On the creation of character in the novel

Creating character in a novel has two aspects. Characterisation –  the embodiment of the character ( appearance, habits, the way they carry themselves and so on) – is the least complicated by far. It is relatively easy to come up with a convincing description of a character.  At the Faber Academy there is an exercise called ‘kidnap a character’ where students are asked to spend the morning following a character and noting down the fine details of their appearance, speech and behaviour.  This literary stalking always produces remarkable results – well realised characters that suggest all kinds of back story.  It is not difficult to do – simply by watching and making notes, then using specific detail, you can evoke a visual image that will remain in the reader’s mind.

Far more complex is the creation of interior character.  This is something that may take a whole draft of a novel to establish.  It is more complex, because human beings are infinitely complex and you are creating fictional human beings. For me, my characters always spend the first few months like bad cardboard cutouts, unconvincing and thin. But as time goes on, they thicken and realise themselves as you start to live with them and create them.  By the time they are finished – not that any character is ever finished – they will contain all the elements that make a significant character engaging.  Some of the most important elements include desire, contradiction, vulnerability, blind spots ( Arthur Miler said that the writer’s job is to ‘tear away the veils of denial’).  We must also identify with the character, as in. ‘see where they are coming from’, otherwise we will not be able to care about them. This doesn’t mean we have to like them – but we do have to understand why they are making the choices they make. A  real character is elusive and muti-faceted – as David Mamet says, a drama is a conversation between characters who are all arguably in the right.

‘Voice’ and against the craft of writing – Charlie Kaufman/Meg Rosoff

On why you should approach writing lessons with caution.   “I think craft is a dangerous thing. I saw a trailer for a movie, I don’t want to say what the movie is, but it’s coming out soon. And it was gorgeous, it was… gorgeous. And it made me really depressed, and I was trying to figure out why.   I think there was an amazing amount of craft and skill on the part of the filmmakers in this movie. And yet it was the same shit. I know that this movie is going to do really well, and I know that the people who made it are going to get rewarded for it, and so the cycle continues. So I think the danger of craft is that it needs to be in second position to what it is that you’re doing.   It’s seductive to put it in first position, often because what you’re doing is meaningless or worthless, or just more of the same. So you can distinguish yourself by being very, very good at it. I think you need to be willing to be naked when you do anything creatively in film or any other form, that’s really what you have to do because otherwise it’s very hard to separate it from marketing. I think that it just sort of becomes what it’s about.” – Charlie Kaufman ( ‘Inside John Malkovitch’ ‘Adaptation’)

I know what Kaufman is talking about here. By far and the most important thing is writing is not your writing, but your voice.  That is, the guiding intelligence behind the writing.  What lies in between the lines.  This is what really carries a good book – not plot, character, or dialogue. But they help.

And nakedness. Yes, be naked. Be yourself. As Meg Rosoff writes about ‘voice’ –

“The voice lies between the conscious and unconscious mind”

It is not a technique to be taught.

“It is the deepest possible reflection of who you are..in your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul”

‘Who are you?..who are you really”?

““Stop thinking about your voice. Think about your life instead. Live. Take risks. Seek wisdom. Confront the unconfrontable. Find out who you are. Let your voice gain power as you go”

Happy Day with Sadie Jones and Irvine Welsh

Seeing two of the nicest, most supportive authors I know today – Sadie Jones for lunch and Irvine Welsh at his book launch party. We all know about Irvine, but Sadie is underrated in my view, one of the most elegant and compelling writers in the country, who should have at least been Booker long listed by now.  I will be thrusting copies of my new novel ‘Last Summer of the Water Strider’ into their respective hands – not so much to ‘get a quote’ – though that would be nice, they never really make any difference to sales – but just to get feedback from people I really respect.