I love research. I love hunting for clues about the past. I love when books and movies take me to another time. That’s why I write historical fiction. The history is there. The secret little stories are there to be found. I love to put a fictional story against an historical backdrop. It gives me more perspective when a time has passed and has been judged and understood–or misunderstood. I can play the omnipotent writer. I can see all the pieces.
I just finished reading Sandra Gulland’s Josephine series about Napoleon’s wife, and I loved it. By the time I finished the third book, I felt a real attachment to the character of Josephine. I say character because we can’t know the woman, we can only judge her on her life. Gulland so beautifully judged and portrayed her, so fully characterized her, that I really fell in love with Josephine.
As a writer, how does one reveal the character of a character in subtle ways so that the reader knows the character by the end of the novel? Is it her little movements, the way she responds to pain, fear, loss, her marriage, motherhood, sisterhood, spinsterhood–whatever her ‘hood? How does the writer make the reader care?
It must be through the interior monologue, the thoughts in reaction to the events, because when we can sympathize–no, empathize–with a character, we judge them less harshly. When we know his motives, we want him to succeed even if his goals run contrary to our own. It’s not enough to show and not tell. Thoughts sometimes show more about a character than actions. Or are they equally important?
One way I try to animate my characters is to assign them actors in the movie versions of my books. I can’t help but think of my books as movies as I write them. I clip out actor headshots and paste them to a piece of paper that I stare at before and during the writing process to gain inspiration. I watch them in movies and youtube clips, I Google their names, I think about how they would handle situations from the market to the bedroom. I basically cyberstalk them until they, as muses, inspire scenes in my writing. And it works. It helps, anyway.
So right now, I’m all about Kiera Knightley, James McEvoy, and Clive Owen. Hopefully they’ll agree to star in the film adaptation of my novel. I’ll keep you posted.