Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Some interesting quotes and opinions:


Jennifer Johnston starts with characters and the germ of a plot. She feels she has the key to get her characters out of prison, but she needs to discover what their secret is.

Christopher J. Koch, on the other hand, spends six months compiling notes before he writes a word, all in longhand. Everything is planned, although the final novel may not follow the plan.

Nicholas Shakespeare plots every scene on graph paper with post-it notes.

Fay Weldon, apart from a detective novel, throws her characters together and sits back to see what happens.

Ann Marie McDonald creates a body full of soft parts, with a beating heart, and then tries to push the bones into place.

Now, it's an unscientific sample, but it's fascinating that the women start writing and see what happens, while the men get their toys out and start manoeuvring everything into position before they sully their hands with invented words. I'm with Fay Weldon on this one. Just get the characters together and see what shit happens...


Christopher J. Koch bases characters on at least three different individuals. Any fewer and it can't work.

Richard Ford tries not to base characters on anyone. Traits appear "in a piecemeal, acontextualised way." It would be more difficult, he says, to write about a character if it was based on a real person because he would have to get it right. Lordy, lordy, some folks are right anal, aren't they?

Fay Weldon spoke from bitter experience, saying that with non-fiction you have to tell the truth or they sue you, whereas with fiction you have to not tell the truth or they'll do you for libel.

Thomas Keneally likens creating characters to developing a child in the womb - the gradual accumulation of detail such as hair colour, thickness of wrists, ankles etc.

Claire Messud gave an interesting example from Tolstoy, a minor character who is only described once - as having a top lip that was too short, so her mouth didn't close. But that single image made the character unforgettable.

It's fairly rare for me to base a character on a single person. Mostly it would be too painful, either for me or them or both. Characters just kind of develop with me. They'll start as acquaintance A, but quickly take on characteristics from acquaintances B, C and D. The ones which really work - and if I'm honest I'm a beginner so most of them don't, fully - just spiral off into their own personas and leave their real-life husks behind them.

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