Today I came across this passage in the book I’m reading at the moment (Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden):
Many actors spend years doing exactly what Molly had dismissed: they pretend to be other people. They select voices and movements that might plausibly suit a particularly character, and they assume these voices and movements in the same way as they might put on a costume, a wig or a cardboard crown. It isn’t convincing.
I’ve always thought that novel writing is quite a lot like acting and this quote confirms it for me. I know that some novel writers (and those who write books about how to write novels) advocate making lists of exactly the kind of thing Molly rejects - what does your character eat for breakfast, does he have a quirky smile, is there a little catch-phrase he uses a lot? We are encouraged to know our characters inside out. But I think that this technique is actually trying to construct your characters rather than to know them, and from the outside in rather than the inside out which is the way I prefer to build characters.
For me, just as the personalities of real people are formed – at least in part – by the events and circumstances of their life, so fictional characters make themselves known through the events I make them live through. And yes, the events do come first. So does that make my novels ‘plot driven’? Yes, though I would hope that that doesn’t mean any sacrifice of psychological depth. I think – for me - the plot, the story, the narrative, whatever you want to call it arises out of a particular kind of character with a particular set of personality traits and flaws and the job of the author is to find them so as to make the plot work on a psychological level.
How do other writers out there ‘do’ characterisation. Do you make lists, think of somebody you know, consciously work out what kind of person would do the kind of thing that happens in your book or try, by tapping into the subconscious, to write ‘from the inside out’?