On the last (Sir) Michael Parkinson Show, he interviewed actor Sir Michael Caine and asked him for advice on acting and why he was so successful.
Michael Caine replied that the audience could tell if you were just saying your lines and then thinking about what you had to say next while you waited for the other person to say their lines. He said you had to listen to what the other actor was saying. “You must react to them,” he said.
This could be interpreted as being the same for writing. The author must be involved with the story and the characters to the extent that she/he reacts as her characters would as she writes. If she doesn’t feel what her characters are feeling, if she’s not gripped by the scene unfolding under her fingertips, then her story and her characters will not ring true and will not capture her reader’s interest.
I’ve finally sent my seventh novel, Grievous Harm, to my publisher. Finding the time to go through the completed manuscript and tweak anything that might need it wasn’t easy. Not only am I trying to organise WriteFest, the Bundaberg writers festival, but I’m also trying to tidy my office. I’d love to be able to say that I live and work in a pristine environment, but … Clean it is, tidy is something else. But with the festival organising kicking into gear, I figure a neat desk will help me keep on top of things. And that might just give me enough time to start writing book eight.
So what has this to do with the ARRA, I hear you ask? Well, the Australian Romance Readers Association has an email loop, and they are a very generous and enthusiastic bunch, so when I couldn’t find the right name for a minor character in Grievous Harm, I sent out a “please help” email for suggestions. The responses were wonderful, names and reasons why those names suited my character came rolling in. I was most grateful for their help, but none of the names sparked that “Oh, yeah” sensation I was hoping for. Then it came. The perfect name for this character. He’s only a minor character in this book, but will become the main character in book eight. And now I can write his story. The plot has been percolating in my mind for some time, but without the right name, this character was too elusive to pin down. So thanks, ladies, I’m most indebted to you, and particularly to Debbie for sending me the name.
So it makes me wonder, how do other readers feel about characters’ names? Do you feel jerked out of the story if the character doesn’t fit his or her name? Does a soldier hero called Cecil make you shake your head and wonder what the writer was thinking? How does it affect you when a character has a name you can’t stand?
I couldn’t believe how long it’s been since I last blogged! I thought that once I returned from the McGregor Summer School I would have a few winding-down days, then jump back into writing and organising WriteFest, the Bundaberg writers festival. But no, that crazy Chaos Fairy (my friends call her the Curtis Chaos Fairy) swatted my darling daughter-in-law, Cheryse Durrant, and she ended up with a broken leg (Cheryse, not the Fairy, darn it). Luckily we have a car that Cheryse can manoeuvre herself into the passenger seat with her leg in the knee-to-ankle brace, because trips to the physio and doctor would have been impossible in her smaller car.
Now I’m getting back to editing Grievous Harm, the story that features one of the minor characters in Fatal Flaw. GH is darker than FF, and covers a topic that sends chills down the backs of parents. It’s a story that I found myself writing in spite of my natural aversion to the topic, but the characters demanded the story be told in a certain way and I went along because I agreed with them. Sometimes I wonder where some of these characters come from. I hope they’re not from a deeper side of my personality, because that would be too scary to live with. Ruth in Fatal Flaw is a character I was fascinated by. She had so many different facets to her, so much so that I wondered how each of us would have acted in her situation. I had a sneaking sympathy for her, and I wonder if any of my readers felt the same. I would love to hear readers’ thoughts on Ruth.
Would you believe I picked up a Swedish backpacker the other day? Okay, all you romance and crime lovers, stop the drooling and getting suspicious. She (yes, she) was a lovely young woman who hadn’t seen anything of Bundaberg and was going to be working at least 6 days a week for the next four months so I gave her a tour of all the wonderful beaches here. From Mon Repos where the turtles come to lay their eggs (it’s the season now) to Bargara and Innes Park. Didn’t get as far as Elliott Heads but made it to our only hill, The Sloping Hummock, for an all-over view of the countryside. At 20 she has come alone to Oz on a working holiday. And if you’re thinking of her as a tall, striking blonde with blue eyes, reverse that. She was even as short as I am! And we took the same shoe size. I found that out when she asked me where she could buy some sneakers. People with tiny feet aren’t always catered for well in the footwear area.
It got me thinking about our preconceptions of what we expect people of other nationalities look like and how they behave. When I wrote Fatal Flaw, I created a character who is part Asian, part English, with diverse nationalities grandparents. I had never encountered anyone with that background so picked the brains of a friend who had lived in Malaysia for some years. What she told me offered a whole new twist to the plot that I hadn’t anticipated but worked exceptionally well. Readers have to believe that characters’ actions ring true, and getting that kind of insight from my friend allowed me to give him plausible motivations. I love creating complex characters, and Fatal Flaw has its fair share of them.
I often wonder how readers feel about characters in the books they read. Anyone willing to share their thoughts?