What’s in a Character?

Why are characters so important?  What must a character consist of in order to 1. Bring in the reader, 2. Develop sympathies within the reader to want to see the character succeed in their task, and 3. Teach the reader a valuable lesson?  These are important and unavoidable questions a writer must ask when creating unique and memorable characters.  When coming up with my most recent character, Marielle Stone, I was faced with these and other conflicting and complex inquiries.  Although I know the context (or general outline) of the plot in which this character will feature, I have chosen not to disclose the information yet.  Instead, I wanted to focus on Marielle.  Who is she?  Where did she come from, both physically and emotionally?  Why should my audience root for her?  How does her past affect the story?  What challenges particularly affected her and how does she overcome them?  What does her name say about her character?  This is a lot to take in for one individual but perhaps by answering these questions, I can better understand her from the point of view of my audience, which is the most important perspective.

Let’s start with her name, Marielle.  It is a French derivative of Marie which comes from the common Mary.  The name Mary is most popularly associated with the Virgin Mary of the Christian religion, the mother of Jesus and an example of purity and innocence.  Scholars have quarreled over its origin but many believe it has Egyptian roots  which mean “beloved” or “love”.  This alone can tell my audience that this will be a love story.  I’m not talking about a traditional Nora Roberts or Nicholas Sparks love story, or a supernatural Twilight-esque romance, and certainly not the Fifty Shades type of lusty romance.  Marielle will learn a whole new definition of what it means to love and this is why I have chosen this name.  Then there’s the matter of her rather simple last name, Stone.  Although she does not know it, Marielle is a solid as a rock which is important because the tragedy she will go through during the course of this story will be enough to break any weaker person.  She has to be strong not only for herself, but for others as well.

So, name aside, who is Marielle Stone?  She’s an ordinary girl with outlandish dreams to be a film writer.  No, not a screenwriter, a writer who documents films.  She wants to launch a new industry so to speak and market books about movies.  There have been countless films made about books and she thinks it’s time to try something new.  The book industry is dying with the birth of the digital age and she wants to revive it by embracing the technologies that might just do away with it completely.  She attended the University of Texas at Austin and works in the Admissions office as a receptionist when the story opens.  Although she’d graduated, she did not make it very far.  A degree is not enough to convince agents or publishers to take a risk on her.  She cannot get into graduate programs because they are so competitive so she is stuck in the overworked/underpayed class of America.  Her roommate and best friend Richard, on the other hand, is up and coming in the cut throat world of film.  He receives a call to fly out to L.A. to begin work on a movie set the day Marielle receives yet another rejection letter from a literary agency in Austin, her back up plan.  Just a few months after Richard moves out and just when Mari is about to give up, Richard’s employer comes across a manuscript written by her sent to Richard for review.  He is astounded by her writing style and loves what she wants to do for film.  He decides to hire her to write a piece about the film they’re working on so Mari ships herself off to L.A. and this is where the majority of the book takes place. 

Knowing about her brief history leading up to the main points of the book, we can understand a few things about Mari.  She is frustrated and tired of rejection.  She seems nice and since she is in a position that most of us have also experienced, it is not difficult to find ourselves sympathetic to her.  We want her to do well because, if in her shoes, we also would want to succeed.  Once Mari gets the invitation to L.A. the stage is set.  We now know we can trust Richard as a friend and confidante.  The two are reunited and we hope their friendship can go back to the way it was, blissful and enjoyable.  Some may also wonder at this point if Richard is who Mari will fall passionately in love with…  We also know we can appreciate Mari’s work as a writer if a high profile Hollywood director finds merit in it.  We know she has talent and now she has an opportunity to showcase her talent, to make money at it, and live her dream.

Mari’s happiness is short-lived and she soon becomes a victim in a heartbreaking case of betrayal.  She finds salvation, eventually, but it takes a long time to recover and heal.  But then she is struck with more devastation, and this time she is forced to do something even harder than recover.  Now she must forgive the very person who put her in this position.  Knowing how her character has developed throughout the story, as an author my job is now complete.  I have constructed a woman whose talent, demeanor, and resilience encourages the audience and inspires them.  They have laughed with her and perhaps they have even cried with her.  But through it all, I have grown as a writer.  I have learned something about myself in the process and I hope the reader has as well.  Reading is a very intimate experience.  Everyone receives the story but there are several interpretations of it.  What Mari means to me may not be what she means to someone else and that is the beauty and the art of writing a great character.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s