My starting place for each fresh idea is always with the main character. To me it is the most important part of having a good book or film. If people don’t connect with the character and cannot relate to them, no matter how good the plot is, chances are the reader/viewer won’t enjoy the product. I’m not saying plot isn’t important though, it’s very important, but I’ve found time and time again the plot actually comes out of getting my head around my new characters. Knowing how they think and react moves the plot along in a believable way.
Recently I posted a blog of the character biography of the new books main character. Today I want to run through how I came up with Marie Woodell from my first book, With Proud Humility.
The first place I always start is how they look. I write this so that I am consistent when I talk about my character from the start of the book to the finish. So how tall is she, length and colour of hair, clothes she likes to wear/has to wear, age etc. In Marie’s case that was fairly simple. I already knew I wanted her to be a member of gentry, that makes most of this pretty easy. She needs to be single, so age has to be between 16-22 to be socially acceptable. Clothes would be whatever her status dictates, likewise with hair length. I arbitrarily assigned her height to be 5’7”.
Next I tried to decide her background. What had happened to her before the book starts. I decided I wanted her mother to be dead and to have been killed by the pirate who’s ship she starts on. This then lead to needing a reason why her mother was killed. Does Marie know why? What is her father like? Did he try too hard to protect his daughter after her mother died? Who is her father and what’s his status? Does this all fit nicely into some era in history? (as well as all the boring details of where she lives etc too)
Once her background is fully decided upon as well as the other influential people in her life I can start moulding her actual personality. Often certain big events in a person’s past have an influence on their character. For example I needed to know how Marie felt about her mother’s death. Did she want revenge, or did it scar her so badly she doesn’t now trust anyone, or possibly even both? How does she react to being raised just by her father?
At this point I also tend to decide the full name of the person. Often this can take several hours as I trawl through baby name databases trying to find names I like the sound of, as well as names that have meanings that I think work with everything else I’ve decided on so far. I confess in Marie’s case it was much simpler. My mother intended to call me Ann-Marie before I was born so my new character was being called Marie. In the case of Marie it was also her personality that led to the book’s title, With Proud Humility.
If I struggle to form the character as I did with Kaihaitu, I’ve found the best way to get through that and shape them is to essentially introduce someone else to them. Chrysalis kindly sat up late one night on Skype with me till I think about 2am in the morning, asking me question after question about Kaihaitu, similar to the questions above and I answered them, allowing her character to form in my attempt at explaining her to someone else.
Finally when I’m happy with all my questions and their answers I put it all together and move on to any characters I’ve discovered are likely to be a major role in the book, based on their relationships to my main character. Usually by the time I’ve done this my plot’s fairly well worked out too. Add in some conflict, some pain, some tears and voila most of the book prep is done.
For those that wish to know what I decided to the above questions though I urge you to check out the book (no spoilers here). There is now a 40% free sample on Smashwords and it’s on sale on Amazon at just over £2 per copy, that’s less than the price of a hot chocolate.