I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how a person’s early childhood experiences can shape their personality later in life. Not only that, but the goals they set, their hopes, wishes, dreams and desires, their motivations, aspirations, habits, and coping mechanisms. Nearly everything about how we are as adults has been influenced by one or more factors of those early years.
For example, my mother has always appreciated art and items of beauty, and surrounded herself with lovely paintings (her own work), collectable vintage china, pretty décor, photos, and scrapbooks full of interesting, funny, and informative odds and ends she cut out of newspapers and magazines. And as an adult, I have carried on with similar interests.
And my father has always enjoyed fruit – and not just the common varieties. I remember him bringing home custard apples, fruit-salad fruit (Monstera Deliciosa), pawpaw, and avocado, among other things. It was a good childhood experience to taste these different types of fruit for myself, and so, as an adult, I always have fruit in the house. I’m also game to try anything a bit different (at least once!) thanks to his influence.
So when it comes to writing characters in a story, it can be quite intensive to go back and create their past, all the events and circumstances that shaped and influenced who they are by the time you put them into your manuscript. Even if their history is never mentioned in the course of the story, the author must still know at least the main characters inside and out.
This character-building is an aspect of writing that I enjoy very much. Figuring out when and where they were born, to whom, and in what circumstances; why they were given the name they have; what their most influential and defining moments were at different stages of life; their upbringing, education, religion/spirituality, and experiences, good and bad. All goes in the brew.
After all, no one in the real world just pops into existence as an adult, fully formed physically, mentally, and emotionally. So why would it be any different for an invented character? We all have likes, hates, dreams, and desires hidden deep in our psyche that we share with few, if any others. But these things can be our strongest motivators at times, the unknown spice that flavours our lives and our behaviour. This is also true in fiction.
When I first started writing my Atomic Goddess trilogy, Ange’s personality developed very quickly – she seemed to leap onto the page almost fully formed, and I had fun playing with her motivations and reactions, likes and dislikes, her ways of coping – or not coping – with whatever the situation threw at her.
Parallel with her character development, I soon worked out a good deal of her past. I knew she and her sister were military brats, that their father was in the United States Air Force, and got transferred around a lot. I knew their mother was ditzy and selfish, and not much of a mother-figure. I knew how these factors influenced Ange and Karen while they were growing up, and subsequently, what kind of adults they had turned out to be.
As I’ve worked on my trilogy, I’ve uncovered more bits and pieces of the history of Ange and her family, which has really strengthened how I’ve written the family dynamics. Not only that, but I’ve gone through a similar process with Ange’s boyfriend, Gabe, and his family and their dynamics. Bring into the mix one or two close friends and family members who underwent their own degree of discovery and development, and I feel my main characters, as well as many minor ones, are now pretty well honed.
The thing that amazes me most of all about this process is that it’s on-going – both in real life, up until the moment of passing, and in a fictional story, until the point where the story naturally finishes and we type that final ‘The End’. In real life, we never stop growing and learning and changing, and I’ve discovered that the same must be true of the characters we write if they are to seem real and fully formed.
For an author, this is the process of bringing a character to life – this is the breath of creation.
Keep a smile on your dial until next time, and peace and love in your heart
From Lana Lea and her time-travelling muse