Creating Characters

Today it was my turn to blog over at the Casablanca Authors blogspot. I chose the topic of characters. You folks are especially fortunate because I am giving you an excerpt at the end! But be sure to check out the Casablanca site to see what other fabulous romance novels are being published by Sourcebooks.

Every aspect of creating and presenting a well-rounded story is fun, as far as I am concerned. I love setting the atmosphere, describing the clothing or emotions, and of course weaving the plot is a favorite/necessary part. But you can have all of that stuff down, pen the greatest masterpiece of all time even, but if the characters who walk through that world are not riveting in every way, then the entire novel will fall flat. I suppose it is open for debate, but I would almost go so far as to say that great characters are more important than the plot. Or at least characters that a reader loves will go a long way toward salvaging a story that may not be all that wonderful.

So we all approach our characters with careful consideration. Or we should! In my particular case – in writing The Darcy Saga – I have the advantage or disadvantage (depends on how one wishes to look at it!) of not only needing to create my own players, as all authors do, but also giving new life to characters originally written by someone else. Both characters deeply loved and those lesser known.

I am unique – I think – among my CasaSisters in that my main characters were created by Jane Austen, not me. There are many writers in the Austen-genre community who are in my boat, of course, and we know the special challenges in tackling beloved characters and making them our own. I can largely laugh about it now, but it sure isn’t easy to present my vision of Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy when there are such strong opinions as to how these characters should be in every situation. It helps me to shrug off the negativism now that I know that no one P&P reader agrees on how these two, as well as the multitude of other page inhabitants, should be interpreted. It also helps that I now accept what too many critics don’t get: I am an artist and these characters are now mine!

When it comes to the lesser-known players, I am usually spared the vitriol. One of the great joys in writing my Saga has been taking Austen’s barely mentioned cast members and giving them a greater life. In Loving Mr. Darcy ~ Journeys Beyond Pemberley (available this September) I focused more on the various friends and family surrounding the Darcys. A couple examples:

I was incredibly moved by the plight of Anne de Bourgh. Maybe it is the medical professional in me, but I was obsessed with delving into Anne. I begin that journey in my second book by learning more of her relationship with Mr. Darcy, having her interact on the pages, letting her speak and tell her story, discovering what her ailment is, and giving her a love interest with the promise of a future beyond the sickly daughter of Lady Catherine.

I also really fell in love with Col. Fitzwilliam. Or rather, I took this poor guy who was not even important enough to be given a first name, and infused him with a whole history. I named him “Richard” and spun his personality as a humorous foil to his cousin Darcy’s seriousness. I gave them a deep friendship. I keep Richard Fitzwilliam front and center all through my books, sharing as he grows and learns to trust in love. I am probably most proud of Richard out of all the Austen characters who spoke to me in a personal way. Everyone loves him! I know I sure do.

None of Austen’s numerous characters are ignored in my Saga, although some are central more than others. Each presents the quandary of how to stay true to whatever information Jane gives while also moving in the creative direction that is necessary to tell the story as I wish it to be told.

So, is it easier to just fabricate my own people? Well, yeah! As long as I have a clear idea of who they are and what their motivations are, and I make sure not to contradict myself, I can do pretty much anything I want with MY character. A reader may not like them, but they can’t tell me I am “doing it wrong”!

The Cast of Characters in my Saga has grown to astounding proportions. Even my head spins at times! There are many who I originally created thinking they would become major players, only to discover that they did not capture my heart that deeply. Then there are the ones who snuck up on me. The ones who were small, bit, throwaway people who eventually loomed larger than life. I want to tell you about one, my favorite: Dr. George Darcy.

In Loving Mr. Darcy I felt it very important to give the Darcy family a back story with a heritage befitting their station. While doing so I decided it would be fun to have an uncle to Darcy breeze in for extra entertainment. I wanted him to be eccentric, odd even, sort of the crazy relative that we all have whom we are kinda embarrassed about but love anyway because they are super at parties, ya know? I did a great deal of research and decided to make him a physician – after considering an archeologist and several other world-traveling, edgy occupations of the day – who had been traveling the wilds of India for over 30 years. His life experiences meant he could be wise, but also irreverent. Not so immersed in the strict rules of the British upper class. I intended for George to wander in, hang around for some comic relief and to ruffle Darcy’s straitlaced feathers, and then meander back to India after a few chapters.

No one was more surprised than me when I fell head over heels in love with this guy! George, I say with complete humility because I consider it a miracle beyond my control, is simply fabulous. Needless to say, he sticks around for a long, long time! Here is an excerpt from Loving Mr. Darcy:

“Dr. Darcy,” Lizzy began.

“It is George, Elizabeth. GEORGE.” He spoke slowly, shaking his head in mock exasperation, “Why can she not remember my name, William?”Darcy smiled, squeezing his blushing wife’s arm. “She is exhibiting proper manners, Uncle. You recall manners and propriety, I assume?”

“Ah yes. Manners: the bane of the English existence. Very well then, how may I help you, Mrs. Darcy?”

“Forgive me, George, I was hoping you could allot the time, as soon as feasible, to examine William’s arm. He is frankly vexing us all with his moping glances toward the stables.” She smiled winsomely at her husband, who mumbled something about never moping.

Dr. Darcy, however, was gazing at him with raised brow and a slight lilt to his lips, “Does your arm yet pain you, William?”

“Not in the least, Uncle.”

“Even when you raise it above your head?”

“No.”

He shrugged. “Then why are you not riding your horse?”

Darcy stopped abruptly with a glare. “Because you, Doctor Darcy, ordered me not to until you examined me and gave the approval.”

George arched both brows in surprise. “Did I really say that?”

“Yes, you did,” Darcy said through gritted teeth.

“Hmmm, how odd.” George was stroking his chin in perplexity. “Although it does sound like something I would say, is that not so, Raja?”

“Yes, it does sound like you, George,” Dr. Penaflor was grinning, sparkling teeth flashing.

“If you declare it so, William, then I believe you. What I should have said is that you may resume all normal activities once no further pain is felt.” He clapped Darcy on the shoulder, the left one, with a brilliant smile. “How is that? Happy now?”

Darcy was staring at him open mouthed. With a final glare and shake of his head, he pivoted and stomped into the parlor. George met Lizzy’s glittering eyes, winking broadly and grinning as he gallantly offered an arm.

8 Comments for Creating Characters

  1. Thank you Vee and Elly. I really appreciate the kind words! I have been giving the idea of a formal "discussion" some consideration. A friend of mine – Marie Force – will be holding a blog discussion when her book "Love at First Flight" comes out this next month. I thought that was a great idea for a launch week activity and am going to blatantly steal it from her! LOL! She did give me permission. 🙂

    Naturally I hope everyone will love my characters and appreciate the direction I have taken them in. It is just one way of many to approach Jane Austen’s beloved characters. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

    Vee, as always you lift my heart with your heartfelt appreciation. Thank you, my friend.

  2. Dear Sharon,

    This is a wonderul topic for discussion! Your amazingly brilliant characters!

    I will start with Darcy because he deserves a BIG mention. I have always loved JA’s Darcy, what you have done, in my opinion, is taken this extraordinary character and given him the depth he deserves. I could not believe that I could love him any more than I already did until I read through your novels. From his grand reserved position as Master of Pemberely to the vulnerble passionate being he becomes with Lizzy. I love every single bit of him. He is serious, funny, passionate, caring, sexy, and a devoted family man. He is so much more than I can put into words the "perfect man" IMO. You have not made him faultless to be sure, but that just makes him even more lovable. He will now be my all time fav Darcy!
    Richard Fitzwilliam is a wonderful wonderful character that has me captivated. I love what you have done with his character, especially his wicked brotherly humour when interacting with his dear cousin Darcy. Its always a treat for me when they get together! His own storyline is riveting too, fabulous work with him!
    Dear old Dr Darcy! What a card! He is witty, charming, eccentric and a wonderful much needed family addition to the Darcy clan. How very clever of you to make him so very different to my fav Darcy because they compliment each other so well. His worldliness maturity open mindedness and wisedom is exactly what our newly weds need. He delivers so many lines that have me laughing out loud. The excerpt above is one of my favs with him "Why can she not remember my name, WIlliam?" hahaha. There are so many memorable coversations had by Dr Darcy and Darcy, all so entertaining!
    You mentioned Anne De Bourgh. I was so relieved when you came to her rescue with Raul, what a great storyline in itself.
    And Georgiana has become an exquisite individual, not to mention Kitty and so many others you have laid your magic touch upon.
    So many favourite parts and characters throughout your entire series Sharon, thank you for providing all of us with a Saga to love and cherish for many many years.
    TSBO devotee
    Vee

  3. You know Sharon that I LOVE your saga. I admire your creativity and all the characters. But then there is this man….. breezing in….. and I fel head over heels deeply in love! So please keep Dr. George Darcy in all you coming novels. It gives me a picture of Darcy after 20 years of marriage with his Lizzy Oh, by the way I like Richard too. 🙂

  4. Thank you Seli. There are few words a writer appreciates more than that one’s book is dear to a reader’s heart. Thank you for that. 🙂

    Hi Becky! I am cracking up that someone actually asked about the book! How funny! Of course, I think YOUR dream was an even better one and I am rather sad a hot guy wasn’t the asker! Thank you for your kind words about Loving Mr. Darcy. Coming from you this is high praise indeed. I try very hard to give every character their moment. The truth is that I love them all in various ways, even snotty Caroline! But of course it is all about Lizzy and Darcy, so for me it is easy to keep them central. Thank you so much for recognizing that. Can’t wait to read the full review! Happy reading!

  5. This is so interesting how you say you’ve drawn out these minor characters in the story. I’m in the middle of Loving Mr. Darcy, and LOVING IT, but did notice how you had drawn out Lizzy’s sister Mary, Bingley’s snotty sister Caroline, Dr. Darcy, and Anne de Bourgh. The thing I wanted to say though, is that it didn’t feel heavy handed at all. You didn’t make me feel like we were departing too far from our loving couple, which really takes some skill! Once again Sharon, I really am pretty bewitched by your writing style. How do you stay so close to the language of that era, continue to portray so many characters, and still remain so focused on the Darcy’s story? It’s so good!

    By the way, as you predicted, I did have someone ask me at the beach what I was reading. She was this delightful, local islander woman, and when I showed her your book and said it was a continuation of the Pride and Prejudice series, she looked at me funny. I quickly realized, she hadn’t read Pride and Prejudice! I told her how good they all were, and told her she should definitely give them all a try. I just thought it was funny, considering what you predicted about my reading of your novel.

  6. I love how your characters come to life. It is like being there with them and seeing the reactions and interactions with the main characters of the story. I have to admit Journeys is very close to my heart I loved reading the first draft of it and it is wonderful. I fell in love with George Darcy as I am sure alot of people will. He is a wonderful addition. I cant wait to purchase it in September!!!

  7. Thank you Susanne. You are very kind. I can’t imagine not having George or Samuel around either. Samuel and Marguerite are two other examples of "small" characters that grew within my heart, exerting their influence without me having any choice in the matter. Funny how characters do that!

  8. Well, Sharon, now I read your "Creating Characters", too and I have to say that you have a very special gift: just with one or two sentences you give a person, new or barely mentioned so far, a unique personality, a character and a complete life.
    That is amazing! Other authors write page after page, but their characters remain lackluster.
    All your people are very much alive and I think that is very important for your success!
    And I can´t imagine "Pride And Prejudice" without George, Samuel and all the others.

    Susanne

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