Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Plot and Character

Tom's post started me thinking about my own characters. Where do they come from? I've no idea!
I’m sometimes asked if I base my characters on real people. Many authors do. It is well known that Sherlock Holmes was based on the observant physician, Joseph Bell, who taught Conan Doyle at Edinburgh Medical School.
My own answer to the question is always ‘No’. The better I know a person, the more difficult it would be to base a character on them. Real people are endlessly complex and frequently contradictory. The same person can be grouchy or optimistic, sociable or yearning for solitude, placid or foul tempered, confident or reticent – you get the point.
In crime fiction plot is key. I thought multifaceted characters would be confusing but CUT SHORT has been criticised for its characters lacking depth. So I need to rethink my approach.
In ROAD CLOSED I worked on my main character, Geraldine Steel. She has become more engaging as a result (I hope!) But has the plot suffered from my focus on Geraldine? I don't think so, but I have a long way to go before I'll be satisfied I've mastered the craft of writing.
As I complete my editing of ROAD CLOSED and begin to think about book 3, DEAD END, I will need to keep my wits about me.
I know the formula:
engaging characters + dramatic plot = great crime thriller
But will my experiment produce the intended results?
How do other writers juggle plot vs character?

Currently correcting a MS, I love the freedom of writing on a blog. I read and reread, edit and correct my manuscripts several times. Here, I can type and post without even reading over what I've written. (Should I have admitted that here? I hope I'm not thrown off the blog!)


  1. It's no mystery I've had a rather...difficult life. Those experiences show up throughout my writing as strong character suggestions. It's amazing on some level as a writer to have the ability tochange the circumstances and results of those instances.

    I watch people closely due to my deafness and anytime I notice something different or that stands out I file it away as a character contribution. In the end it's 'life' that provides my characters. (Hugs)Indigo

  2. I agree, Indigo. I have been told to read for ideas but all my 'inspiration' comes from observing life. One of the reasons I enjoy book signings is that I can sit and watch people go by.

  3. I start with a fairly well-defined character, who might or might not have some basis in a real person; as the plot unfolds, they are transformed by events, until they lose all resemblance to the original. It appears that this, in itself, is enough to generate some resonance in readers. But I have to admit that sometimes, they startle me when they reveal some background info I had not been aware of... :)

  4. Sometimes my characters arrive in my head fully formed, but perhaps that's not a good thing. Other characters, like yours, Pelotard, evolve as I go along. I'm still trying to work out how this all happens, learning all the time - or trying to. It's very interesting to hear how other writers approach this.