Saturday 16th November - Characters - Part Three - Nature/Nurture
In some way, all my creative writing reflects my fascination with the nature or nurture debate. As one of six children, I've seen how people can have the same upbringing, the same love, the same nurturing and the same opportunities, and yet turn out to be very different people with very different interests and skillsets. In The Backwater, I enjoyed exploring the similarities between Rebecca and the father she's only meeting when she’s twelve years old. Dance With Me – the book which is coming out next year – is about someone who's going around developing new relationships rather than being with the ones nature has provided her with.
I think when you set up a character, you do have to think about where they come from. Obviously, you have to think biologically in something like eye colour but, for the most part, the character you create is as unique as you are.
Still, you can't have someone who has nothing to do with their biological heritage and is just some kind of freak of nature. Everyone comes from somewhere and referring to their families can make a character appear more three-dimensional, because you're bringing in something related to their past. They certainly don’t have to be similarities – think about someone saying “oh, you're nothing like your mum”. It automatically tells you something about both mother and child: teaching the reader about people in one go; two for the price of one; two birds with one stone, etc…
On the other hand, one of the things that makes nurture so interesting is that the people who nurture us during our formative years all usually people we share genes with. But then there are other people who come into our lives, and they’re not necessarily the people you’d expect them to be. And nurture isn't just about people who look after you – it will have a lot to do with them, but it may also be about people whose fleeting acquaintance has a big impact on your life. Nurture could be seen as “experiences”: in terms of creating a character, it’s a case of “nature versus experience” rather than “nature versus nurture”.
Think of nature as being a skeleton. If you don't have it then you can't have a body (a human body, anyway) but you also need all the organs, and the sinew, and the tissue that make a person fully alive. Everyone comes as a package of nature and nurture, but the real spark comes when they go off-piste completely: that is what makes a character worth writing and reading about.