Start Writing Fiction، Ways of developing characters

Here novelists discuss how they develop their fictional characters using
a mixture of methodical research, accident and empathy. As you’re
reading ,Tim Pears, Monique Roffey, Alex Garland and Louis de
Bernières make a note how you might develop main characters and how
much work goes into differentiating between relatively minor characters.


My first book was written from the point of view of a 13 year old girl, and I
never felt when I was writing it that I had to make some kind of special
effort, you know, to get into the mind of a female, or a young person
whatever. I think I just thought how I would think about things, and with a
little bit of sympathy, empathy towards somebody else and that was it.


I think it’s very much a mixture of accident and design. I think your
characters find you in the same way that your ideas find you. I think they
settle on you – snatches of people you’ve seen in the street sometimes
or snatches of someone you might have met, someone you might have,
you know, have had a brief encounter with, and they tend to kind of
morph, they tend to kind of mix. You’ll have somebody’s hairstyle with
somebody’s height and somebody’s vanity with somebody’s nose, you
know, so you kind of have a mixture come to you, but once that’s
happened I then absolutely treat him, treat it in a research like, a sort of
scholarly way – I use a character outline and I, I work on, on that and
develop and, so that I’ve got sometimes 7, 8, 9, 10, 15 pages, so that I 

know everything about that character, I know what his, what the
character’s grandmother’s maiden name was, whether they’re good at
dancing, whether they like Marmite, you know, I know everything about
that character by the time I’ve worked on it. So I use both, I use
conscious and the unconscious to sort of, to make someone.


Characters came from all sorts of different places. There’s this gangster
in The Tesseract called Don Pepe who was sort of based on a guy I ran
into in a very remote part of the Philippines who came from Spanish
ancestry and had never been to Spain but was obsessed with Spain and
he’d lost all his money, he didn’t have a hacienda or anything, but he still
somehow clung on to that colonial past even though it was a long, long
time ago. And there was something about that that just interested me
and I kind of lifted him out and dropped him in there and some you just


There seem to be two different types of character. There’s the type that
just turns up at your shoulder like a ghost and insists on being written,
it’s rather spooky, it’s a bit like being a medium. The other kind of
character is the sort that you, you invent more or less from scratch or
create as a composite of various people that you’ve noticed or come
across. And the one thing that does happen though is that as soon as
the character begins to become real, is, he or she starts misbehaving,
and they don’t do what you tell them to do. You often find yourself
altering the story to accommodate your characters. Your plans always
go wrong. It’s partly good old fashioned empathy, with a certain amount
of effort you can imagine what it’s like being somebody else.
If these characters are conveniently nearby you can always go and ask
them and listen to them talking. And quite often with a character, all
you’ve got to do is start them talking, like yakking in your head – it’s a bit
like being a paranoid schizophrenic but it’s under control, you know,
you’ve got all of these voices going on in your mind – you just let them
talk. And, and they develop quite happily on their own.


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