20 April, 2009

Building Character

Things may get a little thin around here. I've met someone. He's monopolizing my time, and it's glorious. You know how it is.

Well, if you're a writer, you do. Meeting a new character after a long dry spell is indeed a lot like falling bang in love just after you'd resigned yourself to a lifetime alone. Your heart races, you can't sleep, you can't eat, and all you want to do is spend every waking moment with them. You obsess over the slightest detail. And you discover something new about them every few moments.

I didn't want to tell you about him until I had a name. And lemme tell you, finding out his name was a pain in me arse. Some of my characters arrive on the scene fully-named; this guy didn't. So what's a writer to do? Turn to naming resources, that's what.

What's in a name? A hell of a lot. Deciding to use the link to Shakespearean names shows me that his parents are cultured and a little loopy. This guy's either going to be super-confident or a bundle of complexes from a childhood of dealing with schoolyard taunts.

But it's not as simple as just reading down a list of names and picking one at random. For some reason, Tiberius was floating through my head today. I knew it had something to do with his name, but wasn't what he was called. Middle name. Brilliant. So instead of slogging through the plays one-by-one, head over to a character list to see if Tiberius is in Shakespeare's plays. Strikeout. However, a quick trot through the intertoobz reveals there is a Shakespearean connection - he may have played Tiberius in his friend Ben Jonson's play Sejanus. That means his parents are seriously Shakespeare obsessed. Perfecto. And for the first name, Cornelius - easily shortened to Neil, present in both Hamlet and Cymbeline. At least the poor bugger gets to pretend to have a normal name.

Last name - Lancashire echoes through my head. Wrongo. Too many syllables. Dig into British surnames (as he's from Britain) and discover Leyland. Click on it and discover that Leyland is a name from, guess where? Lancashire. Genius. I've got an idea of his accent already. Use Google-fu to discover archival recordings. Oh, dear. Wrong accent, but Wikipedia tells me it's dying out. The traces of it underlying the typical cultured British accent lend precisely the right flavor. Voila.

And thus we have a name: Cornelius Tiberius Leyland, but you can call him Neil. Please call him Neil. I also know something of his family history, and that he has a healthy sense of humor. His name fits with what I knew of him already: cultured but easy-going, with a very warped idea of the world. He's a psychiatrist hired on to keep the warriors from developing severe psychological problems. After he's spent some time with my main bunch, his Parthian shot to a room full of skeptical fighters is, "You're all completely psychotic. Come see me immediately if any symptoms of normalicy develop."

I think we're all going to get along brilliantly.

I'll be posting his origin story as I write it, if any of you lot are interested. If nothing else, it might help answer the "where do you get your ideas?" question that is the bane of the writer's existence.


stevec said...

"For some reason, Tiberius was floating through my head today. I knew it had something to do with his name, but wasn't what he was called. Middle name. Brilliant."

You do know that the middle name of James T. Kirk was "Tiberius," right? Just checking. Hope that doesn't ruin it for you, but if it does, better to know sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

Lancashire? Are you sure? No, really. Are you sure? Wallace (from Wallace and Gromit) is Lanc, and its too easy to become Manc (Manchester)- think Gallagher brothers, Daphne Moon. Phrase most associated "Trouble 't mill" (the original title for a Matter of Loaf and Death".

Tropes most associated with Cornelius- Parents have large stone-built farm house (if working class it would be Victorian terrace), he has loyal collie dog, especially for walking on the moors, with his walking stick- 5ft branch with offshoots cut back and all rubbed smooth- preferable with the brass bit of a shotgun cartridge as a foot. Will also cross into Country Man Trope (given middle class back ground)- Barbour jacket, possible flat cap.

Rival- Yorkshireman- will be of equivalency within unit- e.g. sergeant- reporting to same C.O. (This is fiction, normal chain of command need not send CV), even if 'Hero' technically 'outranks' (as civvie he would socialise with officers, but for direct contact with men, its the sergeant). Also needs to be sergeant if you are gong to play the 'Yorkie' card. (Most famous Yorkshireman -Geoffrey Boycott ex-cricketer, commentator, refered to the Great One by other commentators behind his back, but still on air)

As middle class parents to the lead, mother will actively avoid being Lancashire Woman - frightning working class woman, meek husband.

Oh, don't try to change what 'Neil' wears. Like using unfamilure the diminutive of his middle name already shows he is trying to be 'down with the kids' (which he never has been, even in his early 20's), he will insist he wears the jeans/slacks for comfort, and doesn't see the point of ties even though he wears a jacket with the jeans and open neck shirt. Owns 3 suits, off the peg, but good quality.

If single/divorced/widowed good chance he lives with parents, or in parents house after they dies.

Andre Vienne said...

I know that feeling. I get it here and there, but it comes more often now the more I write.