I was asked this morning how I come up with names for my characters and since I haven’t blogged for a while I thought it might be an idea to kill two birds with one stone by writing something about the process and how I go about it.
It is important to stress however, that this is how I do it. As I’ve written before, I have never studied the craft of writing and so have no idea if there is a standard ‘way’ or not. This works for me and that’s all I need to worry about.
Character development is actually one of the most fun parts of the writing process for me because it allows me the opportunity to play god. And given that it’s fairly certain that he and I will not be meeting in the afterlife as I’ll almost certainly be heading south, it’s an opportunity I tend to relish for all kinds of reasons. Revenge being just one.
Now, I know that in both Billy Evans and Billy Ellis I have created characters which have and will make return appearances but that’s a different blog altogether. This is about the first time they make an appearance in my psyche but be it a novel or a screenplay, initially it always starts with the same thing, the story. Be it tightly or loosely plotted, it is vital that you, as the writer, have some idea of the journey you’re going to take your creations on before you start putting them together. Once you have that, then you can start putting flesh on bones. It is however, important to understand that to all intents and purposes, your characters are, and must be, real people with real histories, personalities, flaws and fears. They have to be for reasons which should be obvious. And key to that is making them ‘real’ in every sense of the word.
For me, the first stage of that process is to give them a name, a face and a voice. The name is the easier of the three because all it has to do it fit the individual and the world you want them to inhabit. Can you imagine Billy Evans being called Tarquin Selby-Green? Of course not, it would never work. Billy is short, sharp, blokey and slightly cheeky so it was perfect for the main man in both The Crew and Billy’s Log.
I also wanted the christian names to be short and punchy. Evans was my former agents name and Billy Ellis rolls off the tongue. Simple as that. But in the past I’ve found names for my characters simply by scrolling through Facebook and finding something which I think fits. However, a name can be changed fairly easily, usually with a few clicks of a button, the face and the voice are far more important because as you spend more and more time with these imaginary people, they will fairly quickly come to haunt your consciousness.
When a character first appears in your head, he or she will inevitably have a certain look and Billy Ellis was no exception. From day one he was medium height, stocky, dark haired and had a cheeky face. In essence, like any one of a hundred lads I know. I also knew immediately what I wanted him to sound like and so once I had the plot tied down, I went looking for him.
Oh yes, every character in everything I’ve ever written is based on a real person. In the case of Billy Evans, it was a mate. Now I won’t say who he is (he knows, but he is very different from Leo Gregory which is why I had so many initial problems when I began adapting the book for the screen) but I follow this same model for every character in everything I write. The reason being that if I ever find myself struggling, I can either ring up that person or YouTube them. Trust me, it’s amazing how quickly and easily a quick chat or a short video clip can free up the mind and spark something off.
Of course as work progresses the characters begin to take on lives of their own which is exactly as it should be but as a starting point, basing them on real people certainly works for me and in all honesty, that’s all I care about!
Work on Top Dog is all but complete now and having seen an initial edit, I have to say it’s looking brilliant. I’m not going to get all gushy about how amazing everyone looks and what a fabulous job Martin has done suffice to say, I could not have asked for better from anyone involved. I certainly can’t wait to see it on a big screen and whilst I have a rough idea of release dates I’m not going to pass them on as that isn’t down to me. However, as soon as I’m allowed to pass them on you’ll be amongst the first to know.
The new novel is also progressing well and should be released in a few months in both eBook and paperback formats. I can’t say anything about it as the moment but I think and indeed, hope, it’s going to cause something of a stir. Indeed, we believe that in some respects, it’s something of a first!