Getting in the mindset of your characters
Thank you so much for taking part in the blog tour, Laura, I really appreciate it. x
I love to read books that are first person narratives, because they give you immediate access to the protagonist’s inner thoughts even when you know they might be unreliable narrators.
When I began to write my first book, Unravelling Oliver, (which started out as a short story), it seemed entirely natural that I would use Oliver’s voice. I knew he was a sociopathic character so I tried to make him as aloof and detached as possible.
In the opening chapter of that book, he has just beaten his wife and relatively calmly, he puts on his coat and gloves to go to the pub, because he has had a shock. He is surprised that his hands are shaking. It doesn’t really cross his mind to wonder how his wife is, or how she might feel about what has just happened. He is entirely self-absorbed.
It was only when I began to develop that story into a novel that I realised that Oliver would have to justify his actions. I don’t think murderers or domestic abusers wake up thinking ‘who will I kill/batter today?’. Rather, they will rationalise their behaviour. ‘The killing was a means to an end’ or ‘that person provoked me, I couldn’t help it’.
When writing from Lydia’s point of view in Lying in Wait, I made her even more psychopathic and narcissistic than Oliver. I decided there really weren’t enough monstrous female figures in literature, so I really had great fun writing her. She is a total and utter snob. She is entirely selfish. She pretends she does what she does for the good of her family, for the good of her son, but every action is ultimately self-serving. She will stop at almost nothing to get her own way. She constantly infantilises her own teenage son to prevent him from severing the umbilical cord.
However, with both Oliver and Lydia, I had to find some background that would explain their psychoses. I am a firm believer in the fact that nobody is born evil, though a documentary about Moors Murderer Ian Brady made me question that somewhat.
Oliver and Lydia are scarred by their upbringing, both traumatised by their childhoods. Neither of them is fully aware of the damage and even though Lydia does get psychiatric help in adult life, she has so many other secrets by then that it is impossible for her to be honest.
A lot of people have traumatic events in their early lives. The vast majority of them manage to overcome these obstacles and move on to live fulfilling lives. What separates Oliver and Lydia from us (I hope!) is that when faced with decisions, they make terrible, terrible choices whether on the spur of the moment, or as part of a grand plan. These choices are made out of desperation and have far reaching and devastating consequences for those around them.
As awful as they are, because I lived as them when writing their stories, I still have a grain of sympathy for both. If I have psychopathic tendencies, I hope I can leave them on the page!
A massive thank you to Liz for joining me on my blog and giving us a fascinating insight to her characters mindsets.
Lying in Wait is out now