Character creation

July 11, 2019

The process by which I created my characters was instinctive, the sum of my whole experience of others and of my own potential self; and so it had always been. Sometimes I don’t actually meet a character I have created in a novel until some time after the novel has been written and published.

Muriel Spark
Loitering with Intent

Characters simply come and find me. They sit down, I offer them a coffee. They tell me their story and then they almost always leave. When a character, after drinking some coffee and briefly telling her story, wants dinner and then a place to sleep and then breakfast and so on, for me the time has come to write the novel. In a novel there’s not much autobiography. There are characters in transit. Naturally, I can project something of my experiences onto these characters, but they have their own autonomy, a personality that is often a mystery to me. I don’t always understand my characters. I write to understand them better.

Dacia Maraini

The Silence of the Outcasts: an interview with Dacia Maraini

Words without borders March 2008

Ideas for things come into one’s head, or bits of ideas; you feel there’s something – there’s some meat on the bone, there’s something there that lures you on. The more you think about it the more you’re led into this new world and the more of that world you see. And part of having an idea is having some notion of how you would tell the story. It’s not just thinking it would be nice to write something about the Crimean war, it’s having some particular way in mind of writing something about the Crimean war, and the idea for the way to tell the story helps you to see what the story is. The story suggests the means, the means suggests the story; it’s mutually dependent. And you don’t have very much choice in the matter. Ideas come, characters suggest themselves, and the nature of the story and the nature of the characters dictates how it’s going to be done.

I suppose if people are not writers or painters or whatever they see the life of the artist as being one of great freedom, but it’s not really; it’s as constrained as anyone else’s by the material that’s available. The thing seems to have some kind of reality in one’s head; it seems to be something that one is discovering, rather than inventing. I see that as a kind of psychological trick on oneself, because the whole point about fiction is that it’s invention. It doesn’t really seem like it at the time – it seems as if you are slowly discovering something that already exists and seeing how the different parts of it relate to each other.

Michael Frayn
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

a view of Skye

Ancestors, distant relatives and the past really were not part of my sense of family as I grew up. Something of my father’s exile from Scotland – self-exile really – and then exile from Great Britain, has rubbed off on me and probably affected the way I write. When I started writing, I didn’t feel that I was quite part of the English literary world or its systems of class or whatever – I always felt something of an outsider in it. That’s faded over the years, but I think it has made quite an impression on me, this sense of not being deeply connected to all the branches and roots of family. I could make a narrative of my writing which goes something like this: that I began as a kind of existential writer, much more interested in casting characters almost, as it were, outside of history and outside of identifiable places, and as the years have gone by I’ve become perhaps a more traditional writer, or at least a writer much more aware – consciously, expressively aware – of the traditions of the English novel, the treasures that are laid up for us by the great 19th-century expositors of character and psychology. And so the gap between my early short stories and a novel like Atonement, with its country house – a novel that looks partly back over its shoulder towards Jane Austen, but also back towards the hallowed traditions of Agatha Christie and crime novels, in that you set up a scene, you have a stranger arrive and everything follows from that. So there’s an enormous gap from Atonement to the earliest short stories with their very dispossessed, alienated characters who are living in a city with no name, often in a time that’s not fixed.

Ian McEwan
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011