I am going to be interviewing Kaylan Doyle, author of ‘Survivors’ Dreams’, but one of her answers spiked my curiosity about what others thought, so I decided to post it separately and use it as a forum for some discussion. I asked Kaylan this:
Q: Your action/reaction character interplay always seems exactly right. How do you manage the balance; where does the inspiration come from?
KD: For me, the key to character/character interplay comes from observation.
Because of a decades-long hearing impairment, I’ve studied every aspect of social interaction – whether or not I was involved. I “heard” with my eyes. Compensating for the lack of words, I ‘read’ body language, guessing (not always successfully), while trying to fill the gaps of missed dialogue.
The more my hearing deteriorated, the more my other senses expanded to assist. Watching movies (or other people – ex. in the grocery store or at public venues), I found myself keying on the set of a jaw, the squaring of shoulders, the pace of breathing or whether one character invaded the personal space of another. The classic use of “show, don’t tell.”
In writing situations, I use the senses: Sight, feel, taste, smell, hearing plus a large dose of intuition. Applying all these bits of information enriches a scene or an interaction between characters.
For inspiration, I draw characteristics, traits from people I know. Combined with abilities I wish I had, or ones my characters will need to survive, my novels are peopled with composites. I love the freedom to create and amplify my characters’ abilities. Writing a thumbnail sketch of each personality keeps me true to the proper action/reaction of each. And some, I just make up for the fun of it – but I always try for authenticity, believability. I need my readers to nod and say, “Yes, this could happen – or yes, he/she would do that.”
About balance: I’ve found, in real life, there are few all “bad” or all “good” people. Everyone has their good points and everyone has flaws. Each has some personal code of behavior or ethics – even serial killers have methodology (eeek!). Murderers have their own twisted reasons for what they do, why and how. I try to portray the belief system of each character and reflect it in their actions.
In creating a ‘balanced’ character, I believe four things need to agree: dialogue (what the character says), internalization (what the character is thinking), body language (what the character does), and proprioceptive reaction (the involuntary physical reaction of the character to stimulus). If they do not agree, (a very useful tool if applied deliberately) it is easy for the reader to guess something is amiss. Often, writing what is “not happening” is more effective than writing what “is”.
My favorite character to create: I love strong female protagonists.
So, tell me what you think of character interplay. Kaylan’s right, that close observation translates to body movement that makes characters more believable and real. Below is the cover from her book.