For all authors, especially in the field of fiction, presenting our characters character is one of the most important aspects of our work. Those who can get their imaginary cast to leap of the page and take on a believable persona also successfully capture their readers and hold them shackled to the book until the very last page. Though one must have a strong storyline, which does not stretch to the implausible, it is the characters a reader cares about, be it love, like or hate that keeps them reading on.
I have discovered that an author must also choose carefully the method used in getting the image presented. Whether I have got this right only time and the success or failure of my books will tell, but to give you some idea of my methods, below are three examples from ‘A Cast of Hawks’.
I described him as a highly experienced man with a wide range of knowledge, which he brings to bear when assessing incidents at sea. He was the man that thought a collision between two yachts in relatively benign weather conditions would be unlikely to cause the sinking of both vessels. A solid professional he pursues his investigation of the incident, even when ordered to stop. Alongside him I placed a capable wife who gently pulls his leg from time to time.
In writing him I used his actions as the plot went along to reveals his thought processes and personality.
Hiroshi Yamada (Terrorist infiltrator to power station maintenance crew) (A main character)
Here I needed to justify the man’s employment in a high security industry whilst explaining quickly how he came to being involved in extreme terrorist activity. To achieve this I created a family history going back four generations, revealing the failure of their American Dream.
Stavos (Smuggler of arms, people etc fronting as a fisherman) (A secondary character)
Here was a character I had great fun in writing, as it gave me great scope. This is his introduction.
That same dawn woke Stavos, a fat sweaty Lebanese who hid out from the rest of the world in a shack in the back streets of Horta. Beside him, still snoring gently was Fatia, his mistress and meal ticket. He fumbled in the dim light for the packet of cigarettes and his old flip top lighter. Blinking and yawning he pulled a cigarette from the packet and lit it, coughing and wheezing on the smoke. Hawking and spitting accurately into the bedpan on the floor beside him, he gave Fatia’s rounded buttock a slap and between coughs ordered her to make coffee.
Without protest she got up and stumbled to the gas cooker in the corner of the room. Turning on the gas bottle, she struck a match and put it to the grease-covered ring, snatching her hand away as the gas ignited with a loud pop. Stavos watched her with affection as she busied herself spooning in the coffee and placing the pot onto the flame. Turning, she saw him looking at her. “What’s the matter with you, hey? You look at your own body.”
“We are getting old, Fa,” he said wearily, “but the prophet has been kind to you, eh?”
“Shut up, you old fool and get dressed, the Japo will be waiting,” she ordered, but with a kindly tone. His comment had warmed her even though she knew that her looks could still attract a regular trade on the street.
Stavos gave her a fond look, then scratching absently, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and pulled on a pair of crumpled trousers that had been dropped on the floor the previous night, hobbling across the cold stone floor to the wash basin, he turned on the brass tap. A spluttering noise preceded the trickle of water that slowly filled the basin and overflowed onto the floor as he plunged his face into it, rubbing with his hands. Straightening up, he groped for the towel on a hook behind the door and dried himself, his toilet for the day complete.
As Fatia poured the coffee he crossed to the small window and brushed aside the curtain, squinting through the torn fly screen and dirty glass in the early light at the storm clouds racing overhead. “The Japo won’t be putting to sea in this,” he grunted, removing the mug of coffee from Fatia’s hand and taking a loud sip.
“How you know, eh? ’E sounded very determined when you told ’im abou’ the storm,” Fatia said, glaring at him with one hand on her hip.
“Well ’e ’adn’t seen it then!” he retorted.
“Look, ’e is paying you more money than I can earn in a year; that means ’e will go! So be there!” Her voice had risen several decibels.
“All right, I go, and if I drown?” he asked.
“I will dance on your gravestone!” she replied.
“Ah Fa,” he swung to face her, his expression showing hurt. “You don’t mean that.”
She smiled, relieving the hurt. “No, I don’t mean that. God go with you and care for you, but go quickly!”
Stavos slurped at his coffee whilst getting dressed, then, oilskins on, he left, scrambling down the stairs and out into the rain-drenched and windy street.
Fatia had followed him down the stairs and was watching his huddled form as he half walked, half ran, down towards the quayside. Her expression showed both fear and fondness. The fear was the storm, maybe the Japanese man would insist on sailing in this awful weather. The fondness was for the only man who had been honest with her and not tried to abuse her. She smiled; they made a strange couple, he a fisherman, small-time arms smuggler and her minder, she plying that risky trade, street walking.
I am currently working hard with the characters in ‘Shadows in Sunshine’ aiming to improve whilst trying to be concise. What makes a good book character? I know one when I read some of the great writers, and can only try my best to match their ability.