Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inspiration and character traps

Hang around in Romancelandia a bit and you will see many authors use pictures of actors, models, polo players etc for inspiration for their characters. Some authors return time and again to familiar inspiration while others choose different ones. Both approaches can work because ultimately it is not about how a character looks but what is under his skin. However the first approach can lead to character burn out as you keep mining in the same place.
As you write more books, you need to be aware that your characters not only have to be different from each other but they have to be different from previous characters. They need to live and breathe. And readers if they glom on to an author may read a number of her books in quick succession. If your heroine always has silver eyes or black hair, someone may notice and be pulled out of the book.
You also can start repeating certain character traits or even ways characters behave. Suddenly instead of being well rounded, your characters become 2-dimensional. Some of that is because in the back of your mind, you are thinking how a particular actor might play that part. How his voice sounds. Or how he'd gesture with his hands. For example, in every movie, Hugh Grant seems to play Hugh Grant.
You can even think that you have built up this great and unique backstory, only to find yourself falling into the same trap. This is particularly true if you tend to write the same sort of core story. Or if you are exploring a similar theme to another story of yours.
I speak from experience here as some of the reason for the huge rewrites was that I gave into tempatation and reused hero fodder. Backstories were different but the characters were 2-d until I did a lot of remedial work. Your characters need to be unique. One way to do it is to think -- why are they different from my other heroes? What are they passionate about? How does that passion different from my other hero? What are their strongly held opinions? What won't they discuss? What truth do they hold dear that is different? How does their accent differ? Why is this actor not going to be playing himself but another role? Why is the reader really going to identify with this character? Why if a reader does glom on to your books, is this character going to stand out?

The problems with character traps is one of the reasons why it becomes progressively harder to write in a given genre. You pick the easy fruit and then suddenly you have to stretch. The learning to stretch is important. It is about going back to the basics and making sure that each one is unique.
This is one of the reasons why this time --Richard Armitage and James Purefoy  get a miss and Rupert Perry Jones a look in. After all there is always more hero inspiration around if you care to find it...


Carol Townend said...

Very thought provoking, Michelle! And it certainly mnakes things more tricky when you reuse (as it were!) an image/photo you might have already used in another book. Each character really has to be keyed into the particular time and place of their story.

Nicole said...

Good points - I have read a few stories where the characters start to sound strikingly familiar

Caroline said...

Great post Michelle! I'm a tad too fond of Hugh Jackman as my hero fodder! I need to broaden my horizons. Caroline x

Francine Howarth said...

Hi Michelle,

Hee hee, love that you pointed out the "Hugh Grant" default button!

True though, the great of acting are those that take on the persona of a specific character and leave their own personality and mannerisms off stage.

Of the good, some achieve partial success and often fall foul to mannerisms we all know so well and indeed look for, almost counting the seconds until it/whatever occurs.

Me, oooh, home truth coming up. I have a wandering eye, my taste in men as eclectic as taste in reading material - so, hope that flavour for new and exciting stimulation is reflected in my choice of heroes! Having said that, often as not I've fallen for anti-heroes simply because they're real sexy bad boys. ;)