Creating characters: do babies count?

booteesIt’s been a funny few days. Just over a week ago, my world was turned topsy turvy by a phone call from my son to tell us that his wife had gone into labour – eight weeks early – and was about to have an emergency C-section. Cue panic, a rush to the hospital and a call six minutes later to tell us we were already grandparents!

Since then, understandably, it has been a bit of an anxious time. The wait to be sure that mother and baby were all right (they were), a great many checks to find out why the wee one decided it was the right moment to come into the world, and the day-to-day rollercoaster  of monitoring progress, waiting by the incubator and simply watching, have been all-encompassing. So my mind hadn’t really been much on writing this week – but when I sat down to pen this post, I just knew I had to think about babies, birth signs, character, and what shapes these amazing little people as they grow into their futures.


Baby boy, born c. 1900, via Wikimedia Commons. I wonder how he turned out?

When People We Love was published last year, I gave a talk at our local library. After chatting a bit about how I came to writing and what it’s like being a writer, I launched into one of the themes of the book: shoes tell stories. Artist Lexie Gordon discovers this and bases a whole exhibition around pictures of shoes: ‘Shoes tell stories. Stories of tiny, much-loved babies who can’t even walk, of the tottering steps of little children towards adulthood, of special events in our lives, of dances, and marriages, and mountain climbs and escapes’. For my talk, I took along a pair of baby bootees, a pair of very high stilettos and a pair of comfortable brogues, then invited my audience to tell me more about the characters who might wear them, fleshing them out with tidbits of information until we all began to ‘see’ the character for each pair of shoes. The owner of the stilettos – how old was she, what kind of woman would wear them, what was her job, what was her favourite food and – tellingly perhaps – where did she spend the night last night? (And yes, of course they might have been owned and worn by a man, which would lead to a very different story!) Then I went through the same process for the comfortable brogues.

When it got to the baby bootees, however, everything got hazier. They were white, for a start, so gender stereotyping was out. And what do we really know about newborn babies? If we believe in astrology, we might assert that my grandson (a Libran) will be balanced, charming, tactful and diplomatic and sociable. He might also be fearful, indecisive and emotionally fragile. Who knows how he will turn out? And of course, any inherent traits might be batted aside by his upbringing and events in his life.

Of course, we don’t just think about star signs when a new baby comes into the world. From the moment babies arrive, we begin to observe their behaviour. My special grandson either made up his mind he was coming early, or he needed to get here for other reasons (we haven’t discovered anything that might have caused this, by the way). But right from the start he has been a peaceful soul, though he’s surprisingly strong and clearly knows his own mind. These perhaps contradictory traits seem to me to be interesting right away. Peaceable but strong? Sounds like a hero in the making to me!


Peaceable but strong? Aidan Turner via Wikimedia Commons.

As writers, we have the power to create our characters from nothing. It’s a bit like looking at a newborn baby – we can invest them with pretty much any character features we like, and then set these at odds with what life throws at them. I do sometimes use star guides to flesh out my characters, or make sure they have a birthday that roughly fits with accepted traits in astrological terms, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Just writing this blog has inspired me to take a closer look at the characters in the novel I’m writing right now. But forgive me for admitting that I’ll be observing my little scrap with some bias as he develops and grows into a ‘character’ too!


10 thoughts on “Creating characters: do babies count?

  1. Congratulations and glad all went well. My sweet grandson is 6 months old and the love of my life! Fascinating to watch his character emerging strongly already.

    Liked by 1 person

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