I am thrilled to have author Ashley Meggitt visit my website today to discuss the craft of Characterisation. Thank you so much for you r time and insight, Ashley.
The craft of characterisation is an attempt to honour and explore the truth of human nature through the art of storytelling – Corbet, D. 2013
To my notion Corbet’s above quote is at the heart of characterisation although I pull back from suggesting we are exploring any truth. Truth is not easily, if ever, attained and I would rather explore what I see and understand of human nature than hunt for any illusive truth.
With that in mind then, my approach to characterisation takes a psychological prospective. I like to consider my characters according to three fundamental aspects of human cognition: thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. I suspect many authors do the same but may not articulate the process in such terms. We don’t need degrees in psychology to do this, we can tap into ourselves – our lived experiences, our responses, our dreams, our imaginations, and our emotionality.
I love the psychological development process. My favourite trick is to put a character in a scene, often one that might appear in the novel, and then test them out – run through a series of thoughts, feeling, and behaviours and see what sits best with the character. Once I know this then whenever I meet an event in the story, I can be pretty certain of how the character will respond. I find I can write with confidence. I don’t mean for this to sound prescriptive but being mindful of these psychological elements does [help] present a well-developed and recognisable character.
Here is an example from my novel, The Dark Chorus. In this extract the Boy is looking at a house he is going to enter:
The house looks as tired as the tree guards. In fact, the whole road looks tired. Everything just wants to sleep the sleep of those who have had enough. That is sad, and I touch the broken brick wall that partitions off what would have been a tiny front garden. I offer my sympathy.
If we break it down, we see that the Boy gives us his thoughts on the house (and street) – tired – and follows that up by telling us how he feels – sad in this case. He then demonstrates his feelings by physically touching the building offering it his sympathy. Yes, the Boy is a little strange and his behaviours aren’t “normal”, but because I’ve already considered how he thinks, feels and acts, his unusualness is consistent and becomes normalised in my and the reader’s mind.
Here is another example of the use of the triad of psychological aspects but in a different order. In this example the Boy’s friend Makka falls into a canal during a fight:
…but I am listening to the silence of the water, straining to hear anything that breaks its acoustic banality, but there is nothing. I feel pain, the same pain that I felt when I failed to bring my mother back to life.
I am at a loss. Lost.
I need maternal help and so focus on my mother’s soul. I can feel the ethereal thread joining us and I sit back in the dark of the tarpaulin and let this connection calm me, comfort me, hold me.
Again, I deploy the psychological triad. This time he feels first (mental pain - loss), then he gives us a clear reflective thought telling us he is lost and follows that up by comfort-seeking behaviour.
There are of course other aspects to characterisation that we need to consider such as physical appearance, mannerisms, speech and so on, and like many of you I enjoy filling in these details. However, I do this after I have constructed the psychological profile because I find the profile to be the antecedent for character development. It may not be an approach you have much truck with but for me it is become part of my writing style. Each to their own though.
I will just add a note about emotions because they are different from feelings and are part of the psychological profile I create for my characters. Feelings can be regarded as episodic responses – such as the Boy’s feeling of pain at the moment Makka is lost in the canal. Emotions are deeper, represent a sentiment, a low-level construct that can persist within us for months, years, a lifetime. Emotions are the underlying driver for why people follow the path they do. In the case of The Boy he pursues a path of redemption driven by guilt and love, while Makka’s story is driven by hatred. These are fundamental aspects of characterisation – it gives the characters direction and motivation. Being mindful of your character’s emotions allows you to develop them in a more organic way, one that feels real to the reader. And remember, events can change these underlying emotions so if something happens in the story that is of significance to the character, they (you the author) need to react accordingly and modify the emotional driver.
Thanks for reading this short article. I hope it has given you some fuel for thought for when you get stuck into your next writing project.
Dark Chorus - The Blurb
Oblivio salvationem Angelis opperitur
Oblivion awaits the Angel’s salvation
The Boy can see lost souls.
He has never questioned the fact that he can see them. He thinks of them as the Dark Chorus. When he sets out to restore the soul of his dead mother it becomes clear that his ability comes from within him. It is a force that he cannot ignore – the last shard of the shattered soul of an angel.
To be restored to the kingdom of light, the shard must be cleansed of the evil that infects it – but this requires the corrupt souls of the living!
With the help from Makka, a psychotically violent young man full of hate, and Vee, an abused young woman full of pain, the Boy begins to kill.
Psychiatrist Dr Eve Rhodes is seconded to assist the police investigation into the Boy’s apparently random ritualistic killings. As the investigation gathers pace, a pattern emerges. When Eve pulls at the thread from an article in an old psychology journal, what might otherwise have seemed to her a terrible psychotic delusion now feels all too real…
Will the Boy succeed in restoring the angel’s soul to the light? Can Eve stop him, or will she be lost to the realm of the Dark Chorus?
Ashley Meggitt lives near Cambridge, UK, with his wife Jane. He left school to join a psychedelic rock band when he realised that sex, drugs, and rock and roll was a thing. Subsequently he went back to education and became head of IT for a Cambridge University College. In recent years Ashley has retrained in psychology and is now an associate lecturer in sports psychology. He is studying for his PhD. He also holds an MA in Creative Writing. The Dark Chorus is his debut novel.