If I am ever going to sound at all like an author talking about his craft, then I guess there is really no better place to start than with character development.
One of the most important factors in starting a new novel is how you put together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces that are the characters. I have had the characters in my head since about 1974. Daisy Brown and her two younger brothers, Johnny and little Mortie (short for Mortimer Snerdly Brown, named after his Great Grandpa Mortie and his Grand Uncle Snerdly) are the three characters that the story starts with on the night of the car accident.
Notice that the plot throws the three children above directly into a conflict right from the start. They were all in the back seat of the car. Their parents were in the front. Dad (who’s name is Brom, short for Bromley Mortimer Brown) has a bad reputation for reckless driving and being an alcoholic. He is driving. But he is sober. Mom (who’s name is Stacey Clarke Brown) is in the front passenger-side seat. Both of them are killed in the wreck. (Ironically the young man who hit them also dies, but he is the one guilty of drinking and driving on the night of the accident.) Some of those details come out in the first two chapters. Some of those details never actually come out in the course of the story. That’s the thing about characters, the author must have an idea of all the important details of their lives from early on in the creation process. But many of those details are not necessary to use in the story. You just need them so that you sound like you know them as you write about them.
Let me start by describing the development of my protagonist, Daisy Stacey Brown. She has been the protagonist of this tale since 1974. She was originally based on the younger of my two younger sisters. That is where the adventurous spirit comes from. And the slightly ditsy quality of her highly-imaginative inner monologue comes basically from my sister’s daughter who was born about 1993-ish (and the story, of course, happens in 1996, so it is based more on the present form of my niece shoe-horned into Daisy’s fifteen-year-old skinny body). Daisy is followed as the focus-character in a third-person-limited-point-of-view narrative. Here is a sample of that described in the story’s opening and filtered through Daisy’s unique brain;
The sound of the ambulance siren was raucous behind the car, like someone trying to play an AC/DC medley with a circus air-horn. And a clown playing it who was drunk on too many pre-show hits from the gin bottle in the straw at the bottom of the lion cage.
It kinda made Daisy smile to think of that analogy. She needed something like that to get her mind off what had happened that horrible night, a mere half an hour before.
I haven’t given any physical descriptions of Daisy in the first chapter of the story. Those things are slipped in later in nearly unnoticeable bits and drops. The fact that she has strawberry-red curly hair doesn’t get said until well after the reader sees it in the black-and-white illustration. Her skinniness, pale coloring, and awkwardness will be in descriptions that happen later in separate and isolated spots.
Far more important is the way her mind works, which I try to show rather than tell. She is one of those people who is both innocent without being ignorant, and imaginative without being merely random.
Other characters will be established too with an eye on what they are like at the beginning, and a mindfulness of what they will become as the plot changes them over time.
Johnny is a sad-sack introvert who blossoms as he overcomes problems associated with the initial tragedy. He grows as he proves to himself that he is neither a coward nor a fool.
Mortie is unflappable from beginning to end in the way small children often are. He possesses a powerful sense of wonder that overwhelms fear and sadness over his losses.
That is probably enough of an insight into how I am shaping these characters for now. If you look inside this process too closely, and compare it to my last post, I run the risk of letting you see how I may be using this story to process my own upcoming loss of a parent. The pandemic and my father’s Parkinson’s disease ironically is hitting this story with enough irony to iron out more than just the wrinkles. It may well iron me flat.