Character Development

Who are the Characters?

When writing a book, are the first thoughts about the protagonist?  Isn’t that suppose to be the first thing? Well, in the Callaghan world…not always. Sometimes my first thoughts are on the story topic I want to address or the problem or a character, but this time, it was the place. Madeira, Ohio and it’s history.

After that was settled, so what, or who would either already be in Madeira or come to Madeira?

First, image came. It was a teen girl, then her attitude arrived; confident and mature and personality; introvert but not obvious, a watcher and not engager. Then came the name. Claire. Her last name was not coming to me, but by week’s end: Farnsworth – popped in. Claire Farnsworth was born.

I always wonder where the names of characters come from?  Some of my characters have names I like, as in old family names.  And other times they are names I just hate – but I have to use it because that character REQUIRES me to use it so I do, but begrudgingly.  In two other books of mine, the main character is just a “He and She.” No name is ever used in those two books (one picture book and one educational program) so I guess I should be happy that this novel gives Claire a name!

The name Claire. Isn’t my favorite, but I don’t hate it either. It’s soft and yet not. It’s just an okay name. (Oops, now you’re seeing into my crazy head)

Then another character’s name came in. It was an odd one. Zelda. I have no idea where it came from. It just plopped into my head and would not move. Zelda. So who is Claire and who is Zelda? Who is the protagonist? Who is the side-kick /best friend?  Is it mother and daughter? Or, is one the villain? Who is whom? So I have two characters: Claire and Zelda.  Now who are they, and why are they in this story together?

So I start a conversation with Zelda. I keep hearing a more formal introduction as she comes into my mind. Like an announcement of sorts: a title. Not Miss or Ms., or even Mrs., it was more formal, it has an air of formality and respect. Madam. When I first said it out loud, it sounded so funny, Madam Zelda. This is a present day book…Who calls someone Madam nowadays? Let alone call yourself Madam? She intrigued me from the start.

I don’t know…Madam Zelda? What kind of character could carry such a name? The smile slide off my face and I just know that is her name. No last name – just Madam Zelda. But is it her real name?

Actually, I do remember a Zelda, I might be dating myself here, but the name Zelda is the wife and very well known muse of F. Scott Fitzgerald, she was actually the inspiration for Daisy in The Great Gatsby…now she was one real character! …Maybe I could use this little tidbit in the book.

As the story developed in my head, and I started each of their back stories, I found that they each had a very rich life yet complicated life. Claire is anywhere from 14-16 years old and Madam Zelda is in her early 50’s…. How would these two very different characters cross paths in this small town?

As I worked on the outline, at first, I saw Claire as the main protagonist and yet Z (as I call her) was yelling she was. So how would I have two main protagonist? Is that even allowed? I had to check my writing sites and books to find the answer. And YES, it’s is ok, but it’s a really hard way to write a book.

Well OF COURSE!  I always seem to take the hard road in everything I do!  Why can’t I just write a simple first novel that allows me to improve my writing rather then clogging it up with ‘fancy-dancy’ ways of structure too? Ughh!

But at this stage, that’s what I’m thinking…two main protagonists. Two stories that cross and merge. Ughh fine!

As I worked on Zelda’s back story I was in her childhood with her immediate family when little pieces and parts of her present day situation started to push into my mind. And the silliest of all; the house she lived in, moved to the front of my mind.

What a crazy idea, since I don’t even know what she looked like, or what she does for a living; yet I’m worried about the house she lives in? This muse is really working out of order here! I kept pushing her present day information to the back of my mind so I could focus on her childhood. But I lost the battle. I don’t know why I protest so much, I always give into the muse. So I stopped and focused to the thoughts being pushed on me.

I kept seeing a Victorian house in my mind (I’m very visual). Not the really fancy Victorian but definitely has the flavor of Victorian. Now, at this point, I had only been in Madeira for about a week. I had not yet ventured out to see the town. I was unpacking and setting up my office to resume work on all my current projects, so I hadn’t even driven around to see how the town was laid out or see the style of houses in the area.

I nonchalantly said to my housemate, Rae. “I keep seeing Zelda’s house. It’s looks Victorian with a medium size porch with fretwork, but not all that really heavy Victorian detailed style. It’s has two floors and it has long 12’ windows. It has to be located where Zelda can hang out a shingle because she works from home. And it looks to be yellow or a yellow mustard color. Do you think you can drive me around to see if I can find a house that looks something like that?”

She said, “I know a house that looks exactly like that! It’s right across from the Library.”

I almost jumped out of my seat! “What? Where? Can we go look at it?”  She said sure, and we headed out.

I almost coughed my coffee all over her car when I saw the house. It was just like I saw it in my head!  It was definitely yellow not a mustard yellow, but everything else was dead on!  Rae didn’t know who owned it, but I figured I would check and see if maybe the Historical Society would know, because I wasn’t walking up and knocking on the door!  I don’t think people, even in a small town would like a stranger knocking on the door to say “Hi, you’re in Zelda’s house – can I come in?”

I was so excited!  I found Zelda’s house!!!

Question: Did you ever get a picture in your head about something or someone, and then when you found it or met the person, your vision was dead on???  Let me know!