I’d only just started out on my writing career when this important point about character came to me in flash. It was the dress rehearsal of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Constance Cox and I was playing the part of Lady Windermere. It was a smallish part but nevertheless she is the mother of the female lead. In one scene she leaves the Savile household and goes home to take tea. I then found myself wondering about what she would do for the rest of the weekend and indeed until the time that she appeared again in the play.
It’s kind of obvious really. Every character has a back story and a forward story. We have to consider them to be real.
Knowing our characters really well
We need to know about them physically, intellectually, emotionally. We need to know what their personalities are like and what their fears, hopes and motivations are in our particular story. I used to give my students questionnaires about their characters.
“Do we really need to answer all of these questions for a character who has a walk-on part in a short story?” they would say. Yes and no. I rarely do make notes on every aspect of my character but I think about them a lot and I could answer any question you might throw at me about them. That amount of knowledge is important.
Ironically, when this was said to me in response to the 20 questions I’d given to my students about their characters, I was on an advanced editing course and had been asked to write six pages of A4 about each of the characters in my work in progress.
A little spooky
Once when I was thinking a lot about my characters and commuting between Basingstoke and Southampton I had the distinct impression that they were sitting in the back of my car and would be prepared to argue with each other and with me.
Back to Lady Windermere
The actor and the writer have a lot in common. They have to make their characters real and give them a voice. Yes, even those with a walk-on part.