I would like to expand a bit on my blog, Finding the Character Within…. Here I want to show you some of the ways I work up my character backgrounds and elaborate on the questions I ask myself.
I will show you my notes that I made for Queen Demetryce Artadeus from Consequences Within Chaos. She is the main character’s mother who has a deep-seated contempt and malice towards him.
A lot of what I wrote for this character did not even get into the book. Yet having it in my mind helped me direct her actions, guide her dialog and even her interactions with other characters, both noble and even criminal characters.
Queen Demetryce Artadeus
How old? 67 years old
What does your character look like? Long, grey-blond hair, 5’ 9” and 121 lbs. Average looks, but her constant frown makes her seem uglier than she really is. I picture Dame Judy Dench or Dame Helen Mirren in my mind.
Where does she live? As Queen of Tayneva, she shares the Castle Adventdawn, of course with her family, but she also has ties to her own family in a smaller kingdom, Yata-Malai. She makes semi-annual trips to visit her sisters and her surviving aunt.
Where is the character from? From the small, island state of Yata-Malai. Malais are very orthodox and pious. Often accused of being religious zealots and have very rigid moral codes. Murder, adultery, rape and other such immoral evils are persecuted strictly. In the cases of adultery and even rape (in some cases) the victim may be blamed as well and suffer similar shame. Think Quakers as far as their religious purity and strict doctrines.
What kind of childhood? She went through a rigorous childhood as a student of the temple and was on the track to becoming a priestess. In a chance to boost their position in world powers though, her father sent her to wed a young duke, Haedrec Artadeus. Although this ended her promising path as a priestess, she found she was taken with Duke Artadeus and they married shortly afterwards.
What does the character do for a living? Not only the functioning Queen of Tayneva, but she leads the court affairs and acts as court justice administrator. Her iron fist philosophies and her decisions have made her many enemies and many “bought for” allies. Not an evil woman, but has fallen into corruption by the power of her position and her means are always justified in her mind. She also maintains her magical Mending Skills and religious practices.
How does your character deal with conflict? Mostly with an icy demeanor when she doesn’t get her way, but as of late she has become very short fused. Especially when it concerns her son, Taihven. He is a constant reminder of her secret shame of rape and the worst event that happened to her in her life. She cannot let go of her anger and has grown to hate him due to his embarrassing episodes of mental instability. In some respects, she feels her daughter, Princess Letandra has become quite a strong leader and she even feels slightly threatened by her growing leadership skills and popularity among the citizens in Wyvernshield.
Who else is in their life? Her family is the center of her world, but that world in her eyes is a constant source of drama and aggravation. Her only happy relationship is with her husband who is sadly dying a slow, debilitating death. The court affairs are the only outside distraction and depending on her mood, she takes out her days on the poor saps brought in front of her judging bench.
What is your character’s goal or motivation? In spite of the threat in power and popularity that Princess Letandra has, Demetryce is pushing to have her become Lady Magistrate. This would supersede Taihven, the Heir-Apparent. She would rather have Letandra to deal with and perhaps have sway over instead of her son who has his father’s stubbornness and of course the mental malady. She is extremely frightened of facing alone this on-coming war with the creatures known as the Viestrahl. Her goal is to obtain the Throne for Letandra before King Haedrec dies. Demetryce has decided that if necessary she will imprison, hide or as a last resort, have her own son kidnapped and sold into slavery.
As you can see, this character depiction is in-depth and thought through. I had a strong sense of who she was and how she would react to coming events in my story long before I even started writing the book!
With questions like this, exercises to explore their background, you find and develop layers to who they are. These are real people to both you and the reader. Characters should have some conflicting emotions and some quirks to their nature. We all do. Why wouldn’t the people in your story?
Did you find this helpful or do you think you can use some of these questions for your own characters?