I just turned in the follow up to The Forgetting Flower to my publisher. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I hope the team greenlights it soon. In the meantime, I’ve thought of several ideas for a new novel but I’ve struggled with which one to focus on next. The ideas are really characters, a main character who might star in my next story, set where I don’t know, in what time, I’m not sure, in what genre, I have only a small clue. All I know for certain is I have these new characters and no story in which to plop them down inside.
Spotlighted People on Display
In my mind, my characters manifest like wax figures in a museum. They stand on a round platform under a spotlight, slowly rotating so I can get a better look at the their faces, their clothes, their accessories. As they move, they’re not real yet, simply statues of potential. They don’t shout, “Pick me!” or flirt or wink. They only stand in silence with a blank stare, waiting to be activated, waiting for me to point at one and say, “You, come with me.” Then they’ll animate, maybe shake their head out of slumber, and step off the platform to join me in the darkness of the story’s creation.
Photographer in Provence
The first figure is a 30-something woman in a thin skirt and flowery blouse and cloggy shoes. Her hair is pinned up because she’s hot. It’s sunny wear she is. She wears sunglasses and a necklace with a special pendant, carries an expensive camera and a backpack full of photography gear. She’s seeking a unique scene in Provence to shoot, a photo that will forward her career, which has been a failure thus far. But what she gets is a different kind of gem. A cognitively delayed teen will change her life.
A Princess in a Plant Fantasy
Second, a young princess stands in a scarlet dress made of leaves. With a green complexion, she stands out among the other people in this magical world. Her eyes are as dark as ebony, her finger nails are uncommonly hard, and her hair, the color of straw, is thick and silky like grass. Her kingdom is in disarray and only she can save it through political and marital maneuvering. That she may have to sacrifice the creatures of her own culture to do it, rips at her soul. But an ancient hidden tree may be the secret to solving her dilemmas.
A Haunted House of Orchids
An eccentric, curly-haired lord waits in a top hat and black suit. With white gloves in one hand and dissecting kit of tweezers, magnifying glass, and scalpel in the other, he stares off in the distance, awaiting a ship to come into harbor. He’s just hired a young governess to care for his three children because he’s about to embark on an exploration of South America. He’s told her she can enjoy his roomy comfortable mansion but must never go into the orchid greenhouse where a dark secret from his past lurks.
The Botany Detective
In the early 2000s, a dashing 30-something detective leans against a post with his linen blazer hooked over a shoulder. He’s handsome and he knows it, appreciates fine wine, cars, and women. But the death of his beloved gardener mum haunts him every day. He uses the plant knowledge she taught him to solve cases and bring justice and closure to victim’s families. He just wishes he could do the same for himself since his mother’s death, which he believes is a murder that’s never been solved.
Botanique Noire in Paris
On a Vespa scooter, Renia and Andre sit. She drives in a tapestry coat, corduroy overalls, and Doc Marten boots. Andre sits behind in his black racer jacket and brown canvas pants, a leather bag slung across his chest, machete in hand. He’s careful to hold on to the bar behind him instead of her waist, though both wish he’d rather not. They’re headed toward a last adventure in Paris that will test their crafty intelligence and strong resolve to protect plants against organized danger.
A Murky Time
While each of these characters excites me, I also feel a terrible angst. I can’t decide who to invite to step off the platform next. Therefore, these riches haunt me. The indecision is agony. There is one character(s) I’m particularly drawn to. I keep stepping around to inspect the person on their platform again and again. But I’m unsure if that choice is the right one. Still, I think about them and their situation often. For now, I’ll leave the wax museum and head to the garden. There I’ll work until I figure it all out.
Does one of these characters interest you more than another? If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments below!
Last November, I “won” National Novel Writing Month by writing 50,000 words of a novel draft. But I still wasn’t satisfied with my protagonist’s name, a name which I’d used as a placeholder in my rush to finish. I knew what kind of person he was, I’d already written a character bio of him, but I didn’t have a strong name that matched his personality. So in early January I decided to change it. The hunt for a solid name that had rhythm, meaning, and suitability to the story began.
I combed baby name and ancestry sites for ideas. I came up with several first and last name combinations that I adored one day and dismissed the next. I did this on several occasions, taking notes on the various spellings of names, fiddling with last names as firsts, objects as names, etc. Each time I landed on a strong combination, I’d hope my fondness for the name would last for more than a day. It didn’t. Finally, I got frustrated. I knew what I needed to do. It was what I’d been trying to short cut around. I needed to write character bios for my protagonist’s parents.
I only wrote a few paragraphs on each one. But working out the mother’s background, her personality, her job, her interests, where she’d been born and raised, and how she’d met my protagonist’s father, opened the lock of frustration. I did the same with the father’s profile. I didn’t focus so much on what they looked like, but rather who they were in terms of personality. For instance, my protagonist is a botanist so his father is also a plantsman. Did he marry my protagonist’s mother because she was a naturalist or because she was the opposite, a city person? What was their ethnicity? Where did they live, and where did they meet? Are they conformist-types or trailblazers? Once I answered these kinds of questions (and often the answers were inside what I’d already written), I knew the kinds of names these two people would have named their son. There were still a handful of choices, but I was no longer overwhelmed. I was able to choose a name that I liked and still like. The last name came from their ancestral background, the first name from a personal taste born of ideas, experiences, and worldview. A reflection of them. Like couples in real life.
I believe what Henry James said, that character equals plot. The plot develops from a character’s personality and hence, choices. Now that I not only know my character’s personality, but also his parents’ personalities, I understand his thinking more clearly and can better maneuver him through his world. A world of revising 50,000 words.