• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Bringing Characters to Life (Why zombies make rotten lovers …)

Cast of characters from HBO’s True Blood (Based on Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Series

It takes more than a description and a few lines of dialogue to bring characters to life. They must be fleshed out in believable ways—grow, change, exhibit emotions (or repress them), have likes and dislikes, flaws and attributes. Basically, they have to be ‘real’ people. If characters are not fully developed, they won’t engage the reader, and that means the story ends before it even gets started.

If characters feel like cardboard cut outs, the story will fall flat on its face. No matter how brilliant the plot, characters have to have a potency of their own—driving and charismatic. If they don’t feel alive they might as well be zombies, and that’s not going to make anyone’s’ heart throb. If a main character can be replaced by one of the flesh-eating undead, it’s time for a radical makeover.

Lao Tzu said character is destiny and it holds true in fiction as in ‘real’ life. How characters think, what shaped their past, what hopes excite them, as well as their physicality, combine to create what will happen to them in the future. Achieving this level of characterisation boils down to one thing—know them inside and out! (Read Jennifer Fallon’s rule number three.)

When a new character pops into my head, (for me it is just like a light bulb going on) I see them in a scene. They might be in a fight, making a spell or making out. No matter. With that first look comes an idea, a name and then a horoscope. I create a ‘star charts’ for each one of my people. It’s more instructional than a Myers-Briggs personality test!

Example: I’ll randomly assign planetary placements for a new male character: Sun (individuality) Virgo, Moon (feelings) Scorpio, Mercury (brain power) Leo, Venus (relationships) Gemini, Mars (actions) Taurus, Jupiter (beliefs) Sagittarius, Saturn (boundaries) Aquarius, Uranus (group consciousness) Aries, Neptune (spirituality) Libra, Pluto (authority) Gemini.

Male character from Gaia Online

With chart in hand, I can say this character acts cocksure of himself but isn’t. He’s fun at parties; sacred of true intimacy. He takes orders if he respects the authority, bucks the system if not and has father issues up the yin-yang. Lonely childhood. He hides his vulnerability behind clever words, has intense eyes, holds a grudge and has no idea (yet) that he longs for something deeper, richer and more fulfilling that winning the next battle and yet another lass. His boots are always polished, favourite colour’s red, hates spiders, has a full head of hair (always will) and his friends say he thinks way too much . . .

I’ve discovered I’m in good company with my Astro approach to character development. Spec fiction writers Satima Flavell and Margaret Atwood use astrology to get to know their characters too. The idea is to treat them like people, friends and relatives you love (or hate). Know their history, their favourite breakfast cereal and how old they were when they first had sex. Get to that level of detail and you’ll never be accused of writing zombies (unless you mean to!).

I’d love to hear how other authors develop and keep track of their characters. Editors and proofreaders?

How do you do it? Comments most welcome.

Kim Falconer is the author of the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption trilogies, set in the worlds of Gaela and Earth. The first book in the Quantam Encryption, Path of the Stray, is out now and the sequel, Road to the Soul, will be out in March 2011. Kim is also an astrologer and runs Falcon Astrology. She is based in Byron Bay in Northern NSW, Australia.

6 Responses

  1. I didn’t realise Margaret Atwood used astrology, too! I’m sure any writer who is astrologically trained must use it at least some of the time because it’s such an excellent tool for getting to know people – both real-world ones and the imaginary ones on the computer screen.

    • I was surprised, and delighted, myself to find M A used astrology as a characterization tool. I think you’re right, anyone with some knowledge of the stars can’t help but use it, even if it’s just sun signs!

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. As someone new to writing I am at the stage where my characters come from me and what I know from my environment. I have not had to create so many characters that I need new ways of developing them and and a system for keeping track of who did what and came from where. When I do get that far down the writing road Astrology based characters is a great idea!

    The biggest problem I have at the moment is I have to actually try not to put too much of me into my protagonist. That goes for each of the projects I am working on. The second problem I have is finding the time outside of full-time work hours getting to know them by finishing the part of their story which appears in my books.

    • Hi TraceyLea,

      I remember when an acquaintance of mine, a crime writer, read my first novel. He said, ‘it’s great to get to know you so well . . .’ OMG, I blushed. But it’s true. I think a LOT of the author goes into their characters, especially in the first book or series. It’s only natural. Those people all come from somewhere!

      I had that ‘biggest problem’ for years–single mum, working school hours and then doing the domestic things and finding time to enjoy parenting didn’t coincide with a high daily word count. My best solution was to have a set time every day, even if it was only 30 minutes, where I would write. Other times of the day I was ‘writing’, musing on ideas and jotting things down. Keep a little notebook with you, set yourself a schedule, and it will happen!

  3. Like you, Kim, I see them clearly and come up with the name and their background. Sometimes I use a character information sheet but generally I’ll work out where they’re from, what their family situation is, what they do for work and what their general attitude to life is.

    Then I write. I always find out so much cool stuff from actually seeing them in action or even hearing what other characters say about them.

    From time to time, that hasn’t given me enough so I do things such as interview the character, or write an off-screen scene to see them in a different situation and work out the truth I need to make them work in this story.

    I think there’s few things that pay off more than spending some time with your characters. I think stories can survive weaknesses in worldbuilding, plot, even writing style but they CANNOT survive weak characters.

    • We do work alike in that sense, Nicole! See them, name them, sense their background (especially family – so influential)and write! As they come alive, they do take on a life of their own, no matter what is written in the stars, or on the info sheet!

      I love your idea of writing an off-camera scene to work out a truth. That’s brilliant. I’ve never done it directly, but I have written scenes that I later cut, realising it was for my benefit more than for the readers!

      Strongly developed and interesting characters do make the story. I just thought of Donald Duck as an example. I know that’s ridiculous but really, all his years of success were not about the stories he was in but his wonderful, anger-management-challenged personality! he he he, for me anyway! 🙂

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