Come to Life

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
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Cornwall, UK
Any story contains a range of characters from the protagonist and antagonist to the supporting figures who are partly sketched in and also anonymous players.

I’m currently 13,000 words into writing my third novella about Art Palmer, an American Civil War veteran. He’s been hiding out in the mountains, trying to deal with shell shock, but has journeyed to Georgia to help his sister Anne rebuild her plantation. I know Art well, indeed, he’s my favourite character. I didn’t know Anne at all.

All I’ve said about her in the first two books is that she’s two years younger than Art and that she was married to a man who enlisted in the Confederate Army. He died in battle, leaving her alone. Art and she haven’t met for seven years, so are re-establishing their bond.

Art is taken aback by how she’s changed, just as I’m surprised by her. She’s a free-thinker, a protean feminist struggling with her responsibilities as a mother while treating the ex-slaves fairly as she attempts to make her plantation profitable. The father of her daughter is black, which is causing animosity locally.

Characters take on a life of their own when I put words into their mouths. However, they develop, it should be realistically.

We’ve discussed bitch characters before and how likeable your protagonist should be, as well as those who are inspirational and I’m fascinated by how those traits appear on the page.

The strengths and weaknesses of the main character are what bind the reader to the story. This applies to plot-driven books too. A reader has to care what happens to a character, whether it’s through empathy, sympathy or hatred.

I’m enjoying getting to know my new character, Anne. It’s as if she’s writing her sections of the story.

Have your characters ever taken over your writing?

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Anne Lamott - Wikipedia
 
Hi, Paul. Yes! My sister and I are writing a trilogy with an ensemble cast at the moment, and once we created the characters, we let them take it away. It's awesome. We set up a facebook-style page for each character to nail down a bit of their backstory, then let things evolve. What I have also done recently is to write some short stories based on the character's past lives, to see what emerges. Fascinating psychology, really.
 
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