#Amwriting: Colouring in Character

Writing is a tricky thing and I don’t think I will ever perfect the business of defining characters completely, rounding them out to the reader.

Maybe that’s a good thing, perhaps the reader needs to visualise the character and interpret their thoughts and selected scraps of dialogue? It’s an especially difficult process with minor characters – bit part players – in novels. You don’t want a lesser character becoming a big distraction from the plot, the central dilemma the hero/heroine is facing, the action sequences etc. But you do want them to resonate, to feel real.


Ian Hart as Parkis in The End of The Affair

One thing I’ve noticed in real life is that we all have vocal `tics.’ Things like saying wee man instead of little man, or making an umm or ahhhh noise to gain thinking time when faced with a tough question. Another strategy that politicians use is repeating a question back, while you think of a good answer and this is something I used in Grievance, during scenes where Police, MI5 and politicians all danced around the vague topic of truth and reconciliation.

Arguably Charles Dickens was the master of pen portraits when it came to character studies and he was famously a cartoonist called Boz in his younger days. Another writer I love is Graham Greene, who often sums up so much about the English class system, crime or Catholic sins, via a few well chosen words from his characters.

In Greene’s masterpiece, The End of The Affair, the way that Parkis refers to his son as `the boy’ and tries to shield him from the seedy world of divorce court snooping, speaks volumes about the era, and the particularly awkward British hypocrisy of conducting a middle class love affair. Plus, the way Parkis regards himself as being automatically part of the lower orders, and expects his boy to follow in his father’s sad, beady-eyed footsteps, is summed up in the tone, the feel, of the dialogue. It has a methodical, clock-watching, workmanlike flavour and that brings Parkis alive for me.

I tried handling multiple plot lines, and an ensemble cast in The Pink Peppermint Lounge and most likely, I haven’t done all the characters justice. But I spent hours editing, and sometimes re-writing from scratch, lots of dialogue exchanges – far more than I did with third person descriptions of the actors, or their actions. People are defined, ultimately, by their actions, not their words. But you need the flesh of dialogue, fitted smoothly upon the bones of plot development, to get anywhere near a kind of truth in fiction.

If you want to sample a few extracts from my books then here’s a link.





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