6.4 Building a character: Asking questions

In your notebook, try Roffey’s and Novakovich’s methods of building character outlines to flesh out your character. See how much you can discover about them.

Use headings such as these, or Novakovich’s, for your character outline – or, as he suggests, make up your own:

  • Physical/biological: age, height, size, state of health, assets, flaws, sexuality, gait, voice.
  • Psychological: intelligence, temperament, happiness/unhappiness, attitudes, self-knowledge, unconscious aspects.
  • Interpersonal/cultural: family, friends, colleagues, birthplace, education, hobbies, beliefs, values, lifestyle.
  • Personal history: major events in their life, including the best and the most traumatic times.

Rather than use the headings, I’ve tried using a couple of questionnaires. It was surprising how much this character was prepared to ‘tell’ me, given that he’s pretty closed and secretive….

Ade questionnaire 1 Ade questionnaire 2

The six ways of developing and getting to know a character, according to Novakovitch, are:

summary; repeated action or habit; self-portrait; appearance; scene;combination of techniques. I reckon that, together, these two questionnaires cover all the bases. I should put more work into ‘scene’.

So the next part of this assignment is:

Experiment with different ways of portraying your character, in line with the suggestions made by Novakovich.

Writing in the third person (using ‘he’ or ‘she’), try each of the four different ways outlined below, either in one or two continuous pages, or in four separate paragraphs:

  • Make a summary of what the character is like.
  • Show them through appearance.
  • Show them through a habitual or repeated action.
  • Finally, show them through a speech in a scene.

I’ve done the first three of these by hand in a notebook. The speech scene I have done onto the machine, and here it is. I’m not happy with it yet. I may have chosen the wrong scene. Ade is awkward in work and social situations. This might make it hard to make him feel authentic.

‘So what have we got today, Gerry?’ asked Ade, ‘Nice millionaire mansion, bijou Georgian townhouse, panoramic penthouse?’

Gerry reached into his desk drawer and placed a thin plastic wallet file, an OS Landranger map, and a GPS on the desk.

‘To Let job today, mate. Two bedroom cottage on the B… Tenants are still in till the end of the month but they know you’re coming. We sent him a text message. He’s a Polish guy, been doing some plumbing work for the builder on that development in

Adrian drew himself to his full height and towered over Gerry’s computer monitor. He wanted to be masterful.

‘Gez, for Christ’s sake.’

‘I know mate, I know. You were only over that way yesterday.’

Gerry, his face turned upward, tried an ingratiating smile. He unfolded the map and, with his neatly manicured index finger, pointed to a tiny square in the middle of a triangle of empty countryside.

‘It’s not that far.’

Ade became aware that he was chewing the cuticle of his left thumb. Damn.

‘It’s fifteen miles and do you know how much it’s costing me to get a tankful of petrol these days?’

‘C’est la vie. We’re an estate agent in Oswestry, not bloody Kensington. Look, I tell you what. Just go and do that cottage and then you can email me the shots. No need to come back into the office this afternoon.’

Adrian considered the deal and figured that he would be home in time to do all his post-processing and have a session on his secret snaps, and still be able to get to Welshpool by six to interview his next bride, a hairdresser called Abby.

‘Fair enough. I may forgive but I won’t forget.’

No point in making a big deal of having to go out into the middle of nowhere in the rain. It was work, after all, and this was a chance to add to his collection. A bit of cultural diversity, a Polish couple’s private life to mooch about in.

On the way out he made a point of stopping at Janine’s desk to check the contents of his camera bag. He knew what was in it, but this daily ritual occasionally afforded him the opportunity to look down her blouse and see the colour of her bra. He thought about asking her to come and model for the Shropshire Camera Club, but he hadn’t got round to it yet.

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