Yesterday I prised myself away from the keyboard and got out my pen and paper. There's something very freeing about doing that. I often write large chunks of my first draft longhand instead of typing, because I feel less constrained creatively when I have a pen in my hand and I'm free to scribble and cross out and not keep to neat rows and lines.
Sometimes, when I want to brainstorm, I do the same. I often get a large(ish) art pad (A3 size) and write my character's name on it, and then start scibbling down all the things I know about them. They can often end up looking very messy, with scrawled writing in different colours at different angles, and arrows all over the place, connecting thoughts and ideas. Here's what Allegra's page looks like at present (see left).
Quite neat, isn't it? (Don't worry, I'm sure I'll messy it up nicely as the days go by.) But that's quite fitting for Allegra, actually. Let me tell you a little bit about her:
My heroine for the current book (Allegra) was a 'baby ballerina' - a child prodigy who was thrust into the limelight early, but her talent has isolated her and set her apart from other people. Ballet is a world where the choreographer reigns supreme. Dancers aren't asked to collaborate in the creative process much; they are just told what to do. They are the vehicle for another's vision. And Allegra's early start in her career meant that her father has had a very firm hand on her life, especially as her mother died when she was eleven. He is her mentor and her worst critic, her manager and her parent - a very cluttered and complicated relationship.
Once I knew all this about her, I asked her the five questions (see my last post).
What is my character's longing?
- Allegra longs to feel free, both in terms of exploring the big, wide world, but also she craves inner freedom.
- She wants to escape.
What is my character's wound?
- She's a child prodigy, and as such, she's never had a normal life. She's had a very sheltered existence, very focussed towards one goal.
- She has her life directed for her. On stage by the choreographer; off-stage by her father and the demands of her career. Has very little personal freedom.
What is my character's fear?
- That she will never be free, that someone will always hold her destiny in their hand and superimpose their will over hers.
- BUT she's also secretly scared of all that freedom. Too much room, too many possibilities. While her life stays on its stagnant little track, she might moan, but it's safe. She doesn't have to take responsibility for her mistakes and choices, because someone else has always been at the reigns - it's their fault. With freedom will come the opportunity to succeed spectacularly, but the flipside of that is that she opportunity to fail spectacularly will also be there - something that won't sit easily with the former child prodigy.
What is your character's identity?
- Dutiful ballerina. She does what she's told, because there is no point in expressing her opinion - her choreographer isn't interested in what she thinks or wants; he just wants her to do as he says. She is the blank canvas for another to paint their vision on.
- A mute, who always keeps her wishes silent. She never expresses her desires, because in her world, there is no use. She has no control over her life. She has also learned to keep herself strictly under control - and she will find this her greatest obstacle to inner freedom. She will be her own worst enemy, because that inbred sense of control if going to make it very difficult for her to LET GO.
What is your character's essence?
- Woman (not just a ballet dancer) who is free inside - Free to live. Free to love. Free to make her own choices.
- She won't mind taking on board other people's ideas and suggestions when she feels free inside, because they won't threaten her sense of self (and this will make her a better artist).
Once you know your character's identity and true nature, you have the beginning and end points of the emotional journey they must take - their character arc. So, once I have that worked out, I ask myself one further question:
What will my character have to learn to make the journey from IDENTITY to ESSENCE?
- To speak up for herself, articulate her feelings and desires.
- To take responsibility for her life and make her own choices (not easy at first).
- To let go of the resentment that's been building up inside her, that sense of rage at being caged by other people and robbed of her freedom (even though she has allowed them to do it).
- To find the courage to use the freedom she claims she wants. Not to 'escape' again, back into her gilded cage when the going gets tough, but to face her fears.
- To not use her new-found freedom to impose her will upon others - she has to learn to respect other people's freedom as well.
Now, I feel as if I've got something a little more concrete to work with. Hero next...