Developing characters

Think of some characters from books you enjoyed reading. Characters that linger in your thoughts long after you closed the book. Some of mine are – Sherlock Holmes, Heathcliff, Miss Havisham (Great Expectations) and many others. Why certain characters stand out clearly in our minds is because of the minute detail authors have paid attention to while writing. They stand out in the story like a picture and you can visualize them doing whatever they are supposed to be doing in the story. That’s the power of great writing.

‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature: Earnest Hemingway.’ So when I write, I try to do the same. Visualize the characters and portray them as real people. The first step in ensuring that you treat your characters as real persons is giving them features, habits and quirks like real people. What do they look like? Are they tall, short, thin, fat, fit gym toned body or beefed up? Describe their hair. Is it curly, wavy, straight, maybe colored or smoothened? In my Novel 1 – A Forgotten Affair the protagonist has wild curly hair that is chopped to a close crop after she meets with an accident. When she wakes up from her coma and has no memory of her past she often rues about her hair, hating the close crop. In my Novel 2 the protagonist Asavri has fizzy unruly hair and that’s the bane of her existence. She’s a small town girl in Mumbai and feels very envious of women with smooth gleaming hair that stays in place. She feels that looks very chic and sophisticated. That’s part of her character. So go into great physical detail while fleshing out the characters. It makes them more interesting and more real.

Before I start writing the story I list down the primary characters. And I go into great details of who they are. What is their background, how educated they are, where are they from, where are they currently living? I also list down their favourite food, kind of music they like, who read books, if yes, what kind of books? I may or may not use all the information I list down about the primary characters but listing them down gives me great clarity about the characters. I know them inside out. This is just a process of gradually making them come alive.

To be able to do this you need be very observant with people around you. Look at people closely while at a party, movie hall, supermarket…anywhere. How they walk, talk, eat…their facial expressions? Everything. Observe and note away in your mind for future reference and use. Observation is key to good writing. And needless to say shamelessly eavesdrop on conversations. I do that all the time.

The final step, for me, while forming characters in the story, is giving them a special name. I like to choose unique names for my characters. I don’t pick on the commonplace Sunita, Rita etc. No offense to the Sunita and Rita of the world. But my characters are my children. I give birth to them when I start writing the story and it’s only fitting that they have a unique name. In my novel 2 Asavri is a singer. The word Asavri is the name of the morning raga. Hridi, another character, means from the heart but the character Hridi is anything but from the heart. She is very blunt, outspoken, often rude. She is something like Bree from Desperate Housewives. Moon is a dark and vile woman. She says about herself, “I’m the dark side of the moon”. So very specific names for the characters that is unique.  Writing is like playing God. You create characters and then you script the plot that’s their life. You make the characters  do things. So in my opinion they deserve special names.

Also, writing is my passion, my hobby and the love of my life. I have a blast writing, creating characters and making them do crazy things. So I go all out while sketching them.

One of the best compliments I received for A Forgotten Affair is when a reader wrote to me saying that Roohi, the protagonist’s best friend is the kind of bestie she would like in her life. She loved the character of Roohi, her tattoos all over her arms, her fetish for food and total ignorance of art and anything artistic. For this reader I was able to make Roohi come alive. I hope to be able to create memorable characters. I want to be able to create a character like Heathcliff, Atticus or even Miss Havisham.

As I end, I’d like to add: everything mentioned above is what I follow. You don’t have to follow what I say. The most important rule of writing is that there’s no rule. The above works for me.

Have you read my latest book – Nobody’s Child? It was released in August 2019. The characters in the book are very different from my first book. If you haven’t read it, go through some of the reviews on amazon. Click on the link:

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