Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where do characters come from?

One of the things an author is asked most is “Where do you get your ideas from?” In most circumstances, the answer is “All over the place.” One of the author’s first responses is “I can use that,” even in circumstances that are tragic.

At the moment, however, I have a character looking for a story. Freddy, Lord Thwaite, to be exact.
Freddy started as a jolly character, a round-faced, round-bodied counterpart to his cousin Richard, Lord Strang. But even before I’d completed the first draft of “Devonshire,” the book Freddy first appears in, I knew it wouldn’t work. Freddy had become a caricature, a cartoon character and he was about as thin as the paper I was writing on.

So when I completed the story, I did some work on Freddy and incorporated it into my first draft. As a result, I’ve received many letters asking me when I’m writing Freddy’s story. Then my editor at Samhain, Sasha Knight, said she’d love to see his story. That’s what you get for making a character more real. But now I want to know what happens to Freddy, too.

Freddy features prominently in “Venice,” and that’s where you get to meet him and go a little deeper into his character. He’s dark where Richard is fair, but as clever as his cousin (I made the relationship more distant, because I wanted Freddy to be in line to inherit a title). He’s taller than Richard, and unlike Richard’s dandy appearance, he often dresses carelessly. He’s a sportsman and a scholar, but again unlike Richard, he doesn’t wear his scholarship for all to see, although this, being the mid eighteenth century, isn’t an era that takes fools gladly.

Freddy learned how to cheat at cards in "Venice," and he’s even more clever than his cousin at it. But he’s rich enough not to use it to his advantage. Unlike many novels that indicate that a man was ruined if he cheated at cards, it was a little more complex. He might be despised, in an era that was gambling mad, he would be avoided at table, and his honour would probably be at risk. But it did happen, and people did survive it.

I’ve done a gambling story in “A Betting Chance,” and I gave Freddy and Richard cameos in that book. It was really enjoyable to have Freddy seen through eyes other than Rose’s (Richard’s wife, the narrator of the Richard and Rose stories) and it gave me more insights into Freddy. People think he’s happy-go-lucky, but while he has a cheerful outlook on life, he doesn’t get on with his father and there are currents much deeper than I at first gave him.

So I’m delving deeper. Freddy’s story will be in the third person, and will probably feature a brand new heroine. I want to give him someone he deserves, strong enough to stand up to him, but who has something that Freddy can help with. And for me, that has to come firstly from inside. External events might bring them together, but it has to be the internal life that makes them want to stay together.

In the first draft of “A Betting Chance,” I gave the hero, Corin, a different heroine to the one he eventually ended up with. I had to totally rewrite the story when I realised, half way through, that there was no chemistry between them. Oh, I could have written something engaging, something interesting, but it probably wouldn’t have been a romance. So I went back, did some research, some thinking and came up with Sapphira. And they burned up the pages together.

I’m at that stage now. I know a lot about Freddy and I’ve spent some time with him, but so far his heroine is eluding me. I tend to spend a lot of time at this stage reading contemporary records – diaries, court accounts, scandal sheets, and I’m currently reading cases from the Bow Street online site. A wonderful site, with little insights into eighteenth century life that you just couldn’t get anywhere else. If this goes as the others do, she will pop into my head at some point.

Sapphira appeared after I went with my friend and fellow author, Jean Fullerton, to the Denis Severs House in Spitalfields, London. I can’t recommend this place enough. It transports you right back to different times. As Severs was fond of pointing out, it’s not a museum, it’s a kind of theatre. And there, in the relative silence of the best bedroom, with the sounds of church bells and carriages filtering through, and the sound of someone moving in the next room, Sapphira came to me.

I know that Freddy’s heroine will come in the same way, a mixture of research and daydreaming. And then the fun will really start.

Lynne Connolly

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