Do I have a process to my character development?
Absolutely. It’s a highly scientific, well-defined process called “muddle through while cursing.”
My characters begin fictional life as a simple “what if” that is brought on by something I’ve read or seen. In the case of How To Impress a Marquess, I had been listening to La Bohème.
So, what if there was this cool bohemian female writer chick…
I get excited and start writing at this point and find myself in a tight corner around the end of scene one. After five books, I still start under the delusion that all the answers will easily come to me as I write.
And it never happens. Just as the tooth fairy isn’t real.
Once nicely wedged into a corner, I have to call upon my acting training from my youth. What does my bohemian chick want? Really, really want? A core, soul-deep kinda want. The emotional drive of the character often resides in a character’s subconscious and affects her outward behavior. It makes the character feel vulnerable because often what motivates is a concealed unhealed wound.
The idea of abandonment issues intrigues me. So, my bohemian heroine, Lilith Dahlgren, is rejected from the hero’s aristocratic family when her mother married the hero’s uncle when Lilith was young vulnerable girl searching for love and acceptance. Instead, Lilith grows up in cold boarding schools. What she truly wants is a true home and a loyal lover, having never had either in her life. She searches for these things, given what emotional and psychological tools she possesses. All characters are limited by their experience. In other words, it’s paradoxical to look for a home when you really don’t know what one is because you’ve never had one. It’s hard to know what one doesn’t know. This incompleteness begs for the help of another.
The hero’s core want typically complements the heroine’s. However, to heighten the story tension, I build the other main character initially as a foil of the other. The hero George, the Marquess of Marylewick, is a repressed artist. As a young boy, he was an artistic prodigy, but his disapproving father had him spanked until George finally put down his paintbrush. It’s hard to go through life denying who you really are. Or to feel who you are isn’t valuable. Yet, at the outset, Lilith knows nothing about the sensitive artist waiting inside George. She can’t conceive that this stodgy man, the patriarch of the family she despises, who controls her money, demands she curve her wild ways and marry a dull man of his choosing, is the very man who can give her what she wants.
This is where it gets crazy.
What I want to read in romances is transformative love, or, in the words of Steve Winwood, “Bring me a higher love.” This means the characters must heal each other’s core hurts and answer their deep wants. They need the other in a profound way. So, Lilith is a bohemian writer who needs love and a home, and George is a repressed artist who needs to be encouraged and valued as the man he truly is. The characters must face their internal demons conveniently delivered by the plot until they realize they can transform their lives through their love for each other.
Sadly, I wish this process were as linear as it’s articulated in this post. Unfortunately my process requires many iterative drafts, thousands of deleted words, several bouts of writer’s block, as well as numerous declarations of “That’s it! I’m quitting. This time I really mean it!”
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