Background Work

I decided that the main character of the new book, Jeanne “Dark” D’Arc, owns a 1972 Renault Alpine. She is proudly, almost stubbornly French, and the year is special to her. Her personal symbol is the Ibis, which she had painted on her car. It is a clumsy bird, inelegant, until it can take flight. Having been injured by an accident in her teenage years, the same can be said for her.

I’ve learned that I can’t write a character properly until I “know” them. For short stories, that means grabbing the one thing that motivates them through the story. For longer stories (novelas, novelettes) I have a very brief sketch of who the main characters are. For novels, however, I get to channel my inner OCD. I have full character profiles that include any of the following items:

  • Name, date of birth, place of birth, zodiac sign
  • Parents, siblings
  • Genealogy up to 2-3 generations back
  • Full personality profile – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Brainstyles, psychological profile, quirks
  • Strengths and weaknesses (included in MBTI)
  • Loves, Hates, and oddities

I don’t really like spending years with a character who is exactly like everyone else you meet. Mainly, that is because I’ve never met anyone exactly like everyone else. I don’t reveal most of the above right away, and quite a bit I never include in the stories at all. However, they form the basis of the “personness” to me. Once I have them in my mind, it’s as easy to write from the character’s perspective as it would be to pen an essay about my mom. That’s as it should be. These characters are my kids.

Shouldn’t we be able to tell our kids apart?

Take Jeanne, for instance. In looking for classic French cars, I came across the Renault Alpine (above) and the 1959 Renault Floride. Now, I knew little of classic Renaults, but I knew the character was “created” while I was looking at a jazz video by Melody Gardot, and she would remain cool and elegant. She doesn’t like convention, and is an artist’s soul in a pragmatist’s body. So her choice of car would be something almost no one had. However, her pragmatism means that she rarely drives it, as parts are nigh-unto impossible to get. So, she owns a beautiful car, mainly as an occasional escape. Given it’s mostly a work of art, why not have it custom painted, to make it hers?

Who knows if the car (or her little mostly reproduction Floride) ever make it into the book? But I’ll know what she does on her weekends, and what car she’s in when she needs to head to a New England getaway. That’s what really matters, I think, that we know. It’s like telling a story to friends, where you leave out the “irrelevant” details. They will want to know the stuff you omit, based on the hints you’ve dropped. That’s how you keep them interested.

At least, that’s my theory. Who the hell knows if it works? Still, if you saw a pretty lady with a slight limp, large, dark sunglasses, wearing a hat and coat that looked as if she stepped out of a Humphrey Bogart movie, wouldn’t you be intrigued?

2 Comments

  1. Mary Quallo says:

    Catching up on your blog. Gee Bill, you know your characters better than I know myself. Guess that only confirms what I’ve always believed… I’m boring. Keep writing Bill, I’m still reading. Mary

    1. I don’t believe you’re boring at all.

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