Thursday, January 14, 2010

How A New Character Comes to Life


The trouble with me starting a new book is that I end up doing it the day after I turned in the previous book.

I wake up, my eyes blurred, my tongue thick, my head aching. No, I didn't drink too many martinis (tempting, but no). This is my usual Day-After-I-Turned-in-the-Manuscript hangover. My brain is complete fog, and I want to lie there and sleep the day away.

Then I remember that I have another book due in two months. And I don't have a page written. Plus, my editor is going to a cover meeting soon and needs a chapters and a solid synopsis she can use for the blurb. Plus she wants any ideas I have for the cover.

My brain says "Ungh."

Of course, I "started" the book long ago, in theory, when I wrote the proposal and sold it. However, this might be Book 2 of a three-book contract of which I've not written one word.

Of course number 2: If it's part of a series I already know who the characters are and basically what it is about.

If I'm lucky.

I love the MACKENZIE series in particular because I plotted out the entire series before I started book one. This is unusual for me, but so far has been wonderful.

EXCEPTION: Cameron's book, which completely threw me for a loop. In other words, the heroine I'd picked out for him and the plot she came with ended up not being right for Cam. They didn't click, mesh, or otherwise engage. Plus the woman was just too...well, wrong. I think she'd work in another story, but not with Cam.

So I fired her.

I auditioned quite a few more heroines, each with their own backstory and unique plot. Every day I had a different and better idea. Every day I threw yesterday's idea out the window. I did this for a month or so (while finishing previous manuscript--a month between books is a luxury I do not have).

Finally, she appears. The heroine who will challenge Cameron but love him, who will be strong enough to take him but not be an angry b*tch.

She is a childhood friend of Lady Isabella (heroine of Book 2), and is now one of Queen Victoria's ladies. And therein comes the plot.

Next I bring this woman into my life and think about every aspect of her. Where was she born? What were her parents like? What strata of society is she in? Was her childhood happy? Unhappy? Who are her brothers/sisters or is she an only child? How did having siblings or not affect her? Good relationship or bad with her siblings? What gender are they? All brothers? All sisters? A mix?

Has she been married or in a serious relationship before? (This is Victorian times, so an intimate relationship without marriage or engagement will be scandalous or secret.) Or is she single? Widowed? How does this affect her? How old is she? Is she wealthy or have to make a living? Is her family still alive?

What is her outlook on life and why does she have this outlook? What does she think about marriage and men in general? About families and children? About men like the hero? About the hero? What is her relationship with other characters from previous stories?

And more.

I rarely write this out; I simply brainstorm it, picturing my heroine in various situations and gradually coming to know who she is.

Then I search for a name.

Some writers can't begin to flesh out a character until they have a name, but I do it the other way around. I see this person, hear them speak, watch them interact, etc., before I can find the right name for her.

(And I always, always picture the heroine in bed with the hero. That's a VERY important scene and it's one of the first ones I think of. I need to think about that one many, many times. Right? *g*)

Once I have my character and get how my hero feels about her, I search for a name.

I look at my list of names I've accumulated over the years, listen to people talking about other people, look at credits on TV shows and movies (all those names--one will jump out). I have to be careful when I'm writing a historical as to whether the name I think is exactly right for my heroine was around in the time period or not.

I also look up names for their particular nationality. (I had great fun finding all the Irish names for my new release, PRIDE MATES, and the Chinese names in THE DRAGON MASTER.)

So, now I know my heroine, her name, how she's going to interact with the hero, her current situation, her problem that's going to involve her with the hero, and other things (like her hair and eye color, which may jump at me right away, or may be the last thing I consider).

I do the same thing with the hero, but in this case--Lord Cameron Mackenzie--I have fleshed him out in my brain pretty well already (that's not to say he doesn't have some surprises for me).

That's enough for me to sit down and write the first hundred pages. After that, I can give my editor a decent synopsis of the whole book, plus a polished first chapter, plus a good idea of who my hero and heroine are.

I email that off to her, and then go back to bed.

4 comments:

librarypat January 14, 2010 at 8:44 PM  

Finding your heroine sounds a lot like being back on the dating scene trying to find Mr. Right. Ugh! wouldn't want to have to do that again. You really can't just write in anybody for the role. They need to be a match and work well together. It sounds a lot like when one meets their future mate - you'll know them when you see them. You know her when you see her and then can flesh out the character.
Good luck. I can't believe you deadlines are so close together.

EmilyBryan January 15, 2010 at 5:53 AM  

Fascinating, Jenn. I always go name first for my characters. Interesting that you flip that process.

Guess I always thought of it like naming children. You name them for what you hope, not necessarily how they turn out!

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner January 15, 2010 at 10:16 AM  

Of course, Emily, if you waited to see how your kids turned out before naming them, they'd be very confused. :-)

librarypat: My own fault that my deadlines get close. I want to write lots of stories and sign lots of contracts. Even my editors think I'm nuts. :-)

Janet Kay Gallagher January 15, 2010 at 1:14 PM  

Very interesting. I made notes.
Good tip on making sure your name fits the time period usage.
My Mother's Name was Amy Chloe.
Amy became a very popular baby name and a few years later Chloe also came into popular usage. A young woman checking her out at the store one day, told her "Your real name can not be Amy. They did not use that name until my generation." Mom explained that "it is my name, look up older generations. Also the book [Little Women] had a girl named Amy."
Please help...when quoting and you want to put a title where you might have used quotation marks, how should that be handled? Thanks.

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