Every aspect of creating and presenting a well-rounded story is fun, as far as I am concerned. I love setting the atmosphere, describing the clothing or emotions, and of course weaving the plot is a favorite/necessary part. But you can have all of that stuff down, pen the greatest masterpiece of all time even, but if the characters who walk through that world are not riveting in every way, then the entire novel will fall flat. I suppose it is open for debate, but I would almost go so far as to say that great characters are more important than the plot. Or at least characters that a reader loves will go a long way toward salvaging a story that may not be all the wonderful.
So we all approach our characters with careful consideration. Or we should! In my particular case – in writing The Darcy Saga – I have the advantage or disadvantage (depends on how one wishes to look at it!) of not only needing to create my own players, as all authors do, but also giving new life to characters originally written by someone else. Both characters deeply loved and those lesser known.
I am unique - I think – among my CasaSisters in that my main characters were created by Jane Austen, not me. There are many writers in the Austen-genre community who are in my boat, of course, and we know the special challenges in tackling beloved characters and making them our own. I can largely laugh about it now, but it sure isn’t easy to present my vision of Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy when there are such strong opinions as to how these characters should be in every situation. It helps me to shrug off the negativism now that I know that no one P&P reader agrees on how these two, as well as the multitude of other page inhabitants, should be interpreted. It also helps that I now accept what too many critics don’t get: I am an artist and these characters are now mine!
When it comes to the lesser-known players, I am usually spared the vitriol. One of the great joys in writing my Saga has been taking Austen’s barely mentioned cast members and giving them a greater life. In Loving Mr. Darcy ~ Journeys Beyond Pemberley (available this September) I focused more on the various friends and family surrounding the Darcys. A couple examples:
I was incredibly moved by the plight of Anne de Bourgh. Maybe it is the medical professional in me, but I was obsessed with delving into Anne. I begin that journey in my second book by learning more of her relationship with Mr. Darcy, having her interact on the pages, letting her speak and tell her story, discovering what her ailment is, and giving her a love interest with the promise of a future beyond the sickly daughter of Lady Catherine.
I also really fell in love with Col. Fitzwilliam. Or rather, I took this poor guy who was not even important enough to be given a first name, and infused him with a whole history. I named him “Richard” and spun his personality as a humorous foil to his cousin Darcy’s seriousness. I gave them a deep friendship. I keep Richard Fitzwilliam front and center all through my books, sharing as he grows and learns to trust in love. I am probably most proud of Richard out of all the Austen characters who spoke to me in a personal way. Everyone loves him! I know I sure do.
None of Austen’s numerous characters are ignored in my Saga, although some are central more than others. Each presents the quandary of how to stay true to whatever information Jane gives while also moving in the creative direction that is necessary to tell the story as I wish it to be told.
So, is it easier to just fabricate my own people? Well, yeah! As long as I have a clear idea of who they are and what their motivations are, and I make sure not to contradict myself, I can do pretty much anything I want with MY character. A reader may not like them, but they can’t tell me I am “doing it wrong”!
The Cast of Characters in my Saga has grown to astounding proportions. Even my head spins at times! There are many who I originally created thinking they would become major players, only to discover that they did not capture my heart that deeply. Then there are the ones who snuck up on me. The ones who were small, bit, throwaway people who eventually loomed larger than life. I want to tell you about one, my favorite: Dr. George Darcy.
In Loving Mr. Darcy I felt it very important to give the Darcy family a back story with a heritage befitting their station. While doing so I decided it would be fun to have an uncle to Darcy breeze in for extra entertainment. I wanted him to be eccentric, odd even, sort of the crazy relative that we all have whom we are kinda embarrassed about but love anyway because they are super at parties, ya know? I did a great deal of research and decided to make him a physician – after considering an archeologist and several other world-traveling, edgy occupations of the day – who had been traveling the wilds of India for over 30 years. His life experiences meant he could be wise, but also irreverent. Not so immersed in the strict rules of the British upper class. I intended for George to wander in, hang around for some comic relief and to ruffle Darcy’s straitlaced feathers, and then meander back to India after a few chapters.
No one was more surprised than me when I fell head over heels in love with this guy! George, I say with complete humility because I consider it a miracle beyond my control, is simply fabulous. Needless to say, he sticks around for a long, long time!
So tell us some of your character-creating challenges. Anyone who burrowed into your heart and demanded to take up residence?