‘I think Julia’s deeper than she seems.’ A mutual friend once confided in another friend. Who couldn’t wait to tell me of course. Over the years his off the cuff remark has by turns annoyed and amused me. If we’re wise, we only reveal our most innermost self to those we really trust. People you’ve known a lifetime will surprise with a hidden talent, or desire. Or shock you by confiding an episode they are deeply ashamed of. Any writer who wants to breathe life into their characters understands this. A pivotal chapter in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ has Scout and Jem discovering that in addition to being ‘just’ a lawyer who can make a will watertight, their father is the deadliest shot in Maycomb County. This allows Jem at least to look at him in a new light.
The mutual friend has fallen by the wayside, so he’ll never know that yes, at the time I neutered a secret ambition that one day my writing would be read by someone other than English teachers. Neither can I hope in my wildest dreams to emulate Harper Lee’s genius, that doesn’t mean I can’t at least try, and have fun trying.
Part of the joy of reading is getting to know people, and what motivates them. Even when they act out of character, as J K Rowling’s Neville Longbottom does when he attempts to stop Harry Ron and Hermoine from risking their lives, we understand his actions.
With these examples before me, and leaning heavily on advice from Scott Morgan’s excellent “Character Development from the Inside Out”, I revisited my very first attempts at ‘real’ writing and felt emboldened enough to release it as a prequel. The first hint that there is more to Rhyllann Jones than a typical sports mad, girl obsessed mouthy teenager comes when he is forced to admit his secret hopes and dreams to Crombie, quietly chipping away at our hero’s facade of nonchalance and pretence. At this point too, Rhyllann is allowed to realise that Detective Inspector Crombie is even more dangerous and closer to the truth than he appears. Rhyllann’s cousin Wren is also hiding behind a public image. Rhyllann believes him to be hopelessly socially inept, his nicknames for Wren include ‘The Pubeless Wonder’ and ‘Prince of Geeks’, which goes to show you can know someone for a lifetime and not really know them. DI Crombie with more experience of life, and the games people play recognises Wren for what he is: A highly manipulative, accomplished liar. And those are just his good points! Joking aside, Wren has some redeeming features; even though those coincide with his own interests, he demonstrates ruthlessness whenever anyone he cares for is threatened. That Wren constantly uses Rhyllann’s diminutive, and Rhyllann sometimes addresses his cousin by the Welsh term for brother hopefully demonstrates their closeness.
Some characters only have minor parts; it’s impractical to allow their growth to develop naturally, essential as it is for an audience to grasp their function within a few lines without resorting to stereotypes. An author who has this down to a fine art is Stephen Spencer who creates believable cameos within a few sentences. Fans of Mr. Spencer’s ‘The Paul D Mallory Adventures’ will be nodding their heads in agreement. Just in case you haven’t yet already downloaded a sample, here’s Stephen’s description of a man whom it’s probably best not to know too much about:
From ‘It’s Always Darkest’:
‘“Leave it,” the man said, using the “familiar” form of the Russian imperative, as one would with a small child or animal. His voice was quiet, flat and cold as dry ice. It was not a voice that invited further discussion. ... The waitress bobbed her head once in quick assent, and took two careful steps back from the table before trusting herself to turn and walk away.’
Reading those lines, I marvelled at the young waitress’s self-possession. I would have run
away, so vivid is the image of a dangerous persona.
It’s a truism; life and art imitate each other, to a greater or lesser extent depending on your skill at both. For some people, I’ll never be more than a walk on character, they won’t know ‘the real me’ only that which I (sometimes inadvertently) reveal. Hidden vices or virtues make even fictional people more human. And over time I’ve come to accept my mutual friend’s remark for what it was; a backhanded compliment.Scott Morgan's 'Character Development from the Inside Out'
: Click here to sample or buy
Stephen Spencer's Paul D Mallory Adventures: 'It's Always Darkest'
and 'The Devil You Say.'(Click on titles to sample or purchase).A Raucous Time is available on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk for