Thursday, 13 May 2010

How to distinguish characters....

by Matt Lynn
I did an event up in Essex last night with two of my fellow Headline authors, Barbara Nadel and Michael Stanley. As is so often the case, I was really impressed by the quality of the questions people asked.

There was one that set me thinking a fair bit: How do you distinguish characters from one another.

I waffled away for a fair bit, but it was a good question, and one I probably haven’t thought about enough. I quite often read a book and find I get lost because the characters all blur into one. It’s particularly pressing in my case, because the ‘Death Force’ series features eight or nine main characters. And superficially at least they are quite similar: soldiers, blokes, etc.

It struck me later that in opera, each character has a theme, or maybe just a key, and that helps the listener tell them apart. And there is a clue in that for construction a novel. What I try and do is give each character a theme, or key: some fairly simple, but compelling, place they are trying to get to, or a demon they are trying to kill, or a journey they are trying to complete.

On top of that, you need to give them a voice. A way of speaking, and a way of fitting into the group. And you need to give them some really deep back story, so you know precisely where they are coming from.

But there is no doubt it is one of the hardest things a writer has to do.

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