Writerly Thinz: Life Is Full Of ‘Characters’

Do you find yourself imagining characters even as you read about them in books? Do they leap out at you, vivid and full of life and color? Sometimes, it’s almost as those the black words on the white/cream page come out to form a skeleton and then my imagination forms the flesh that finally comes out as a character.

As a writer, especially one who is somewhat anal about detail and description, I find myself investing deeply into characters, whether in film or in books. I imagine their thoughts, nuances, facial expressions, back stories and sometimes even seemingly insignificant details such as what they had for breakfast.

I tend to attach appearances and personas to my characters so that I can picture them as I write. It makes things flow for me and it makes them that much more real, like friends. I also tend to write about characters I can identify with, whether by experience, feelings or background. It makes it easier for me to delve deeper into who they turn out to be. I let them become who they want to be, if that makes sense (and I say this without trying to sound pretentious and pseudo-‘literary, if there is such a term).

There are times when I write that I can actually see my characters in front of me and its almost as though we were having a conversation and they tell me what they are up to. I come up with dialogue as though I am in their minds and sometimes it almost feels as though I’m eavesdropping on their private moments. I mimic their facial expressions, and if a scene in the book takes place somewhere I know, I can even feel the atmosphere of the place: sounds, smells and such.

Sometimes I’ll take little pieces of people I have met and amalgamate them into a single entity. I did that with my characters in my recent book ‘Playing by Her Rules’.

The character of Kay had the impatience of my brother-in-law, the acerbic humour of my husband, the hidden sensitivity of one of my friends, the skills of a famous footballer, the suave confidence of an actor and the looks….well, that was just a mash up of everything cute! Weirdly enough, after I had finished the story I came across a picture of the actor Jason Momoa and I though he looked exactly as I had pictured Kay, albeit lighter skinned.

The character of Tari was a little more complicated. She had the spunk of my youngest sister, the sassy confidence of my older sister, the introspection of my younger sister…and, in a show of solidarity, my love for cake and ice cream! I pictured her as a mixed-race version of Fluvia Lacerda, with corkscrew shoulder length curls.

I pictured the Djena as one of my very good friends. I imagined Doc Hafis as a cross between Lance Gross and another friend of mine. I imagined Nansel as one of Nigeria’s musical stars (I’ll leave you guessing…)

And that’s how it is with characters. You invest in them and make them real to those you’re telling the story to. You write them in such a way that they leap out of the pages and into the minds/hearts of your readers. Characters should elicit emotion from people – negative and positive. They shouldn’t be cardboard cut outs, stiff and unyielding, and neither should they be overly clichéd, exhibiting too much of a particular characteristic without some sort of balance because people are seldom ever fully ‘bad’ or ‘good’ (very hard for me to follow as a writer of romance, I admit).

And so here it is. Life. Love. Characters.

Written by Sifa Asani Gowonpictures2

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6 Comments

  1. Evan

     /  February 1, 2014

    This is so true. Identifying with the characters is very important to me if I’m going to enjoy reading a book. Sometimes, a character doesn’t just leap out at me, I feel as though it ‘leaped out from me’. Then I’d laugh at the writer’s disclaimer that “the characters in this book do not resemble anybody in real life”. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Yemie

     /  February 1, 2014

    I imagine that as artistes and artists, there’s always the need for a muse when y’all get into your elements. Something or someone to draw inspirations from. These gets your creative juices flowing and imaginations, running wild. This makes for an interesting read and very insightful too. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. the authenticity of a work of fiction lies in the characters portrayed and how much the readers can connect with them. it is a skill that needs to be honed with perfection.
    this was well portrayed in “playing by her rules”. waiting for the next book…

    Reply
  4. Heeheee…Topazo, and we are waiting for that promised review on Amazon *tappingherfootpatiently*….

    Reply

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