I'm delighted to have Kirsty Murray here with us today, and she is going to be talking all about characters: how she came up with them, got into their heads, the challenges... Now I'm going to hand you all over to Kirsty...
This blog post is probably the most confronting of all the posts I’ve written for the India Dark UK blog tour. To be completely honest, I’m not exactly sure where my characters come from. On one level, it’s as if they materialize out of the ether. It’s a little like being haunted. My head is crowded with hundreds of people I’ve never met. I suppose that sounds a little crazy but when you fully imagine fictional characters they become as real to you as anyone you’ve ever met in the flesh.
When I first went to Kolkata to begin researching India Dark, a lot of people told me I’d suffer culture shock because Kolkata can be confronting but I loved it. The crowds, the teaming streets, the fantastic vibrancy and chaos seemed really familiar. It was just like the inside of my head when I’m working on a novel – especially a novel like India Dark which had a huge cast of characters.
India Dark is based on a true story but the people who were involved are all dead and most of them left little evidence behind as to what they were really like. To create the characters for that novel I took the cast list of the original theatre troupe who went to India and carefully reinvented all the children as fictitious characters, matching their ages and roles in the troupe with their real life counterpart.
Putting flesh on the bones of people who you’ve never met, who have been in the grave for decades is a pretty weird task. I try to imagine the small things first – the colour of their eyes and hair, a gesture, an expression and then their physical presence, the way they move. I listen to hear the sound of their voices, to get a sense of their personality and the way they relate to other people. Sometimes, in the early stages of creating a character it feels as if the character is approaching through a mist and the more I think about them, the more vivid they become.
Once I start writing, the work I’ve done in advance bears fruit. If you really imagine a character first,
you can see how they’re going to behave or react in certain scenes. Even when I use characteristics from people I know to flesh out a fictitious character, the characters in my books are uniquely themselves.
I always make lists of the characters involved in a story and write a few paragraphs of notes about them – even the minor ones. I’ll add to this as the story progresses and go back to it if I’m feeling uncertain about what the character is doing in a particular scene.
Once a novel is underway, I usually start dreaming about the characters. I find myself thinking about them at random moments. It means that when I get back to the desk I have a strong sense of the character’s presence. By the time the book is finished, it’s as though I’ve been locked in a cell with the characters for a couple of years so I don’t have a lot of trouble letting them go. I don’t mean to say I’m sick of them but after a couple of years and several drafts, I’m ready to move on - a whole new cast and crew of characters is beckoning. When I finished writing India Dark I was ready to say goodbye to Tilly Sweetrick though I missed Charlie Byrne and Poesy Swift just a little bit. At the moment I’m deep into a new novel and a fifteen year old girl called Tiney Flynn is taking up all my attention. She’s a demanding character – very energetic and stubborn – so I haven’t really got too much time to worry about any of my old friends from earlier novels.
I think the author Jasper Fforde hit on a really interesting idea when he wrote his Tuesday Next novels. It’s great to think of an universe people with all the characters of fiction that authors have conjured (and sometimes abandoned). I like the idea of Poesy, Tilly and Charlie leading another life in a parallel universe.
Thanks for the amazing post Kirsty! I really enjoyed learning about how she came up with all her characters, and I hope you all did too! I'm also really looking forward to the novel about Tiney Flynn! Everyone, India Dark is out now! I loved this one, and you can see my review: here! :)