Years ago a tutor on a Society of Authors Arvon residential gave us a five-point character sketch, which I’ve used as a first way in ever since, although the fifth point always puzzled me.
Point 1: Name
Choose a name for your character, bearing in mind that names carry information about, for example, age and social background. They also carry more subtle nuances, suggesting a kind of personality and way of being.
Point 2: Their appearance
Age, hair colour, eyes, build, style… one or two points that give you a glimpse of your character
Point 3: Something they love
This might be any kind of thing, from dishonesty to travel, from football to cottage pie. Just the first thing that comes into your head
Point 4: Something they hate
So far, so straightforward, but then there’s Point 5…
Point 5: Their special object
I interpreted this as meaning something you would always associate with them – maybe a physical mannerism such as a limp or an affectation of speech, or something they usually had with them like a dog or cat, or favourite piece of jewellery. But I don’t think most people have a special object such as that, so I always struggled to find one for my characters.
Then when I was tidying up after Christmas I was putting a fallen angel back into my fireplace wall when I suddenly thought, all these objects are special to me.
There’s the penny-size Thomas the Tank Engine I found in the edge of the sea the summer I spent in the beach cafe writing Peony Pinker. The Christmas cracker car one of my kids gave me when I was writing Car-mad Jack. The champagne bottle candle from a twenty-first birthday cake. The Incredible Hulk who was here in the house when I arrived, and the angel I found in a drawer in an empty house once when I was close to despair. The sewn heart a sweet friend I’ve never met sent to me last year. The teddy-bear my daughter won at the amusements arcade on a family day down at Looe. To mention but a few.
And I suddenly thought of the five-point character sketch, realising that it doesn’t have to be one definitive special object. It can be any object at all that has emotional resonance and meaning for you.
Any object my character feels is special to them will do for point number 5. Or a scattering of small objects like the ones in my fireplace wall, which tell so much of the story of me.