Character Recipes | Spices & Secret Ingredients

Shop with spices in Morocco

Image via Wikipedia – Spice shop in Morocco

Do you love cooking?

Or do you prefer baking?

Personally I love cooking. In baking you have to be very careful to follow a recipe to the letter. You have to be precise with times, temperatures and measurements. The smallest variation could be disastrous. Frankly the thought of baking leaves me cold. I tend to leave that to the experts like my clever CP who is a baker extraordinaire and my amazing mother who is the world’s best baker. Cooking however, is something I love and something I thrive at: especially when it comes to making my own tasty recipes where the only rules and limits I need to stick to are the boundless limits of my creative imagination.

The art of creating a memorable character has more in common with cooking than baking. You have your standard ingredients as your base but the rest is up to your creative skills as a writer: you are the chef in your own Character Recipe. So what’s my Character Recipe? What spices do I use to flavour? What secret ingredients do I use to make the character breathe with depth and emotion? What is my inspiration for the recipe? This brings me to the topic for this month’s Tuesday Blog Hop.

Topic for Tuesday August 9th:  Character Recipe 

Alphas, betas, helpless Hannas we all have characters we love and those we hate.

But how did we create them? What’s your character recipe? 

 

The best cooking is rich with spices, sauces and exotic flavours. The best dishes are when you, the cook & chef extraordinaire, can come up with a new twist on a well-known dish. Writing a story is very much like this. Just by changing the spices in a dish you can create a whole new flavour explosion. Characters are the spices that writers use to flavor their own dishes: the stories.

Very few plots are completely original. I read a quote this week that your story is either a Romeo & Juliet or a David & Goliath but just in different variations. In just the same way most cookery dishes are just new twists or different variations on the old tried and true favourites. But the difference between each dish is the combination of spices, herbs and sauces that add the final WOW touches that create an EXPLOSION of taste-bud orgasm that leaves you breathless and wanting more. We have all had those moments where we have had a plate of food put in front of us that may have looked similar to a well-known dish but the moment a forkful is put in your mouth: Your tastebuds just melt in submission of a flavor EXPLOSION that is happening in your mouth.

Creating characters is like adding my favourite spices, herbs and sauces to a dish. They are the WOW factor in a dish that will make you begging for seconds, thirds and fourth helpings. For me characters are what I love or hate about a story. Sometimes it is even  a question about loving to hate the bad guy/girl in the story. They often are the most memorable. Just like a great spice they might be sharp, spicy-hot or colourful. I have always had a soft spot for the villains in the piece. Maybe it is because they are limitless and in-your-face with their attitude and their lack of moral or ethical restraints. They do what we may in our deepest parts dream to do but dare not.

In my current story I have two Main Characters and a shadow character that binds them together. I have quite a few beta characters and secondary characters but these three characters that I mentioned are the heart, gut and backbone of this story. I am going to write an individual post for each of these three characters. So let me start today by introducing you to the character who started it all.

My favourite character in the story is actually my antagonist or villain. Her name is Eliza Chambers. She is also the inspiration for the whole story. The story is really her story and all its complications. She isn’t the easiest of characters to work with and in the beginning she was quite stubborn and reticient in sharing with me. But I am equally as stubborn and with a lot of persistence I managed to tease the story out of her. She lives in Victorian London in the suburbs. She is the eldest daughter of a very well known and high society family. But she does not fit the mould of either her society’s view of a woman nor her family’s. She is feisty, headstrong and incredibly independent. Her heroes of the day are the many inventors of the Victorian age, starting with her father. She also sees and communicates with spirits. This starts getting her in all sorts of trouble and soon trouble is brought to her own doorstep  in the form of deadly family secrets & skeletons that force her to face her own capacity for rage and scorn. The twist is that she ends up confronting her worst self and she becomes the family skeleton & secret.

One of my betas told me they found her creepy. I loved that reaction and that description. It meant that I had interpreted Eliza correctly and done her justice even though justice is the last thing she has coming. The story is about ghosts, family secrets, cursed love affairs, revenge and redemption. Without Eliza Chambers there would be no story. She will give you the creeps but she will also fascinate you as she has me. I love writing all her chapters because it stretches my skills and my imagination. Because she lives in a Victorian time I had to think, speak and act like a Victorian woman. She starts off very stubborn, secretive and austere, even cold at times. But as the complications ensue, passion and scorn transform her into a woman bent on revenge and seething with rage. Hell hath no fury like Eliza Chambers being scorned. In the end this is a woman who even ghosts & spirits fear to tread with. I think women will understand her even though they will swear they have nothing in common with her and men will fear her. She has given me sleepless nights many a time since I first met her last year in October.

Where did she come from? I really don’t know. One day she just appeared and started telling me her story. It was all I could do to grab a pen and start writing down the bones of this story. Perhaps she came from my fascination with ghosts & the afterlife which usually co-exist with family secrets & skeletons, both literal and figurative. I am also in love with the Victorian era and often believe that is my true era. I also like strong women who don’t always fit the mould. Are there elements of me written into the character? That is a difficult one because when you create a character there is a fine line between yourself and a created personality. Would I behave in the ways Eliza does? I would hope that I didn’t. But in the same manner, I can sympathize with her. The fun part of a mean & vengeful character is that you get to act out without actually acting out.

Eliza Chambers will remain with me for a long time even after this story is finally put to bed. She is a complex individual who chooses the wrong turns. Her story is an extreme story of cursed love, taboo relationships, betrayed secrets, broken hearts, revenge and thrown together with large helpings of the supernatural. But the one reason why I do respect her is that she never apologizes for who she is and above all she stands up for her views of right and wrong, good and evil: even though her views may be slightly skewed and twisted. Do I like her? Yes, there are many parts of her I like. Do I like her actions? No, although understandable, they are extreme and usually bent to her own agenda which is tinged with revenge, scorn and rage. But all of these same characteristics make a great story and create a multi-faceted person who you will either love to hate or hate to love.

 Eliza Chambers

is the spicy pepper,too hot chilli and pungent garlic to my, or should that be her, story: The Raven’s Court.

Kim

Tuesday Blog Hop | Writer’s Flashback

 

This month the task was to flash back to something you have written in the past, it could be months or years ago, and share how your writing has evolved since then.

Funnily enough, I have just moved house and bought a new desk. I love moving because often you find treasures you thought you had lost. In this move I found a folder hidden away in an archive box with all my writing. This included all my early assignments when I was studying Creative Writing and Freelance Journalism. So when this task came up, I was quite excited to take part. The only problem was what to include. So I have included an excerpt from a story I began when I was 16.

***

The night was cold and eerie! Winter had arrived and summer was a thing of the past…

Spring is a time of new beginnings and new outlooks. That spring was a time of closing, the end of youth! Maturity came and with it a sense of lost innocence…

Maxine West was twenty-one, officially a woman, and embarking on an adventure, the adventure of real life. Maxine could not be described as pretty or beautiful but her mystery was alluring, even seductive. Her hair was not quite black nor brown but something in between. She had the eyes of a cat: big, round and yellow, while her profile was like that of an alien bird. Maxine’s facial features were totally asymmetrical and out of proportion. This story is a story of lost innocence. This is her story.

A young woman stepped out of the building and into the sunlight. Nobody would have glanced twice except for her aura. This was a young woman with an insurmountable wall in front of her eyes. Eyes betraying no emotion are dead but her eyes were covered with enormous emotion. She was extraordinary to behold. What exact emotions covered those eyes and what could be done to lift their veil?

Her mind worked like a robot, seeing everything and yet observing nothing. This was her day of freedom and she was going to celebrate to the fullest – by herself. She did not want anyone around her because this was her escape at last!

Youth is something to be treasured and remembered, but Maxine wanted to rid herself of her past youth, the sooner the better… 

As she walked down the steps, she knew that she was leaving her past behind and that maybe, with a little luck, the hurt too.

Her first memory was the best, one of the few good moments that she could remember. The sun had just risen and all was quiet. Maxine was hungry for a maternal hug so she called, “Mama, Mama! I want hug!”.

In the adjacent room, Caroline West – successful psychologist and single mother – struggled awake to the demanding voice of her baby girl, Maxine. A breeze was stirring the leaves of the oak outside her window. Today was going to be wonderful. Clambering out of bed in her sleep-wake state, Caroline walked towards her daughter’s room. Stepping into the bedroom, Maxine gazing peacefully at her, Caroline realised that even though her life had not followed an ideal plan, she was utterly content where she was.

Caroline West; the much-loved daughter of a middle class family, was now a mother – albeit single – of a strange but cute, little girl. Margaret and Tom West had, had many plans for their youngest and only child. Plans that included a husband. Caroline had never set out to be a single parent but as plans do, her plans went awry.

Jeffery Dean had fallen in love with Caroline the moment he first set eyes on her. An up and coming architect, his life was destined for a great future. One including Caroline West. The only snag being that he wanted the woman but without the pitter-patter of tiny feet. When Caroline first realised that Jeff did not want any children, ever; she was hesitant but not wary. She thought that once the relationship had developed Jeff would finally propose and eventually after a marvellous honeymoon a child or two would enter their lives and bond them eternally.

Looking back now at the naive Caroline, the present Caroline saw the futility of her young hopes and dreams. her relationship with Jeff had gotten more serious and therein entered intimacy. She had taken all the necessary precautions, or thought she had. But the pill does not always work according to one’s plans. When the pregnancy came out positive Caroline was elated but not ready to face the reluctant and contentious Jeff. The final inevitability was that she ended up as Maxine’s only parent.

“Mama, Mama! Listen to me. Give me hug, please…”, shaking herself out of her reverie, Caroline walked over to the bed to give her daughter a hug.

***

Reading through this story, I see how much my writing has changed. Which is a good thing. Life is all about change and change is all about growth. In this story I “tell” more than “show”. The story is also written in 3rd Person POV and narration. There is an overuse of punctuation points. There is too much back story too early on in the story.

My writing style has definitely evolved from this early attempt. Now I tend to write in 1st Person POV. I definitely think I “show” more than I “tell”. My grammar has improved as has my sentence structure. I also tend to write more character-based stories now.

I can see how there are some good kernels of ideas here in this story. I was trying to bring across the MC’s emotional flaws marring her physical features. I also remember that the story got a little better as it continued. But here I was writing from a 16 year old’s life experience. So I will try not to be too harsh with my 16 year old self and rather applaud the fact that I attempted my first full novel at 16.

Now I am twice that age and life has changed both my writing and I. I feel that with every story I write and every new character I develop my writing continues to evolve and change. I think that when it stops evolving and changing, I will stop writing. For if I ever get to the point where I think I cannot learn anything new than I may as well try my hand at something else. Thankfully I have not reached this point yet. I am still writing, still changing, still evolving and still growing. I am an unfinished manuscript still in the editing stages.

Kim