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Combining Characters in the Drafting Process by Tom Halford

I am pleased to welcome Canadian author Tom Halford to my website today to discuss why he combines characters while he is drafting a novel. Thank you for taking time to tackle this issue, Tom.

One thing I always try to do is to listen to other people’s criticism. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no saint. There is criticism that annoys me or that I don’t think is right. However, even if I feel annoyed or misunderstood, I always try to do my best to listen, because that’s the only way to get better.

Furthermore, if someone has taken the time to read something I’ve written and to give me thoughtful feedback, I feel like I owe them something. The very least I could do is to think long and hard about their commentary.

One piece of criticism that I have appreciated (and I’ve heard it from more than one person) is that I have too many characters. I’m not sure why this is a quirk of my writing, but I like to include many different types of people. I hope that it is because I find people interesting; I like to think about the people who I know or who I meet or who I see when I’m out and about. I’m curious about them and their lives. Writing about fictional people is a way for me to develop this curiosity. Another thing I like to do is to mention a character early in a novel and then bring them back up later on (sort of like an in-joke between me and the reader).

The problem with this inclusion of many different characters is that some readers find it hard to remember the minor characters that only effect the plot tangentially.

Here is my solution. I simply see if there are any characters who are similar, and I try to collapse their storylines together. In the novel I am working on at the moment (which is about climate change), I have a host of characters, and it seems that with each new draft, I want to add someone new. However, I know that I need to actually start doing the opposite. I need to start morphing characters together.

The great Canadian novelist, Michael Winter, once said that when he creates a character (and I hope I’m getting this right because I’m doing it from memory) that he combines a trait or traits from up to three people who he knows, and from that shared trait, he starts to build a fictional person. I love his writing, and I love it because he is able to develop characters that always feel authentic and interesting.

As I’m drafting this climate change thriller, I am going through this process of combining characters and finding traits that allow me to do so. Hopefully, it will make the reading experience more pleasant for anyone who takes the time to read my work.

Tom's debut novel, Deli Meat was published by Crooked Cat Books.

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