Neil Gaiman and Caring About Characters

Interesting article by Neil Gaiman about writing about characters. Its one of those things that make perfect sense once you read it.

When I was a young writer I would come up with stories, and then put characters into them. And the character would often feel like, in Thurber’s words, “a mere device”.

I think the breakthrough for me came when I started writing comics — because I believed in them. Because sometimes I would be using characters I hadn’t created, but simply cared about. And over the next few years I learned that if you cared enough about a character, what happened to them was interesting.

I’m not sure that’s much of an aphorism, but it’s important to care about them, about who they are and what they do. And (for me) for them to be people I would want to spend time with — I don’t really care who’s side they are on, and they can be monstrous on the outside or, worse, on the inside, but you have to want to spend time with them. If you met one of these characters socially would you talk to them, or make an excuse and flee?

(As a sidenote, I think the years I spent as a journalist doing interviews for magazines really helped as well. I learned a lot about speech patterns, and ways of describing people, and letting their words describe them. But more importantly, I learned that if you are actually interested, and not faking it, people will tell you anything, and you will take pleasure in their company. So talk to people, especially people you would normally avoid talking to. Find out their stories. Figure out how you would put them into stories, if you would, or just describe them with a few words.)
Neil Gaiman