The characters that call me

I’ve given a lot of thought to what happens to my characters when I’ve finished with them, but less so to where they come from.  There is a host of advice available to writers on how to create and develop characters, but I must confess to ignoring it.  I’ve only ever written the most rudimentary character profiles.  Unless it’s particularly relevant to a story, I couldn’t tell you what my characters like to eat, what type of music they listen to or their favourite colour.  I don’t create idendikits of my characters, instead, they seem to emerge almost fully formed.

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As I described in my writing process blog hop post, I see characters visually, attached to a particular location and moment in time.  Their appearance and many of their characteristics are set, then I add layers, as their back story and their future emerges.  But I have wondered, if I don’t exactly create these characters, then where do they come from?  There’s a great video of author Elizabeth Gilbert doing the rounds at the moment, in which she talks about the ancient Roman meaning of ‘genius’ as an aspect of the soul or spirit through which our creativity comes.  From this perspective, the stories are already there, waiting for us to channel them.  So what’s interesting to me is whether these characters already exist in the ether and each one of us is predisposed to find those that are right for us.

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Of course, if this is the case, then you might expect the writing process would be easier than it often is.  And if they do already exist, what is their purpose?  Are there stories each individual is ‘meant’ to tell because they help that individual on their journey or because they are the right person to share them with the world?  I do believe that spirits (those Genii again, in Roman terms) are all around us – that each place, each thing, has it’s own spark.  So perhaps the characters I tap into are an aspect of those spirits of place.  Then again, maybe the whole process is much more mundane and my imagination is just quick to ascribe a type of character to a particular place.  Ultimately, it’s not something I really want to know the answer to.  Writing is a kind of magic and it makes sense that there’s a little mystery to how that magic happens.

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My thoughts about where characters come from were prompted by being tagged by two bloggers to take part in blog hops.  Sheri de Grom passed on the baton for the writing process blog hop and Evelyne Holingue for the meet my characters blog hop.

Evelyne Holingue was born in Normandy but has lived in the US for more than twenty years.  She writes in both French and English on her blog and I’m often surprised that English isn’t her first language, as her prose has a rich, sensual flow to it that I love.  She writes on a wide range of subjects, including writing and life.  Her young adult novel ‘Trapped in Paris’ is available from Amazon.

Sheri de Grom is another woman with a rich personal history.  She has worked as a military attorney and book buyer for Barnes and Noble, and many of her most touching and powerful posts concern her role as a mental health advocate, as a result of caring for her husband who has been diagnosed as bipolar.

I hope you’ll take a little detour to visit both Sheri and Evelyne.  I’ve already written about my writing process in a previous post here, so in this post, I’ll talk about some of my characters.

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I’d like to introduce you to a mother and daughter: Alice and Bethan.  Both are fictional characters who stepped out of the sea fret when I considered the location and the story I wanted to tell.    Their story is set in the present on a small island in the north sea, reached by a causeway from the mainland.  The island is dominated by a lighthouse and an inn, which the women run.  It’s an enchanted place, where the human inhabitants live alongside ghosts and selkies, a race of beings who live their lives as seals, but, on the night of the winter solstice take human form and dance all night.  The island is a real place, pictured above.  It has a rich and interesting history, elements of which are incorporated into the story.  There is no inn here now, but there was in years gone by.  I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the ghosts and the selkies are real or fictional…
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Bethan is her island.  From the moment she is born, she is part of it, as much at home in the sea as on the land.  Alice, on the other hand, seems to hate the island and is cold towards her daughter.  But both are harbouring secrets that ultimately tear them apart.  When her sister drowns in strange circumstances, Bethan, depressed and suicidal, is sent away by her mother, first to an institution, then to live in the city with her dad, far away from her childhood home.  There, she forgets the enchantments of the island.  Just before her dad dies, he tells Bethan that he isn’t her real father and that she should go home.  Bethan returns, twenty years after she left, to find out who she really is.
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The novel is called The skin of a selkie.   As for when it will be published, who knows?  I want to try the traditional route first and I’m currently at the query stage and waiting for replies from agents.
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And now for those I want to introduce you to, who will hopefully take on the baton to continue the meet my character blog hop:
Cecilia Carelse writes about the craft of writing.  She is in the process of writing her third novel, while her second is in the query process.  She covers a range of subjects about the craft of writing and keeping going through doubt and procrastination.
Sarah Potter writes speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy.  On her blog, she also shares her haiku and tanka poetry, photos, thoughts and interviews with other writers.  Sarah has recently nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.
Chris Edgar has written and produced the animated musical web series ‘Steve’s Quest’, of which episode 1 has been released.  It has won a ‘best short’ award and been selected for showings at a couple of film festivals.  He has also recently released an album, ‘Slow Burn’, which is available on iTunes.
Britt Skrabanek is a life enthusiast and indie author who shares inspiring posts on a wide range of subjects as well as introducing us to other life enthusiasts.  Her books ‘Beneath the satin gloves’ and ‘Everything’s not bigger’ are available on Amazon.  She is currently completing her third novel.
Last but certainly not least, I’d like to introduce you to another kind of selkie, as she recently nominated me for an award.  New England Selkie is an animal health professional and marine mammal volunteer who lives in Maine and loves Scotland.  Given the subject of my novel, it was inevitable that I’d be drawn to the Selkie’s blog and I was pleased to find beautiful writing on nature, the sea and many other things.

 

38 thoughts on “The characters that call me

  1. Your novel sounds wonderful, Andrea!!! and I cannot imagine why it won’t be snapped up by an agent (and a big publishing house). LOVE the setting and the thread of mystery, folklore and secrets (just my kind of story) 🙂 As for where characters and stories come from I suspect writers are ‘channels’ and that we are given glimpses of things yet to come or events from the far and distant past. Consider Jules Verne.

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    • Thank you, well I can only hope 🙂 The setting was ready made for me, great place with lots of history and atmosphere. Interesting thought that we channel the past or future, I also think maybe alternate realities…

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  2. I had no idea you were at the query stage with your novel…how exciting! It sounds very intriguing and you know I love my lighthouses. Wishing you the very best, Andrea. Please keep us update.
    Thanks for introducing us to some fellow bloggers. I enjoy checking out new blogs.

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  3. I totally connected with this… “I do believe that spirits (those Genii again, in Roman terms) are all around us – that each place, each thing, has it’s own spark. So perhaps the characters I tap into are an aspect of those spirits of place.” I feel exactly the same way. I’m not into writer rules on how to do this or that. I prefer tapping into the organic energy of life to fuel my creativity.

    I cannot wait to read your book one day. Selkies have always fascinated me. This sounds like such an enchanting story. Good luck on your querying process, love!

    Okay, off to write about my character. : )

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    • Thanks Britt! Yep, I can’t get away from the idea that they already exist just waiting for me to find them – and it seems quite a few of us feel that way. I hope you get the chance to read it too someday! 🙂

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  4. Andrea – Terrific blog. Thank you for the kind comments and for accepting the baton.
    Your character discussion is a new thought process for me. I have the place and the story before I know the characters who will bring the story alive. Once I ‘see’ them, I start creating but I’ll admit to building a full on profile.
    I’m anxious to check out the new individuals (to me) that you’ve nominated. I see this as the best part of participating in an activity such as this . . . I have the opportunity to meet new bloggers I’d probably never meet otherwise. Thank you. Sheri

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    • Thanks Sheri, it was great to be able to introduce you to some bloggers who may not have met you. I think we’ll all have our own way of creating the characters – whatever works for each of us is the right way to do it for each of us.

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  5. Your novel sounds so wonderfully mysterious, with well-developed and thoughtful characterisation. That contrast between the island and the institution, then the city, and how Bethan’s interacts with each setting must make for powerful writing.

    Thank you for inviting me to participate in the “meet my characters blog hop”. I’ve picked up the baton and put it on my desk with intent!

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    • Thanks Sarah – yes, there is some element there of how I feel about living close to the sea and how it feels to move away from it…and the island setting is ready made for just such a story. I’ll look forward to reading your post 🙂

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  6. Love your characters Andrea. As you imply they seem to have come to you fully formed, albeit I bet they surprised you from time to time! Personally I think that’s fine as long as they don’t suddenly do something completely out of character. And the location – love it, full of forgotten lore and mystery.

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  7. I loved reading more about your novel Andrea, it sounds enthralling and very mystical. I am always fascinated to read about other writer’s ways of developing their characters. As you know, I am writing memoir but since blogging and discovering a love for flash fiction, I’m beginning to get a sense of the way I ‘see’ my characters, even though they aren’t for a full novel. I am in awe when I read that authors say they know their characters inside out but reading what you share here I can see that I don’t need to over-think it as I’ll know when the time is right who I’m meant to write about. The time isn’t now as I have other things to write first and this makes perfect sense to me. So thank you for helping me see this so much more clearly and helping me not to stress over it… 🙂
    I continue to wish you every success as you await hearing back from the agents…and here’s to your future publication 🙂
    PS Love your photos, especially the brooding sky above the lighthouse…very atmospheric. I can almost hear the fog horn…

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    • Thanks Sherri. Your characterisation in your memoir is great – and I think it’s often more difficult to portray real people when you know them so well, so you’ve got a good head start for fiction. I’ve no doubt you’ll have some very intriguing characters coming to visit when you’re ready 🙂 It’s not hard to get atmospheric photos of the island – you almost just have to point and click…

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  8. I think so much is written about how we all should be forming our characters that if we’re not careful we’ll all be churning out little clones. I’m like you, Andrea – my characters are just there, fully formed – I know exactly how they are, who they are before I start to write. I can SEE them in my head and I know what they are going to do. All my settings come from a vivid picture I see in my head – like a movie – and the fun part is finding the right words to describe it all.
    Thanks for the introductions to the other bloggers – I’ve already checked out a couple and will check out a few more later.

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    • That’s exactly like me Jenny. The first feedback I had about the novel in an earlier form was that it was very cinematic, which is understandable given how clearly I see it. I’m actually surprised (though I don’t know why) how many people are saying the same thing – so it does make you wonder where all this advice on creating characters is coming from!

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  9. The story sounds really cool, Andrea. I never used to like reading fantasy, until I started in a critique group with all different genres. With a few fantasy writers in our group, now I’m hooked. Yours is one I’d like to read one day. It sounds like the magical realism genre.

    Interesting to learn how you come up with characters. I write women’s fiction with a growth process going on in the women (which sounds like your characters have going on, too). Mine are extremely character driven, so my characters have to be strong. I usually let them swim around in my head for weeks first. Little by little, I see their childhood in my mind. How they were raised will effect their actions as adults. That’s the brief explanation anyway. Thanks for sharing with us this story, and good luck in your querying.

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    • Thanks Lori, yes, I’ve struggled to categorise it and I usually say general fiction with a touch of magical realism – I do worry that agents will see it as fantasy because quite a few of them don’t seem to accept fantasy!

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  10. I too believe that writing just as artmaking is a magical, mysterious process that connects us with the more subtle realms of our existence ..tapping into divine creativity. I also think that everything already exists in some way or form and is just waiting to be found and there’s certainly much more to it (and read about it too!)
    Wishing you all the best of luck with the publishing of your book, Andrea. Can’t wait to read it!

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  11. Hi Andrea — I like what you say about the mystery of writing and character creation being part of its appeal — I think the most powerful aspect of writing music for me is the ability to act as a sort of channel for forces I don’t really comprehend, and which are at once both part of me and separate from me (at least as I experience them). I’ll get on that blog hop post shortly.

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    • Thanks Chris. Creating music seems even more mysterious to me, because it’s not where my talent lies – in some ways music is maybe even more of a channelling experience because it can be without words.

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