Getting Inside a Character’s Head

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I have just finished the first part of an online short story I’m posting on my website which requires a change of perspective. Both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion incorporated a distinctly Ursula-esque POV but in the new story I have delved inside the head of another character – namely Lord Wrotham – which has opened up all sorts of possibilities (I can’t help but grin as I write that).

It does, however, also raise some challenges which go to the very heart of character development. You see I have only ever viewed him the way Ursula views him. Although I know his background (I created it after all), in many ways he’s as much of a mystery to me as he is to Ursula. Hence the fun in writing the story…and for those of you who have read The Serpent and The Scorpion, the story also offers some tantalizing clues as to what led to his arrest…

When I develop characters some of them appear pretty much fully formed in my head, whereas others take a while to ‘ferment’, as I ponder their past and what has made them who they are. Now I know many writers take offence at the prospect of characters doing unexpected things (aren’t we the ones in control after all?!) but I do find that many times my characters start behaving in ways I never intended – in a way rewriting themselves as the book progresses. For me, that’s all part of the fun of character discovery and development.

So how do writers flesh out their characters and what did it take for me to write this story from another character’s perspective?…You’d think it would be a methodical, well-organized process but instead I found myself:

  1. Rummaging through my old electronic files for the backgrounder I developed for Lord Wrotham then realizing that as I wrote both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion I basically discarded most of it and reinvented him as I went along (bugger!!)
  2. Rewriting the bloody backgrounder from scratch only to find a couple of minor characters unexpectedly popping up in his past (Bugger! Bugger!) which meant I had to take a closer look at them as well
  3. As I am also working on the third Ursula Marlow book, Unlikely Traitors, I then sifted through that draft manuscript to check his story and then started playing the ‘what if’ game….(triple bugger, No!!!)

So what happened at the end of this process? Well, I decided I liked pottering around in Lord Wrotham’s head…In fact, I was discovering he was one complicated sexy man…then my husband stopped talking to me.

I guess that’s what happens when characters take over.

So how do you approach character development – are you better organized than me? Do you have it all figured out? Or do your characters, just occasionally, take you by surprise? Are there any writers whose characters you wish they would explore more – characters you wish you could get inside their head and have a bit of a rummage?