Maggie will be awarding an eCopy of Outback Promise to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour.
Creating believable characters
Agent 008 here, aka Maggie Bolitho. Today’s mission: create a believable character.
To do this, I went for a walk. Conditions were sunny and warm, ideal for character studies. Behind my sunglasses, I stared at people who couldn’t tell they were being scrutinized. I eavesdropped and compiled notes about conversations, body language, and clothing.
I selected one person from the busy sidewalks:
Physical: Female. Average height, about 5 feet, 6 inches. Medium build. 30-35 years old. Straight brown hair, parted in the middle, loose to her shoulders. Beige pants. Beige, long sleeved t-shirt. Beige and tan poncho over top. Black shoulder bag and boots. Smoker, carried her cigarette away from her body. Brown eyes, light make up, no lipstick. No glasses.
From those bare bones, I unleashed my imagination and a character started to emerge:
First, her name: I can’t work with a character without a name. This one looks like a Melissa. In 1980, 35 years ago, it was one of the top names for girls. Her friends call her Mel for short. Middle name Mary, after her great aunt (1st most popular name in 1920). Melissa Mary. Her parents liked alliteration. Her full name: Melissa Mary Montgomery.
Next I looked at the external clues and invented explanations for those:
Why the warm clothing? Those were her only clean options today.
Is she a closet smoker? No, but cigarette smoke makes her dogs sneeze so she tries to keep the smell out of her clothes.
Then the ideas started flowing:
Where does she work? She’s an Office Manager for U-Haul and loves working with the public.
What is more important to her than her work? She breeds and shows Yorkshire terriers.
Likes: strong coffee, Dr Who, cycling on the Galloping Goose Trail, sleeping in on her day off.
Dislikes: sitcoms, guys who wear aftershave, big dogs, all types of cats.
Lives: in half a duplex in Fairfield. An inheritance from Great-Aunt Mary. Her cousin Felicity Mary Montgomery owns and lives in the other half of the duplex. They are best friends.
Lives with: her girlfriend of ten years and three Yorkshire terriers named Bella, Bailey and Buddy. The love of alliteration seems to be hereditary.
This exercise shows how one stranger can give me bare bones of a character. Making her believable would take much longer. I’d have to put her into situations with others to see how she behaved. From that I’d learn her darkest secrets, her strengths and weaknesses. In time, I’d know more about her than she’d ever want to tell me.
The more I write, the more these methods grow and develop. I have notebooks and spreadsheets full of facts about Ros and Grady Balfour’s lives before they danced onto the pages of Outback Promise. I have clipped pictures from papers and magazines and downloaded images of people who resembled them. As I wrote my novel, their physical shapes took form. That was a starting point.
Because I had to live in the narrator’s skin so long, I know more about Ros than some of my closest friends. For instance, the leading orthopaedic surgeon at St Michael’s Hospital turned out to be her father. This fact only revealed itself when I was writing a prequel to the novel, trying to figure out how Ros became so emotionally reticent. Ros’s mother refused to reveal her father’s identity until after he died. All Ros’s young life she longed to know more about who she was and where she came from. When her mother refused to tell her, Ros learned to suppress her feelings and pretend she didn’t care. Insulating herself from pain became her main coping mechanism in times of crisis.
Creating believable characters means knowing them as intimately as best friends. Just like a solid friendship, it can take a long time to build a relationship that endures.
What type of characters can you start to build today? What do you imagine when you people watch? How do you move from the skeleton of a character to a living, breathing protagonist?
A few months ago, Ros discovered Grady's affair.
With their marriage fast disintegrating, they decide to take a three-month camping trip into the heart of Australia to try and mend deep wounds and rekindle the fire that once fused them close. This trip will decide the fate of their relationship: do they have enough strength and enough love left to accept what life has put them both through?
But trust and forgiveness don't come easily, and Ros and Grady have to navigate not only the wilderness of the Outback and the challenges of other travellers, but also the chasm of grief and bitterness they have sunk into over the last six years. Their only hope for survival lies in facing the secrets they have both tried to keep buried ...
Read an excerpt
The day my son died, he ate a Vegemite and banana sandwich for lunch.
His small voice, almost forgotten now, jarred me awake that morning. ‘How do bees get to school?’
Forty pounds of energy scrambled onto the bed.
‘Who’s asking me these questions so very early?’ I surfaced from a dream fog.
‘Mummy! It’s sunny!’ Cadel wedged himself between his father and me. His breath smelled like apple juice.
‘Okay, so how do bees get to school?’
‘On the school buzz.’
His infectious giggle filled the room. I peered out at the bright blue sky and abandoned all hope of sleeping in. We said we’d take him hiking with his new backpack if the weather was good.
Grady rolled over and grunted. His wavy dark hair hung in his eyes as he tried to look stern. ‘Lady Rosalyn, do you know this little person?’
‘No, Sir Grady, I do not.’
‘Should we make him walk the plank?’
‘It’s me, Daddy.’
‘What? When?’ Grady shook his head. ‘Me? Me who?’
‘It’s me! Cadel!’
‘I don’t remember giving permission for you to come aboard. Are you sure you’re not a pirate? I’d better give you the pirate test.’ He lifted Cadel’s pyjama top and blew a raspberry on his soft stomach.
Cadel shrieked and flailed his small arms.
I slid out of bed and left the two of them, wrestling and twisting the sheets into knots.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Maggie Bolitho grew up in Victoria BC Canada, where she spent her childhood flying under the radar, constructing alternate universes, and wishing to be somewhere over the rainbow. Shortly after her 17th birthday she set out to see the world. Eventually, she moved on to Australia.
While living Down Under and exploring the outback, Maggie started writing fiction. Her adult short stories have been published in various anthologies in Australia, the US, and Canada. She has written for Quills Canadian Poetry magazine, her YA novel LOCKDOWN was published in 2014, and in 2015 she published OUTBACK PROMISE.