They say you put a little piece of yourself into every story you write. With my Perth Girls series, each of the three heroines definitely got a piece of me, or should I say, I gave them a piece. They are my ‘write what you know’ stories, so it made sense to give those characters something that I could hold on to. From there, I got to explore the boundaries of their characters, to give them personality and nuances that are nothing like me.
Let’s take Lydia from The Quiet One as an example. I am by no means a business consultant. Neither am I any kind of visual artist. In fact, I couldn’t draw a straight line if you paid me. No, Lydia’s connection with me is her love for her favourite café:
Lydia scanned the walls of the comfortable cafe. Posters of every conceivable type plastered the walls – under a few layers here you could see an old Kylie poster from her Aphrodite world tour, and over there, an even older Split Enz one. The WA Ballet jostled for space on the walls with MosDef, the Veronicas and Panic at the Disco. Over their heads, Lydia glimpsed the hundreds of white paper lanterns that lit the place, and she wondered again how quickly the place would burn down, should any of them ever catch fire.
“No, I don’t think we should. I like Greens.” For Lydia, going to Greens was like shrugging into an old, friendly cardigan. It was a little bit daggy, a little bit worn here and there, but nothing could be more comfortable. And, in Lydia’s opinion, they made the best hazelnut latte ever.
They sat towards the back – at the front where the cafe opened out on to Oxford Street, the passing traffic was a little too noisy for good conversation. Toward the back, the bleeps of the old console computer games and the thwack of the balls on the pool table provided a comfortable backdrop for easy conversation.
Greens & Co is a real place, in Leederville, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia. It’s crowded and crazy and the tables and chairs are weird and strewn all over the place as people shift them around so they can all sit around one table, and at any time there is an eclectic mix of people there. I don’t have a favourite café, per se, but Greens is right up toward the top of my list.
By giving Lydia this connection with me, I found I was better able to connect with her. Isn’t that why you become friends with people – because they have similar interests and tastes to you?
Penny from The Patient One (unreleased as yet, but stay tuned!) is probably the most like me. She has well controlled depression, and is into community theatre. She is the ‘mother hen’ of the three of them, and is the one that both Lydia and Desiree turn to first if they need a shoulder to cry on, or a wingman. She feels inadequate some of the time, and other times is totally exasperated by her friends.
Desiree from The Defiant One (currently writing this one) is the least like me, yet I’ve enjoyed writing her the most. She’s foul mouthed, will use her sexuality as a weapon if necessary, but underneath she is lost and hurting.
She isn’t a fan of Green’s & Co at all:
…when Desiree looked around, all she saw was outmoded décor, uncomfortable furniture and pretentious people. The walls looked like someone had barfed posters all over them, and the hundreds of paper globes above them were a disaster waiting to happen.
“We have got to talk Lydia into changing cafes. This place is a dump.”
I think Desiree is most like me with her relationship – she finds the person she is comfortable with no matter the situation – and she doesn’t need to prove herself with him, so she relaxes and finds happiness. I loved giving this gift to Desiree – I hurt her so much, she deserved a little niceness.
It was a challenge to give these three women distinctive characters. They all appear in each others’ stories, so there had to be ways we could identify them, in their speech and mannerisms. Desiree’s speech is smattered with profanity. Penny asks lots and lots of questions, and Lydia makes statements of what she thinks are facts.
When building characters, I have a 46 question list that I run through. Not all of the 46 things on the list are relevant to all characters, but at least I get to consider all of them. Questions range through physical characteristics, favorites, family situations, traits, what they think about certain things, and what song would play every time they entered a room.
I did all three of the character questionnaires for the Perth Girls together. That way, I could see exactly where they did and didn’t complement each other, and exactly where I fit in to each of their personalities. It had made writing the stories much richer, knowing how the other two are going to respond to something one of them says!
What about you? How much detail do you go into with creating your characters? How important is it to know the person about whom you are writing, do you think?