My background includes theater, and during my studies in that area, I learned that there are no new plots. The human condition has a large but finite combination of interactions, and writers have been stealing from each other since the Greeks invented drama.
What makes a book, play or movie stand out isn’t the pacing or how realistic a plot is. (Seriously, even some of Shakespeare’s plots have more holes than a colander.) It’s the characters who inhabit them. (Again, Shakespeare is a prime example. Even his cameo characters have goal, motivation and conflict, which is why his plays have been produced and loved for the last 400 years.)
I have no clue what the Bard’s process was, but in my case finding a character is more a matter of sifting through people who show up and want to be my imaginary friends.
I think I’ve said that I get a lot of my ideas for characters from reading history. Bethany came from reading about the ordeals several heiresses suffered through in 17th century England. I had to make her older, as they were in their early teens when they were married off to fortune hunters, but aging her made it possible to give her the gumption to stand up to her hero, Richard.
Sometimes a character literally pops into my head. A friend and I were talking about names and she jokingly said, “You’ll never find a romance heroine named Theodosia.” Next thing I knew, I had a character named Theodosia just waiting for me to write down her background. I knew what she looked like, who her family members were and who her hero was, all from that one comment.
Another source of engaging characters is my family history. (Let me make very clear, I don’t do genealogy even as a hobby. My sister and two aunts do, so I know I don’t have the patience to locate and read through document after document searching for a single name. I merely admire and praise the fruits of their labor.) One of my great-great grandmothers managed to obtain a divorce during the 1800s, a nearly impossible feat. And as if that didn’t scandalize her town enough, she then remarried while her former husband was still alive! Another great-great grandmother eloped with a civil engineer and was disowned by her wealthy Victorian family. Even after her husband died, they refused to acknowledge her. Her sons, my ancestor and his brothers, ended up working in a rich man’s stables. After playing ‘what if’ with these stories, I’ve created some wonderful characters I hope to use in future books.
The cast of my March 2011 release came from reading biographies of Americans during the Gilded Age. American heiresses married into the British aristocracy on several occasions over the last quarter of the 19th century. Again, I played ‘what if’ and came up with a story my editor described in his acceptance email as ‘exceedingly charming’. Diantha has lived a restricted life even for the Victorian era, while Kieran, her worldly spouse, prefers women with a certain amount of polish. Their conventional background presented a challenge when bringing in twists to the story, but one of my favorite ideas comes early in the book. Instead of the sophisticated groom suffering from a hangover after a night of prenuptial carousing, I gave the splitting headache and dry mouth to a very confused bride.
You can read more about her on my newest page, cleverly entitled ‘Excerpts’.