John Le Carré says: ‘You can’t actually make a character without putting something of yourself into each one. Smiley will always be that bit older and wiser than me.’
And: ‘I suppose what Smiley and I have in common is that we find it difficult to remember happiness. It’s not something that comes naturally to me, I have to work on it.’
What an interesting observation! I can use that thought somewhere in my own story. This will trigger something good.
I put a whole lot of myself into my characters, especially my neurotic tendencies. And, my dysfunctional family history. I have to laugh when I read about writers making up charts for their characters, likes and dislikes, hair color, all that. I know my guys as well as I know myself.
OK, the down side of this is, an editor told me, ‘Your characters all sound like each other, and they all sound like you.’ I’ve tried to correct that, but, here’s the thing: Almost all my characters are operators, con artists to one degree or another. They’re all up to something. And the ruffians all present a false front. Therefore, aside from the kids, I have some leeway with the kids, they are all well-spoken. I suppose they could lapse into their natural usage in private, but that would be even more confusing. I’m trying to make my voices more distinct. I refuse to resort to accents. Accents, if not well and sparingly done, are hokey as hell.
As for eye color, etc., I give little physical description in my story. I am more interested in who my fools are than in what they look like. I’m trying to add in more physical also. Perhaps describing my bake shop cutie as a moist little muffin isn’t quite enough.
Now, I get that some stories are plot-driven. Spy stories certainly fall into this category. But from Le Carré’s comment, I would guess that he has endowed his hero with more than usual (for a thriller) humanity, and I would also guess (haven’t read him) that this has played a large part in his magnificent success.
I believe in writing a character alive, then turning him loose. My people don’t dance to my tune, I dance to theirs. That gets tricky. It’s not an approach I recommend. But it’s the way I think. Non-linear, to an extreme.
At any rate, to find it difficult to remember happiness. There would be many-many reasons for that. I could build a whole book around that idea.
Maybe I already have.