I thought it might be interesting, this week, to explain a little more about the method of creating characters by giving ‘voices’ to inanimate objects, particularly buildings. I first learned to do this in an exercise at my local writers’ group, Weymouth Writing Matters. You simply choose your object, and imagine what type of character it might have. I say ‘simply’ – but it does take a bit of effort.
Bear in mind that any object, just like a person, has both an appearance and a history, both in its current form and in terms of the materials it’s made from. This is particularly true of buildings, which also have a shared history with human beings – they are made by them and for them, so it’s no great surprise that they resemble them in some ways.
An imposing building, or one that has had a long life works best, of course. For instance, I developed my character Rissa the Ship Warden from the lighthouse at Portland Bill. Now this is nothing if not imposing – tall, flamboyantly dressed in red and white, and with a voice like a foghorn. Well, it is a foghorn. But the lighthouse also has a job to do in warning ships off a dangerous rocky coast and a tide-race. It is a competent and reliable worker with the good of the community at heart. You can see where I’m going with this, I hope. I assigned these qualities to Rissa (named after the kittiwakes that nest nearby, Rissa tridactyla). She is tall, striking, dressed in red, and loud. She is also a competent and reliable worker with the good of the community at heart… You get the picture. From this starting point it was easy to add more: people who give themselves wholeheartedly to their work are often temperamental when they’re off duty, so I gave Rissa a fearsome temper. She also becomes a mother and finds it difficult to give enough of herself to both work and family. Soon I had a full-blown person dealing with the ups and downs and trials of life. She was immensely enjoyable to write about.
I revisit this exercise regularly when I’m creating new characters. It’s a great way to concentrate the mind in collecting together the features of an invented person without being too random. The characteristics of a building have to hold together, or the building wouldn’t. The same goes for people, I’d say!
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