In the first part of this series, we tracked how storytelling has emerged through millennia and examined briefly the idea of engagement to a story by captivating the reader with opening lines, and pages designed to create interest. Now to the gritty issue of the characters in your story. Not only is an excellent plot essential for a good story, the characters must bounce off the pages as ‘real’, visualized as if it was a film a reader is watching. You have probably thought of a plot but how is it acted out, who are the players?
There are many ways to write a story but how will you write yours? How much planning and forethought will be needed? In my own case I have both written intuitively with very little planning and completed tales with so much planning it became a research project. It all depends on you and what you want to achieve. With my first book in the ‘Crach Ffinnant’ series, The Prophecy, it was mostly written intuitively with very little planning however, as the series developed, so too did the research to continue the story. The adventures of Crach Ffinnant are based loosely on historical fact as he truly was a dwarf, prophet and seer to Owain Glyndwr, the last true Prince of Wales. However, a writers dream emerges for me because here was a character who although ‘lived’, very little is known about him before he came to serve the Prince.
What a gift this was as I could imagine how his life may have been in the Middle Ages and thus, create it. There are no artist’s impressions of him either, a fantasy was born. So the best way to proceed in example is to tell my story as it happened. I had finished my first self-published book, Ballad of Penygraig and wanted to write something else. For some years I had been loosely involved in various festivals related to Owain Glyndwr, written a couple of songs about him (‘Owain Glyndwr’ and ‘Jack of Kent’) and written a children’s pantomime, ‘A Fiery Knights Tale’. In the pantomime I narrated the story as Crach Ffinnant and wrote the music. So my mind was edging towards writing about Crach Ffinnant and how it all started for him, how his life led him towards Glyndwr. I had no idea how to start, nor indeed where in terms of the story would lead and one day three years ago, I sat down and just wrote and wrote as the thoughts came to me and the tale began.
Crach is a delightful character with a good sense of humour and heaps of good qualities. But he lived in a time where often his experiences were anything other than fun, in fact just the opposite. He does not meet Glyndwr for quite some time in The Prophecy and we get to know Crach well through his adventures on the way towards his destiny, to serve Glyndwr. By the end of the first chapter Crach is established as a character and visualising him is easy, but I have not given it all away by any means and throughout the story his personality develops. We also discover why Crach must go to London and who will help him get there, but there is no character overload and descriptions are relevant to the point in the story. By the end of the first chapter the reader is familiar with Crach and his old Master.
My characters evolved more by good luck than good management but evolve they surely did and are alive and well in all three volumes of the series. Here is the rub though because as the story grew so too did the research of characters such as Glyndwr, Henry IV and others to exact as much accuracy as possible. However, at no time did I plan to write a historical book, I wanted to bring back dragons too and align with the symbolism of Glyndwr so fantasy had to develop, there was no choice and I loved every word coming out of my deranged mind.
I have always had a tendency to go where ‘angels fear to tread’ and the lack of planning in volume one testifies to this, but it worked. So make lists of what your characters look like, their personality traits, clothing, movements and actions. Who are the protagonists and how much will you say about them and where in the tale it is relevant to add detail. Think about relationships between characters and how detail can be added and where it is appropriate. It is very helpful to look at how your favourite authors describe characters to give you some ideas. But there are so many easy ways to make shortcuts nowadays and heaps of internet sites offering advice, guidance and check lists to enable ease of writing.
I think an important word here is ‘balance’. By all means use whatever methods are out there to help you but take your time and do not kill the spontaneity of your storytelling by getting bogged down in the methodology of writing.
I write because I like to tell a good story and I am a great believer in spontaneity and intuition in my storytelling. Another aspect of character formation is, it is really quite difficult not to include parts of your own personality in your characters. There is certainly a little bit of me in all my characters, even the villains. As a little exercise, invent a character, their good points and bad and then write your own, then compare and contrast. Who we are and what we have seen, the people who have influenced us in our lives and our good and bad points will in some way appear in our characters and stories when writing fiction, it is hard not to, after all we are the ‘sum of our parts’.
Next time …… the ‘Plot’
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