‘You’ll know her by her brown wavy hair, healthy tanned face and of course she’ll be wearing lipstick.’
Those were the instructions my Western Isles friend Jean gave to her neighbour who was collecting me from the ferry in Stornoway last week. I’d met the girl once before two years ago and she was supposed to recognise me by that description (and she did!).
It made me think about how we describe characters and what we might consider important. Jean might well have said, ‘She’s middle aged, a bit overweight and has ten-to-two feet.’
When Jones and I were serving our creative writing apprenticeship working together and apart on our debut novel ‘Eight of Cups,’ we had not only to create characters in our respective heads but also communicate with each other so that we shared a common perception and sense of who each of these people were.
As a result of that process we developed a very useful ‘Character Descriptor Sheet’ which I’ll be sharing at the Mirren Jones workshop, ‘Is There a Novel in You’ in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 12th October, as part of the Bookmark Blair book festival. It’s a light hearted interactive event designed to generate ideas for stories, work up characters and share tips and tricks. For example, we always select and allocate an astrological sign to each of our characters. Research around typical characteristics of each star sign can help us to enrich character descriptions and their actions.
With our latest novel in progress, Never Do Harm, we put the character sheet to good use again, and identified photo-fits for all the characters, both when young, and when older. Here are Hugh, the Edinburgh hospital consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and his lifelong friend Alan, GP in Portobello, at the point the story kicks off.
In their professional roles, they swear to act in the patients’ best interests at all times. But in their personal life, that seems to be more difficult. Click here for a taster. Perhaps Alan wasn’t smiling at that precise point in time after all . . .
Our book will be published by the end of 2014 – if we can agree on the ending!