The Fake

Claire is secretly finishing paintings for her famous artist father. Grayson is caught up in a life of petty crime and Claire's dad is his next target.

How to make your character seem like a real person--hopefully!

Feb 6, 2015 · 52 Comments

I thought we should probably move our journal posts for THE FAKE over here, but I'll cross-post everything here to the Wrong Side of the River journal as well, with links so you can find this one easier!

There have been a lot of comments on Chapter Two that mention the character development we've done for Claire and Grayson, so I thought I (Wen) would tell you about some of what we do to develop our characters fully so that they seem like real people by the time you get to read about them.

Because THE FAKE was the first book Natalie and I wrote together, it went a little differently than most. First, Natalie was writing him alone and he was meant to be an English boy called Baxter, who could have passed for a younger version of Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock. Then, when I took over writing him, we re-thought just about everything about him. He became a more Americanised version, although he does still have a few Sherlock traits about him, not least of all his killer memory. Plus, we switched his name from Baxter to Grayson, because it seemed a little more American rich-boy to us.

Most of all, Grayson is Claire's opposite. She's like no one he ever met, and he's definitely like no one she ever met before. This gives a lot more scope for misunderstandings, and mischief. It also means it's easier for them to mis-judge each other. That's something that we're able to make use of in our story, since we write it from two perspectives. We get to see inside both of their heads and know what they're really up to, but they have to guess.

When I try to think up a character, there's a few things I almost always do before I start writing them. I'm an artist as well as a writer, so sometimes I sketch them (usually horribly, so don't ask to see them for the sake of my dignity!). One of my favorite things is to fill out a character questionnaire or profile. It's sort of like an interview where I ask my character all about himself and fill out his answers. (I suspect this is why people often think writers are 'eccentric'. Pft. Everyone talks to imaginary people sometimes, right? Right?).

I'll ask my characters things like: their full name, age, birthday, birth place, biggest hate, biggest love, etc. I also ask some questions that get to the really important stuff, like: what is your biggest fear? How do other people perceive you? Who are you closest to? Who is your biggest enemy, and why?

Those are the questions that reveal the most. Sometimes, I'll write a short story, where I think of a situation to put this character in based on the things he's afraid of, or can't live without, and then I put him in that situation and see how he reacts. That really helps when it comes time to put him in my story. Sometimes, those short stories end up in the main one, because we DO like to give our characters a tough time.

Once I've got the questionnaire filled out, I usually know this person I want to write about like he's an old friend. You can see how we get so attached to our characters!

Often, by the time we've written an entire first draft (which is usually pretty messy and a bit confused), there are things about the character back in the beginning that need changed, but still, I usually have a pretty good handle on them from the beginning. Every character should have their own story arc, which means as well as the main plot of the story, there are things that will change about a character by the time the story is over. Stories usually take place at a significant place in a character's life, because if it wasn't something big, it probably wouldn't be much of a story. When big things happen to people, they change, but they will still stay true to who they are, deep down.

Once you've had a chance to get to know Grayson better, I will share some excerpts from his character profile/interview, and see whether you think it sounds like the person I created in the book.

This whole thing changes with every book I write, however. Sometimes, a character arrives in my head so fully formed that I already know them inside-out before I start to write. Grayson was a lot like that, actually, but I still did the character profile with him. Sometimes I don't have to at all.

So that's how I figure out more about my characters! We'll have to ask Natalie what she does to get to know hers better, even after all these years writing together, I just realized that I never asked!

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions. I will probably confuse you even worse with my answers, but it's worth a try!

Back soon with more fun stuff!

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