Creating the Character

In my previous post I wrote about how my inspiration to keep writing my novel came from the love of my main character. So, how did she come to life? Orabelle began to breathe in those first few pages, as I began with a description and an image in my mind of the person I wanted her to be. Imperfect, flawed, strong, brave, stubborn, temperamental, loving, loyal, impetuous, unique, powerful, empathetic, both selfish and selfless. These were all pieces of who she became, little building blocks that I used to start putting together a person. I personally love a character with depth. The actions of a person are the results of their cumulative experiences and emotions. I want to know not only who they are, but why they are that person. What happened to them to make them that way? How did the events of their life shape their personality, how did it make them feel? These are the things that I can relate to.

                In the first chapter of Orabelle we have several flashbacks where she reflects upon events from her past. These were significant moments that changed the course of her life and helped to create the woman she has become. It would be easy to say that she is in love with Tal, but in the scene where she first meets him, I wanted to show you why. She is young and impetuous and rebellious. Her relationship with her father is strained and abusive. She finds Tal to be heroic, even though we know that in that situation she did not actually need saving. It is the symbolism of the act that endears him to her. She is the most powerful Keeper on Imbria, but with him she feels that there is finally someone who will look after her, a feeling that was severely lacking in her family life. Her mother was dying slowly, her sister was young and naïve, and her father was a jerk. She had to look after herself from a young age, with a burden of responsibility that was extremely heavy. When we understand where she is coming from, and how deeply it has affected her, we can then understand and appreciate the bond that formed immediately between her and Tal.

                This was something I tried to do with all my characters. I asked myself questions like, what was their motivation and where did it come from? With Blaise, he is ambitious, so what happened to him that created that desire in him? For Damian the question was, why is he noble? What was it about the life and customs of the Tahitians that inspired their sense of nobility and justice? I made charts with post-its of their character traits and significant events that happened to make them that way. I spent many a night having a glass of wine with my mom and discussing what makes people behave the way they do. This was probably one of the best parts about writing this novel for me. I loved the character discussions with my mom. Often times we think we know best and we get stuck in the idea that we need to convey our own point of view and our opinion, but there is a world of experience and emotions and ideas that other people have that can be so valuable and interesting if we take the time to listen.

The need to create.

Sometimes it starts with a bang, sometimes with a whisper. In my case it started with my sister. She asked me to write a story with her, and we would each write a chapter from two different points of view. I have always been a writer and a storyteller so of course I agreed and thought this would be a fun project for us to work on together. Turns out, it was not so fun and as often happens with family, other things began to get in the way. I was traveling, my sister lost interest, we had completely different ideas, and after only a couple of pages the idea began to fizzle out. I was somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat when she emailed me to say that she wanted to take her character, write her own story, and go our separate book-writing ways. I agreed and bid farewell to her few pages, but since I was bored and stuck on a 55 foot catamaran in the middle of the ocean with not much else to do, I continued to develop my character and the plotline that had been forming in my head around her. Orabelle. She was special to me. Sure, I had written stories before and they were fun little ways to pass the time when I was bored, but this was different. She was different. To me she felt alive, like there was a story in her that needed to be told. So I kept writing. A few pages turned into a few chapters. Meanwhile, on the boat, we were sailing right into a hurricane class storm. I had been in foul weather before, but never like this. Waves thirty-five feet high lifted us up and dropped us relentlessly. There were stress cracks forming in the gally and the stanchions and lifelines bent and snapped under the weight of the waves. Water poured over the sides as I tried to steer, saltwater stinging and blinding me as the wind flung it in my face at gusts of almost 70 miles per hour. It was first time being sea sick and the first time that I had ever had to prepare myself for the possibility that the boat I was on might sink. We lost a prop, the nav station was a wreck, the generator went out, there was a leak in the hull, everything that wasn’t tied down was thrown about, and it was a complete shit show. I remember when my watch ended and I untied myself from the jackline I had rigged to the galley door and went inside, I could not feel my hands. I was drenched and cold and miserable. Then as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. The sun was shining, we were alive, the boat was miraculously still afloat. We had made it. We limped into the harbor in Bermuda and I called home, getting yelled at by my very furious mother and listening to the others as they laughed or cried to their families while recounting our harrowing tale. I knew then, sitting there with the warm sun on my face, feeling more alive than I ever had before, that I needed to create. I wanted to leave something behind to show that I had lived, and I promised myself I would finish my book, even if no one ever read it.