Monday, June 23, 2014

What Is Your History?

One day in the lab (No, not that kind of lab. Think more dirt and rock and less mad scientist) Heather, Urso, and I were kibitzing while going through our daily grind. Now, Urso you see, is a bit of a deep well when it comes to thinking. He reads philosophy and other mind bending texts while waiting for tests to finish. It is not uncommon therefore, for him to ask equally deep questions. On this day, he asked heather and I a seemingly simple question.

"How do you know where you came from?"

You see, Urso is a first generation American, so knowing the line of his family history is fairly clear to him. I can only imagine that looking at the pair of us; Heather with her Saxon red hair and I with my Breton blue eyes, gave him quite the pause. We laughed at first. I mean, it was simple really. We were...well, I was...well, could I answer? In the end, I simply said, "I'm a Euro-mutt. Point to a place in western Europe and I probably have genetic ties to it."

Not a very satisfying answer, is it?

Sometime after that, I was working on some revisions. I pulled out one of my original versions of the novel (written in cuneiform on a clay tablet) to review some of the comments from the group. Overall, the consensus was that the work lacked depth. There were other issues, but this was the most egregious of them. Essentially, I had failed to give much - if any - thought to character's history. I did not know Darby's story. Oh, I had vague ramblings on notepaper and impressionistic ideas rattling in my head, but nothing clear. Much as I was unable to answer Urso's question beyond a couple of generations prior, I was unable to answer the same question about any of my characters. This, I was told repeatedly, left my story flat and devoid of any true substance.

So I went back to the lab, as it were, and spent the better part of the next year creating those stories. I invented religions, family histories, society classes, and other worldbuilding (that's a trendy word now, so I told) essentials that now govern my character's actions and thoughts. Not only that, but it allows them to have a greater range of thoughts and emotions than previously possible, which in turn allows them to connect with any future readers that may come along.

Where do your characters come from?


1 comment:

  1. I definitely create characters from what I've been exposed to. The female protagonist in my romance novel, A Selfish Moment, is a first generation american born mutt with Latino and European roots. The male character was a euro "mutt" several generations in. I think I chose those because that's what I knew. I myself am a first generation Latino mutt, and so is my husband. And when I grew up, all the "purist" (those who had parents who were from the same country) always shunned me because either I wasn't part of their country or I wasn't a "true" latino.

    Pretty a-hole of them, huh? So I hung out with all the other first generation mixed background kids. There are so many intrinsic qualities in the different blends that don't exist in other circles, loads of insecurities to install, like the conflict of having to belong to multiple cultures or choosing one over another, and deciding whether or not to have your characters speak a foreign language due to parental upbringing choices, or having them instantly identify themselves as something other than american so they can have another layer of identity...the options are endless.