Before discussing the role of characters in the novel let us look more closely at ideas. In a previous article we discussed the source of ideas. Let us examine them more closely as possible plot situations.
One of the useful ways of grabbing an idea from the ether is to ask - 'What if...' This is turning an idea into a simple plot situation. For example - what if after twenty years of marriage a woman with two daughters discovers on the death of her husband that he had married her bigamously and that the legal wife still living has total claim on his estate. Our heroine and her daughters become homeless and penniless. How will she cope? Feel free to use or adapt this idea if it appeals to you. Asking 'What if...' can have very exciting results.
There are no new ideas. Writers have to make do with second-hand ones. But the paradox is that although the idea is not original each individual's treatment of that idea will be unique to him or her. New writers are often fearful that someone will steal their idea. This is highly unlikely. Ideas are free to air. There is no copy-write on ideas. Every writer has a unique style of writing. This means that if an idea is given to a group of writers who are asked to create a story based on that same idea none of the resulting stories will resemble each other in any way. No two minds or imaginations work alike.
With your basic idea usually comes your genre - the kind of book you want to write. Very often your chosen genre is one that you like to read yourself - crime fiction, science fiction or historical romance, but that is not always the case. Your genre will often decide whether your story will be character-lead or plot-lead. Crime fiction is often criticised for being plot-lead, but in point of fact, it has to be because this is what the reader expects and wants - the puzzle to be solved. Historical romance, family sagas and general fiction are most often character-lead. Readers are eager to find out how the people (characters) deal with the blows life throws at them - so plot twists and turns are essential here too. Make no mistake, in any genre, characters are everything - they can make or break a novel.
Does your story idea have the 'legs' to go the distance? Your basic idea is merely the key to entering your proposed novel, and is only the first of many ideas you must find to ensure the novel's continued development. Do not panic. Once you decide on a cast of characters to inhabit your novel they will help you generate more ideas.
The main or key character is the first one to find. This key character will tell the story or rather will 'live' the story and is the main view-point character, the one from whose point-of-view the events of the story will be shown. Make a note of this subject of point-of-view. It is vast and has many aspects that will be discussed at some length in later articles.
Perhaps you already have a character in mind that your basic idea sprang from. On the other hand, you may have thought up a plot-situation that has caught your imagination. Either way a character will be at the heart of it. But at present that character is two dimensional - not yet alive. It helps if your character has a name which will make them seem more real to you. Careful what name you choose - think about it. With a name the character becomes a person. You must now interrogate your character. You need to know everything about them. What did their father do for a living? Was he wealthy or working class? And their mother - what kind of a woman was she; loving or selfish? What was their upbringing like; unhappy or carefree? The answers to these questions will mould your character's personality and outlook on life. The more you know about them, the easier it will be for them to jump off the page alive and kicking.
In this respect you will find your character is very eager to co-operate. You may find, too, that they will start pestering you for attention. They are eager for you to give them life so that they can live their story.
In the next article there will be further discussion on character development and the best way to people your novel.