When my muse decides there is a story I need to tell she usually whacks me over the head with it. She is never subtle, and is not afraid to use some force if necessary. She does not feed this to me in the form of words, but uses pictures instead. Not just still photographs, but bright, vivid moving pictures. It is like a film suddenly begins to play in my mind.
The first part of the film lets me get to know my main character. I can see what they see, feel what they feel and begin to look at the other characters in terms of how they relate to them. Obviously, it is most important that as a writer you know your characters very well. The better you know them, the more your reader will. I usually know my protagonists so well that I even know their entire family history, childhood ailments, birthmarks, body movements, birth sign, food preferences, well you get the point, I know almost everything about them. I say almost everything because sometimes they like to surprise me.
This week, I started reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with my children. So far, we have only read the first two chapters. It is a book I have read aloud at least four times before to various groups of former students. Each of those times was before the film had come out. What I had forgotten was just how many physical changes were made between the character’s J.K. Rowling described in her novels and the ones that have become iconic through the film. Upon reading about the blonde Dursley family, dark haired Professor McGonagall and green eyed Harry Potter, my son who is six, was amazed that they had changed so much. I was impressed he noticed these details.
This made me begin to think about my protagonist. If someone were to read my book and make a film from it, who would be cast in her role?
That actually is a very difficult question to answer. I have read that some writers flip through magazines or look at well known people and draw their inspiration for their character’s physical appearance from there. Since my novel is fantasy and my protagonist has human characteristics but some noticeable physical differences, there is no one person that I think she looks like.
I have vaguely described her in my novels. Readers will be able to gather she is rather petite, and has long gold hair. This is much in contrast to the other characters in the books who are described in great detail. I have come to the conclusion that I like this vagueness because readers will be able to put their own slant on what she looks like.
How do you go about developing your characters? Where do you draw your inspiration from? Who would play your protagonist in the film version of your novel?