“Unlike most writers, Rankin does not plan his characters: he has said that Rebus arrived virtually fully formed on the page.”
Until I read these words in How to Write Like a Bestselling Author (a collection of magazine articles on bestseller characteristics by Tony Rossiter), I had no idea that most writers actually plan their characters. One of those disconcerting moments when you realize that what’s going on in your head is not the same as what’s going on in other people’s heads, even if you have the same name for it.
I don’t plan my characters. They just pop into my head, like bubbles rising from the frothy cauldron of my unconscious mind. And while I might change some minor things about them – such as their names, and whether or not they’re actually in the book – the characters themselves are fairly constant. (Minor spoilers follow…)
When writing my answers to last week’s interview, the phrase “my trusty pot of tea” sprang unbidden to my lips – or rather fingertips. Possibly this was influenced by Richard IV’s “trusty fruit knife” which saw him safely through a single-handed confrontation with ten thousand Turks at the gates of Constantinople.
There is of course a long history of the naming of swords, particularly mythical or otherwise fictional ones – Excalibur, Durendal, Anduril, Rhindon – but mostly it’s just swords, axes, and hammers that get this acclaim, all weapons of assault and battery. Cooking pots, fountain pens, and other useful articles don’t generally rate a name, which is a bit depressing when you think how much more beneficial non-destructive things are.
Setting a much better example for us all is Lord Ickenham (a.k.a. Pongo Twistleton’s Uncle Fred), who sallies forth to the bathroom at Blandings Castle “armed with his great sponge Joyeuse”. Named, presumably, after Charlemagne’s sword Joyeuse, which would have been a much less pleasant bathtime companion.
Possessing moderate quantities of that desirable intangible, self-control, I resisted the urge to repeat the procedure every time I finished a draft. But self-control is none the worse for having the occasional treat, so once I was within hailing distance of getting The Wound of Words off my hands (not just the first draft but the whole thing, published and all), I ordered another celebratory pen. (Just a tiny one…)