Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Post: Character Evolution by Annabel Aidan

Curling Up By The Fire is thrilled to welcome Annabel Aidan as she speaks about character evolution.  With the launch of her new novel, Assumption of Right, on June 6, 2011, Annabel talks to us about her characters, her connection to them, and how they become real to her.

Assumption of Right
Witch and theatre professional Morag D’Anneville is annoyed when she’s assigned to dress the conservative Vice President as he makes a surprise appearance in his favorite Broadway show. Even more irritating, she has to teach Agent Simon Keane, part of the security detail, the backstage ropes in preparation. A strong attraction flares between them which they both recognize is doomed, and Simon must also fight his superior’s prejudice that Morag’s beliefs make her a threat to the Vice President. When Morag is attacked, Simon’s loyalties are torn between protecting the man he’s sworn to protect, and protecting the woman he loves.

Character Evolution

By Annabel Aidan

Writers are constantly asked “deer in the headlights” questions like “where do you get your ideas?” (Everywhere), “would I have heard of you?” (how the heck should I know?), and, of course “are your characters real people?”

Define “real.”

My characters are real to me, or I couldn’t live with them as long as I do, and I think most writers feel that way. We spend hours, days, weeks, months, and sometimes years with characters. We think we’re done and they come back with more to say.

Lives are from birth to death. Fiction picks pivotal moments in lives that show great change and how the characters handle such change. Sometimes, characters (like people), go through a succession of pivotal moments in different phases of their lives -- and need a series instead of a stand-alone book.

Perhaps it’s my theatre background, but I tend to work from character rather than story. A character introduces herself to me (it might be “himself”, but for ease of phrasing, let’s say “herself”). She starts telling me about herself, her life, her friends, her not-friends, perhaps even her enemies. I start to wonder “what if?” and throw different situations at her. When I start seeing her step into the situation to play out a scene, I know I have the nugget of the story.

Some of my writer friends create extensive character biographies before they sit down to write the book. It works for them, more power to them. If I do it, I lose the character. I’ve learned what I need to know, why I’m interested, so there’s no reason for me to write the book anymore.

I need to spend the first draft getting to know the character the same way I would if it was an actual person in my actual life away from my created worlds. I need to learn how she handles herself in the situations as they unfold. If I try to control too much, it gets flat and stale. The manipulation of events, the layering of images and themes -- all of that happens in later drafts. The first draft is about getting to know my characters and finding out WHY they want me to tell the story right now.

The antagonists have just as much at stake as the protagonists, and have to be just as strong and interesting, or we all might as well spend our time elsewhere.

Most people, of course, want to know if they’d recognize “anyone” in the book -- meaning themselves. It’s hilarious to me that people who never presented a hint of inspiration to any of the characters usually see themselves as central to the book.

If someone gets in my face about something or acts badly to one of my friends, a character inspired by that person is likely to end up meeting a bad end in one of my stories. It’s a great way to blow off steam and not actually cause harm to someone whose personality, shall we say, rubs me the wrong way. I don’t have the right to make life and death decisions about other people’s lives -- except in my fiction.

The interesting thing is, once the individual provides the inspiration, if I do my job properly as a writer, the character evolves away from the original inspiration to become very much its own individual. Once the book or story goes to print, there’s only the faintest trace of the original inspiration, and I’ve become rather fond of even my negative fictional characters in a way I couldn’t if I had to deal with them in real life.

That makes sense to me as a person, since for me, all writing, even harsh, sad, frightening writing, is a way to find a better way to handle the world, the better way to tell emotional truths, within the fictional context.

Being a good listener, whether it’s eavesdropping in a coffee shop or listening to your character tell you her life story, is an integral part to being a good writer.

Annabel Aidan writes romantic suspense with a hint of magic. She
publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and nonfiction. She
spent over twenty years working behind the scenes on Broadway, in film and
television, mostly working wardrobe. Her plays are produced in New York,
London, Edinburgh, and Australia. If you run towards her undoing buttons,
she will tear off your clothes and flip you into something else — and then
read your tarot cards. Visit her at: http://www.devonellingtonwork.com/annabelaidan.html.

Excerpt from ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, available from Champagne Books:

Simon’s mouth twitched. “At least you think I’m worthy guardian material.”

“You know I do. You save my life and I—I—” She stopped.

“Yes?” Simon stared at her, interested.

“I can’t talk about this right now.” She stepped back.

“You’re not going alone.”

“The man who tried to kill me is dead.”

“That doesn’t mean there won’t be more.”

Morag shivered suddenly. “You’re not just saying that, are you?”

She stared into his eyes and knew he wasn’t trying to scare her.

“Until we know more about him, we won’t know. We won’t know if he’s working with Carl Douglas or if this is connected to the Vice President.”

“Great. Now I have to worry about someone jumping out from behind every tree, parked car, and garbage can.”

Simon pulled her into his arms. “That’s why you’ve got me.”


  1. Great insights on characters. As a writer, I have to agree, they never go completely away. But I've also noticed as an editor and a reader the very best characters of other authors ALSO never go away. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Terrific post. I love the 'usual' questions people ask, especially about the characters and I also like the way you describe working with them.

  3. Kay, thanks for stopping by. I love it when characters stay with me for years.

    Allison, I'm finally learning how to come up with something funny and different, rather than just stammering and wishing the floor would open up! It took me awhile.