strange voices in my head, that they wanted to make people laugh...for the right reasons.

Throughout the entire process, the only character who didn’t change was Alan. Why? The starting point for Tempers Fugit was a question: what would it be like for an ordinary person to be dragged against his will into the future? Alan (or me) was that person. How he reacts is based on how I think I would react in those circumstances. Yes, that does mean I’d collapse into tears if I was thrown into the brig by three burly marines.

Writers are prone to say that the character tells them what should happen next, to much shaking of heads and tut-tutting from others. But, to an extent, it’s true. Where the writer doesn’t let that happen, the resulting book seems stilted, awkward and unbelievable and is the cause of much bad (and published the traditional way) writing.

I let the characters tell me I should’ve been writing a comedy and followed their advice. I hope I did them justice. (If not, blame them and the voices in my head)


About Martin Willoughby:

Martin Willoughby is an author of some repute and a legend in his own lunchtime. When not writing he fixes computers, raises teenage children and acts in an amateur theatre group where he’s always cast as the baddy. He’s won many awards in his lifetime, including an Oscar for best actor which he received from his mother as a Christmas present many years ago. Tempers Fugit is his first book, his second, Apollo The Thirteenth, will be released later this year to even more fanfare and approval. You can stalk him on twitter or via his blog, From Sand to Glass.

Twitter: @Willabywriter
From Sand To Glass (Blog)
Tempers Fugit on Amazon UK
Tempers Fugit on Amazon US

20 comments:

  1. My characters have a tendency to tell me what will happen next, too, even when it goes totally against what I had planned!

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    1. A book plan is best viewed as something to deviate from.

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  2. Sometimes those characters we have to fight to get to know are the most satisfying. They're a constant adventure.

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  3. The storyline with Carla and Mae sounded challenging indeed.

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    1. Was it ever. It worked so much better when I simplified it.

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  4. I love characters that sort of talk back to me. I like the challenge. :)

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    1. It's when I argue with them and they win that bothers me.

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  5. My secondary characters always end up being more interesting than my main ones!

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    1. Probably because you don't know them as well.

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  6. Combined with static characters, dynamic ones, especially secondary ones, add another layer of depth and interest for the reader. As the plot changes and evolves, they (the characters) can too.

    Good post.

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    1. It's the difference between character driven plots (good books) and action driven plots (bad movies).

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  7. I enjoy reading how authors develop their stories and the relationships they have with their characters. Very good post. Thanks Martin and all the best to you!

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    1. I'd love to know how other writers develop theirs.

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  8. Characters can change on you but it's your job to fit them just right.

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    1. Sometimes they're just too strong for me and I give in.

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  9. I've had some secondary characters demand much bigger roles in stories. Got to love story evolution!! Best of luck Martin!!!

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