1. Creating Characters
(vi) CREATING CHARACTERS IN GROUPS
I used to work on creating characters as individuals. My first published novel, The Vicar of Morbing Vyle, is full of extreme grotesques, fabulous eccentrics. But I had huge problems when I had to work them in with the story and get them bouncing off each other. They were so self-sufficient, they didn’t really need anyone else. It took years of rethinking and rewriting before I could get them interacting in interesting ways.
A decade later, when I wrote the prequel, The Black Crusade, I’d learned my lesson. Although the characters are equally grotesque, I’d already built in forms of interaction, amongst one another as well as with the protagonist.
In the novel I’m now working on, where the characters are colourful but not grotesque, I’ve been thinking of them together from the very start. My ideas for the protagonist’s father and stepmother fitted in with the protagonist herself, but I wasn’t sure they were right until I discovered how they could also strike sparks off each other.
As for the kids’ group, I dropped one of the friends who wasn’t working in well. Yes, he was an interesting personality in himself, and yes, he could get along with the others—but I needed more than just getting along. The other kids gave extra colour to one another, but not Wace. So, bye-bye Wace!
For maybe the first time, I also thought very hard about family groups. Families didn’t have a large role in my previous novels (I count Col’s family in Worldshaker as a special case), so I’d never thought much about the balance of like and unlike, of imitation and opposition. Half the work of conveying a personality is done if the reader can be read it off from a family situation.
One family that fell into place with a ‘click’ was the family for the male lead. Not an obvious family, not similar to him in personality, but exactly the right family to make him what he is. I found exactly the right schoolteacher for him too!
There’s always another novel for an individual character—but not for a relationship or a group