An Author In Search of a Character

I’ve recently jumped in at the deep end of book 3 of my “Daughters of Ireland” series (Lady of Seduction, Caroline’s story, out in June 2011!), and I’m finding my way to really knowing the characters. Some authors have great success with character outlines and things like that, but the only way I can do this is to actually sit down and start writing the book. After about 50 or so pages (about where I’m at now) I have a clearer vision of them and what they’re all about, what motivates them and what they really want, and their flaws too. I live with them and they start to be my friends (or my enemies, depending on how stubborn they’re being!). Of course, they also sometimes surprise me by insisting on taking the plot in a new direction or doing something out of left field…

How does my vision of them start to take shape? Well, it starts with names. They have to be just right, which can sometimes be a challenge. Especially in historical stories, where there is often a limited range of plausible names. (I’m also plotting out an Elizabethan-set story right now, and for women in this period it’s an endless parade of Katherines, Marys, and Janes and Williams, Edwards, and Roberts!). I like to find a “period” name that sounds right and isn’t jarring to readers. Sometimes there were unusual names, to be sure–also in the Elizabethan era, the Devereaux family had a tradition of naming daughters “Essex”, and Jane Grey’s husband Guildford Dudley was named after his mother’s family.

I’m not sure there were as many men in the Georgian/Regency period whose names could be shortened easily to Sin, Devil, or Hawk as we romance writers seem to think! 🙂 But the important thing is 1) it fits the character, and 2) if it is unusual, explain it and have a good reason for it. I start by flipping through baby name books, old primary resources of the period, Internet sites, etc, until I find the right one. Once they’re names, it’s on to…

How do they look??? Now this is the fun part! I scan websites and magazines for photos of hunky actors (tough, but a diligent author must make sacrifices for the art…) and actresses in beautiful gowns to get an idea of my characters’ appearance. Then I work on…

Putting them into their setting. Setting is huge part of Lady of Seduction. Our hero was a villain in book 2, Duchess of Sin. After a terrible fire at the end of Duchess, he retreats to a crumbling medieval castle on an isolated Irish island, very stormy and Gothic and spooky. There are ruins, secret passages, and locked tower rooms, all sorts of great stuff like that. The setting has to become its own character in a way, so I researched islands like Inishturk and Caher to devise the ruined monastery and envision the harbor and coast as well as the castle.

I put inspirational pictures on the cork board by my desk so I can keep all this in mind as I work! It helps me fall into their world and I can really embark on the adventure of a new book.

What is your process for finding characters? And were you a big fan of Gothics like I was? (I gobbled up Victoria Holt stories when I was a kid!)

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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