Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Creating Characters

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?

20 comments:

  1. Super post, Sharon! I admire you that you've taken on the challenge of continuing characters that were created by someone else. :) And done a wonderful job! For me the challenge is making a believable, hunky guy who can be just as true to his human persona as he can to his wolf form no matter which form he takes, and just as loveable. :)

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  2. I, too, have always wondered about Anne de Burgh and felt sorry for her. She grew up with a difficult mother, we know that, and with the expectation drummed into her head that she would marry Darcy, without one single moment to make her think that was a GOOD thing! It's nice that you've given her a future.

    Sometimes my secondary characters break my heart. In my werewolf trilogy Countess Gerta von Hoffen still lingers in my mind. She's in such emotional pain, but she's not fated to find solace. That's just the way it is.

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  3. You know that your book, Sharon, was my first foray into Austen's world because despite repeated attempts, her books just didn't grab me. Blasphemy, I know! I imagine it's quite difficult to take much-beloved characters and make them your own.

    For me creating new and unique characters and then finding special ways to torture them on their road to love is my favorite part of writing fiction.

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  4. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice, I didn't find Darcy and Elizabeth's story very satisfying. I was only ten or eleven, so there were probably many nuances I missed! But I remember thinking about the secondary characters, expanding their stories and especially trying to work out a happier ending for Anne De Burgh.

    In my closet years as a writer, I amused myself writing Star Trek fanfic. Even now, truth be told, I lift characters from here and there--novels, movies, TV--and shape them to the needs of my plot.
    I suspect that as an Austen writer, you are simply more honest than most about where your characters began their life.

    However, when a character succeeds, no matter how obvious the lineage, there comes the magical moment when the character breathes on his or her own. Then they are not an imitation, not a re-tread. They are themselves and perhaps the source for some other writer, someday.

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  5. For me, the best part of P&P were the secondary characters who were all strong enough to carry a book on their own. I'm tickled to death that you took Col. Fitzwilliam and gave him a life! The actor who played him in the Colin Firth version was adorable, and I quite fell for him.
    I suppose my most endearing secondary character is Trag from Rogue. I've gotten I don't know how many emails and blog comments from readers who want him to have his own book--which is good because I always intended for him to be the hero of Hero!

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  6. what's fun about romance, especially in series, is that many of the secondary characters get their time to shine! I'm glad Col. Fitzwilliam has a voice in your books--he was my favorite, much more than Mr. Darcy! Even his small interactions in P&P, I thought he was great :)

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  7. Good morning! Nice to see everyone up and about so early!

    Thanks Terry! Yes, creating that hero who is "all man" - and in your case "all wolf" - while also being lovable can be tough, but those are the guys we love. You have done it VERY well!

    Hi Donna! Yes, Anne has a lovely future in my book. Perhaps it did not occur to anyone, but there was more than one reason why I decided to make Uncle George a doctor. :)

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  8. Thanks Marie for braving the historical world with my book! I am happy that you enjoyed it. I try not to torture my characters TOO bad - it is hard for me to do that!

    Thanks Mary Margret for your wonderfully worded response. I wish more critics would realize that every Austen-author wants to put their own stamp on the characters. If we all wrote them precisely as Jane did - even if people could agree as to how THAT should be - all the stories would be the same! Retreads, as you said. How boring is that?

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  9. Hi Cheryl! One of the main reasons that Col. Fitzwilliam so stuck in my heart was because of the actors who played him. In both P&P versions the Colonel seemed to be this fun loving, humorous guy. I went with that, but also gave him depth and a heroic, warrior aspect. I really love this guy! My daughter has mentioned Trag. I finished Slave - loved it! - but am afraid I haven't gotten further. Need more time to read!!

    Hi Danielle! There was just something about the impish glances Col. Fitzwilliam would give Darcy (in the 05 movie) that made me fall in love with this guy. In my books he and Darcy have a marvelous relationship.

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  10. By the way, I posted this essay over at my website as I always do, but included a short excerpt of Dr. Darcy at his best. I didn't include it here so as not to take up too much room. But if anyone is curious, pop over to www.darcysaga.net to read that as well as a number of other excerpts from the novels.

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  11. Sharon,
    Your courage amazes me! I'm certain it must have given you pause when you first thought about the possibility of writing about Austen's characters. Wow! I'm so impressed with your work. I hope you keep them going for many years!
    Amelia

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  12. Fantastic Sharon! And I can't wait to see you this weekend.

    What can I say? Fluff and Puff take top honors for characters.

    Linda

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  13. Thank you Amelia/Gloria, but the truth is it wasn't courage at all but sheer ignorance! There was and is such a wealth of JAFF out there that I blithely joined in totally unaware of the rabid protectiveness on the OTHER side of the equation. Luckily by the time I was aware of how angry some "fans" of Austen get over anyone messing with her work, I was too immersed to back out. What courage I now have has been painfully purchased, I can assure you! Thank you for your kind words. I do intend to keep it going for a long while yet!

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  14. Hi Linda! I am soooo excited to meet you! Yes, Fluff and Puff do take the prize over just about anyone else we authors have come up with! LOL! I'm afraid magicked bunny slippers would not work in Regency England - drat!

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  15. But they were around during that time, Sharon. Although I can't really see them with those lovely Regency gowns.

    Linda

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  16. I have to give Michele's Lady Flees Her Lord credit for sparking my recent (and ravenous) interest in historicals. Yours was my first foray into anything Austen-esque, Sharon, and I'm looking forward to the September book.

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  17. In a way, you do the same with your books as they do when they make Jane Austen movies. I love the way you say the characters have come to life, and continued to live, for you and in your books.

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  18. GREAT post, Sharon!

    I just read Mr & Mrs FW Darcy Two Shall Become One and I really admire the way you did make these well-known characters so completely their own selves! While they were clearly the same couple in P&P they grew to be such individuals in your book. GREAT JOB!

    I LOVE when my characters become so real that they 'take over' and I almost feel like I am channeling them instead of writing the story. Most of my big surprises come from my secondary characters.

    In TToV, the hero's sister Kathleen totally surprised me! She suddenly swept onto the scene and proceeded to steal the story with her sassy and brazen antics.

    In my current WIP, the heroine's brother is turning out to be quite the lovable smart-*ss. A couple of chapters ago, he actually stole a car, which I was NOT expecting!

    Looking forward to Loving Mr. Darcy,

    AC

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  19. Thanks Cindy! Glad you found the time to read a book - any book - but I am REALLY happy it was mine and that you enjoyed it! Thanks a ton.

    Yes, characters do 'take over.' I never would have understood someone saying that until I began to see it happen to me. It truly is wonderful. Can't wait to read TofV and whatever else your wild brain conjures up!

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  20. Sounds like a wonderful character and I can't wait to read it!

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