Friday, February 18, 2011
Sean Keefer, Guest Blogger
Bringing a Character to Life.
My first novel, The Trust, was recently published. I typed the final period on December 31, 2004. I’ve been through a few agents and came close on one prior occasion to having it published before it was finally released in January of 2011.
The interesting thing is that after I finished editing in late 2005, I didn’t read it in total until it was being readied for publication.
With the rereads, it was an interesting experience – quite eye-opening. Going back through it allowed me to re-discover subtle aspects of the different characters and to again focus on the method I used to impart specific traits to individual characters.
Let’s take a look the main character, Noah Parks. He is a Charleston, South Carolina attorney. He owns his own general practice law firm where he is the only attorney.
Being from a similar professional background, I had the ability to draw from experience as to the basic attributes Parks’ would have. However the last thing I wanted was a generic, cookie cutter attorney, so he needed some work.
I wanted Parks’ personality to have a degree of nostalgia. I wanted him to be tied to his past, but grounded in the present. To accomplish this I used a focal point from his law school experience and created a mechanism for him to organize physical reminders of his past thoughts and emotions. From time to time Parks revisits this focal point. I found the process helped to move the plot along without seeming forced or contrived.
I wanted Parks to be independent, but reluctantly, if not guardedly, so. I also wanted him to come across as compassionate and caring without simply coming out and saying so. To accomplish these attributes I developed a sub-plot that tied together several characters who collectively explored one of Parks’ past relationship which left him, at least in the eyes of his friends, vulnerable and somewhat cautious with future relationships.
To further his compassion and caring nature, Parks has a dog – a rescued Australian Shepherd. It was terribly enjoyable the way the canine fit effortlessly into the story and also helped to bring certain characters together.
The Executor of an estate comes into a law office and demands to see the attorney who owns the firm. The Executor shows the attorney a will that directs the attorney to provide legal work for the estate and provides that the attorney receive the contents of a certain safety deposit box when the estate is closed. The Executor has never heard of the attorney and the attorney has never heard of the Executor or the deceased. Neither knows what is in, or even that, the safety deposit exists.
When I started, that was all I had and the rest developed from there.
It was quite amazing and enjoyable to not only see where the plot would lead but also to watch the characters develop and take on a life of their own. Initially I found myself having to be careful not to have my personal decisions be those made by the characters.
As I developed Parks from a basic blueprint into a fictional character I began to sense, when he was placed in certain situations of my creation, how he would react. Ultimately though I was the hand creating Parks’ fictional reality, it was Parks who made the actual decision as to how he would react.
So this process has become a benchmark of sorts for me when I create a character. When I sense that the characters are making decisions for themselves, then I know they have taken their place in the book and while I may have to step in and decide their final fate (after all, it is my book!), I’m comfortable that they will be able to take care of themselves with whatever I throw them.
Thank you, Sean. As readers, I know we're always fascinated with the writing process, and the way authors create their characters. Thank you for including us in the process.
Sean Keefer's website is http://www.seankeefer.com/
The Trust by Sean Keefer. Old Line Publishing, ©2011. ISBN 9781937004170 (paperback), 352p.