Characters make stories. Some writers begin with plots, but I think they’re fooling themselves. I don’t believe a plot will unfold successfully unless the characters driving it are exactly who they need to be.
Most books have a recognisable protagonist (they call them MCs - Main Characters - these days), and many publishers are very clear that one main character is enough, that readers need someone to pin all their hopes and dreams on, someone to hold their attention, someone with whom to identify. I think most readers are more sophisticated than that, but I don’t make the rules.
As it happens, my novel, “Naming Names”, is absolutely about one character. So, I suppose, the real question is, ‘Who is she?’
Writers are often asked about their characters, who they are and where they come from. I know a number of writers who rely quite heavily on friends and family, on people they’ve worked with or met, to mould their characters onto. Whether they simply adopt their physical attributes or look for deeper character traits, I know writers who also use public figures, politicians, actors, musician’s and celebrities in this way.
I couldn’t do that.
For the protagonist of “Naming Names”, I had to do something else. It was unthinkable to put someone I knew through the things that my character needed to go through in order for my story to work. This character had to grow from nothing, in my head.
In order to find the character, I made her surroundings familiar to me: rooms, entire buildings in some instances, furniture and things like habits and clothes all had to be very real in my mind for me to be able to grow this girl.
It was important that I wasn’t distracted from finding the character of my protagonist, and, by putting her in spaces that I understood, with objects that I knew from long-use, I avoided the distraction of working out which way a window faced, or which wall had a door in it, the geography of a house or the feel of a pair of slippers.
I think it’s natural when embarking on a potentially dangerous journey, to want to do it in a well-maintained, familiar vehicle with a recent MOT, a full tank, and emergency supplies in the boot.
On the other hand, if I had to cast the movie of the book, my nameless, many-named protagonist would probably be played by Rooney Mara.