Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What if my characters had been born 200 years later?

Some authors, when developing characters for a new story, write their characters' biographies or interview them. I don't. For me, a story usually starts with a strong vision of two characters interacting--usually at their first meeting--and I think, "Well, who are you, why are you here, and is there a novel in you?" I build forward and backward, imagining what might happen next and what brought these people to the point of meeting in the first place, but it's not a structured process. In a sense, I know who my characters are as soon as that vivid first interaction appears in my imagination. Everything else is just fleshing them out.

Without getting into a long digression on my process, I'll just say that sometimes while I'm writing, my critique partners will ask questions about a character or I'll find myself wanting to verbalize my instinctive understanding of a protagonist or antagonist. One of the ways I approach this is by imagining who the character would be if they were born in my place and time rather than their own. What would they do, in a world where gender and class still matter, but not nearly as much as they did 200 years ago? This both gives me a clearer sense of what kind of person they are and what conflicts they have within their own time. (Though I try not to overdo the latter, lest they seem like frustrated time travelers longing for opportunities someone really born in the late 18th century wouldn't have begun to imagine.)

So I thought it would be fun to post about who Will and Anna from The Sergeant's Lady and James and Lucy from A Marriage of Inconvenience might have become if they'd been Americans in the early 21st century rather than Britons in the early 19th.

Will is the easiest of the bunch. He would've still pursued a military career, but instead of enlisting would've secured an appointment to West Point or a spot in an ROTC program and generally become an officer and a gentleman. (And a damn fine example of both.)

Anna is more of a challenge. She's intelligent and fairly extroverted, but she doesn't have any one ability or ambition that leaps out at me and makes me think that in my world she'd clearly be a lawyer or a research scientist or what have you. Of the feminine accomplishments she learned as a Regency young lady, the one she most enjoys and has the most talent for is music, but she's no prodigy. She's more like the best musician in your high school graduating class than the best musician you've ever heard. So she's no concert pianist or opera singer, and I don't see her as a music teacher or choir director, either.

She's curious and adventurous, and she wants to see as much of the world as possible. I can see her doing a stint in the Peace Corps after college, and maybe going into international development or diplomacy from there. Or, heck, she was pretty comfortable with army life in The Sergeant's Lady, so maybe she'd go to West Point, too, since that's been an option for women for 30-something years now.

James, the hero of A Marriage of Inconvenience, is Anna's brother, and the siblings share a certain idealism. But where Anna's idealism has an inward focus--she's utterly true to her principles and willing to defy the rest of the world for both love and her own sense of right and wrong--James is more the type who wants to change the world. He's a visionary, and he enjoys exercising power (for the good at least 90% of the time, since he's a hero).

In my book, he inherits a title and with it a seat in the House of Lords, so he's already a rising political power broker at 24. In our world he'd have to be a bit more patient, but at 24 he'd be a star law student, and by his early 40's he'd be the junior senator from some state or other, possibly even meditating a run at the presidency or at least on his party's short list for the next VP nomination if he happened to represent a swing state.

Lucy is another easy choice. She's an unusually gifted amateur artist in Marriage, and in the 21st century she'd doubtless be a professional artist. I'm not sure what medium or style she'd work in, though. I can't see her as an envelope-pushing avant garde artist, but nor do I see her as conventional and conservative. Maybe she'd be a photographer. Yeah, that's it. She'd be a young portrait photographer starting to get a lot of buzz.


  1. Hello Ms.Fraser!
    I loved and adored The Sergeant's Lady, and can't wait to read Marriage of Inconvenience, as the little bit that was shown of James and Lucy- I can't wait to see how they're story came to bit, sad though we don't get to see more of Will ;_;

  2. Thanks for stopping by ranearia! I'm so glad you enjoyed The Sergeant's Lady, and I'm looking forward to seeing how readers react to James and Lucy's story.