I have written before about my process of creating realistic characters. It’s a bit of psychology, human behavioral study, plot-need fulfillment, and witch doctory. However, there is a greater aspect I’d like to discuss: that is, the broader social issues at hand.
When I write, I don’t like pounding people over the head with ideas, except in poetic works whose primary purpose is to punch folks in the face with an idea. And for a short piece, like a poem, that’s fine. But you don’t want to be smacking someone in the head for 300 or 400 pages. They won’t read it, and if they do, you’ll wish you hadn’t read their review of your masterpiece. Therefore, I try to fold big ideas into my characters’ personalities, but subtly. Some ideas I inject merely by deciding who they are and what they look like.
For instance, all of my books feature ethnically diverse characters. Part of that is the environment in which I live: my area of Maryland, here in the U.S. national capital region, looks like the U.N. I like it, and I let my characters experience it too. However, I do that in an organic way. Basically, their ethnicity is arbitrary. I don’t pick them out of a hat, but almost. It’s sort of how it would work if they moved in next door to me here in Maryland. My message is simple: race and nationality are stupid and don’t freaking matter. I don’t think I ever need to write that in a book.
In developing the lead for my next book, Jeanne Camille Dark, I have spent an inordinate amount of time deciding who she is and what she’s about. Unlike other characters, I don’t want her to be a jumble of personality traits and dialogue. (Although I do like that when I think of her dialogue, I always hear her French accent in my head.) No, Dark is a compendium of women I have admired for a number of different traits. I foresee her being the star of a number of suspense stories, and such an iconic role deserves an iconic start. She is not the perfect woman, for she’s certainly flawed, but that is good. Nature excels in its flaws. If you don’t believe me, shine a light into a flawed gemstone.
So, I thought I’d share a bit of the influences I have for Dark. Please understand, I did not consciously select any of these women. Instead, I thought about who Dark is, and allowed her to simmer over a slow mental flame. Then, tonight, I looked at my Pinterest page of people I admire, and there they all are. And there was she as well.
In creating a woman, I believe she should have richness of attitude. A woman isn’t all sweetness and light, and wouldn’t we be bored if she were? She has moods, some dark, some pensive. There are times she livens up a room, like a pop music riff. Then, other times, she’s a mellow, crooning jazz symphony.
She has style — not some affectation that reflects current trends, but her own, natural flair. Jeanne Dark is 1960’s, not due to age, but because she likes the way the clothes fit her. She is elegant, even when dressed casually, and can make a pair of jeans evening attire with a simple piece of jewelry or a ruby smile. She is cool and collected, but does not mistake that for being unemotional. And, if the tears come, she lets them because she’s tougher with them out than in. She knows, this woman, that one cannot be emotionally strong without emotions.
She’s tenacious — not just emotionally, but physically. Her strength is not defined by what she can do, but by what she has overcome. She wears her scars as a warrior wears a badge. Courage, she knows, is not the absence of fear, but the refusal to yield because of it. Likewise, victory is often determined not by how many pounds you can lift, but by how many people you can move to lift them in your name.
A smart woman embraces the past, because she has learned that anything created, and made efficient,
can be recreated, and perfected. Let the less confident concern themselves with whether or not they are being derivative. The female alpha is too busy trying to be effective. Simply put, this is because she understands that once she has learned what she needs and created her own version, no one will believe her to be derivative of anyone short of her creator. And she created her damn self, with ample help from God.
Opinions matter. And the woman, being a social creature, understands and adapts to this. She keeps in mind how she looks, what her behavior says about her. She maneuvers gracefully through the social landmines in her corporate and personal worlds. There are groups, and cliques, and clubs, and covens. She deals with all, but she does not allow herself to be controlled by any. She cares little that those who don’t matter think she is this:
Finally, because she has a professional persona, to use the vernacular, she keeps her business out of the street. However, being cool, in charge of her life, the head of her household, and manager of a career, does not make her less of a woman or less of a sexual being. She doesn’t wear her sexuality like a badge. She doesn’t have to.
She knows, because she is dark and light, funny and serious, charming and tough, that she can be whomever she needs to be, when the time is right. And then, and only then, will you see the real beauty, the true magic of being a woman.
And you will melt.