Mel is hosting a weekly writer’s workshop on Sundays. Check it out. This week’s assignment: Character Development
I have been writing a novel for about eight years. I began writing it because I wanted to read a book I couldn’t find anywhere: a mystery about a young married woman used to city living, who is confused by her suburb and feels like a fish out of water. Kind of like Ayelet Waldman’s Mommy-Track series but with a newly-married protagonist instead of a new mother.
The “twist” that makes this series different is that Belle solves mysteries with her nosy, buttinsky mother who’s obsessed with reading detective novels and thinks crimes are all around her.
I’ve written about two-thirds of the book. I know how it ends. I know the characters well. BUT: let’s see how well I REALLY know them. I’m going to cover this assignment by using the characters I have developed the most: the mother and daughter. I hope that’s OK: I’m afraid of ruining the plot if I reveal the other characters!!
Name: Belle Banks-Hoffman
Physical traits: Height: 5’9″,
Hair: Highlighted blond (it’s naturally a mousy brown color)
Eye colour: Grey
Scars: NOT YET!
Distinguishing characteristics: Belle was an anthropology major in college and treats her suburb as if it were her current field assignment: she’s fascinated by the behaviors and quirks of her friends, relatives and neighbors. She finds humor in the absurd and she loves to gossip. She works from home running a travel business. (Symbolizing two conflicting characteristics: she’s restless and craves adventure, but she’s also someone geographically tied to her roots.) She is TERRIFIED of rats.
Basic familial relationships: Newly married to her longtime boyfriend, she has no children. She is not yet completely sold on the idea of having children. Her parents live nearby and her mother is constantly inserting herself into Belle’s life, for both good and ill. She’s very close to her parents and she and her husband eat dinner with them every Sunday.
Breakfast: She usually doesn’t eat breakfast. Because she works from home with no set schedule, Belle wakes up late almost every day (Sunday being no exception) and doesn’t get hungry until noon, when she will eat a greek yogurt or a banana or drink an Odwalla mango smoothie.
Parents: She’s close with her parents, but is often exasperated with her mother, who pushes her out of her comfort zone frequently. She speaks with her parents almost every day. Her mother often calls at the most inopportune times.
Attire: Right now, she is wearing yoga pants, a sports bra, a t-shirt from an African resort, gym socks and shoes. Her hair is in a ponytail and she’s wearing a Giants baseball cap. She wears gym clothes almost all day, in the hopes this will motivate her to go to the gym. Most of the time, it doesn’t.
Politics: Belle is a liberal Democrat, much to the chagrin of her very conservative Republican father. She’s very concerned about the environment and tries to live pretty “green.”
Travel: She would want to travel somewhere with a lot of culture, people-watching and good food. Preferably a European city.
Habitat: She lives in Marin County, a liberal and very wealthy California suburb known for its dazzling scenery, multimillion dollar mansions, sailing clubs and citizens notorious nationwide for being both materialistic yet crunchy.
Self-esteem: Belle is pretty comfortable in her own skin. She knows her husband and family love her, and that gives her a lot of confidence. She is down-to-earth, savvy about human nature, not easily impressed, a bit detached and is often amused by those around her, particularly her mother and her husband. She values her sense of humor and likes that she can clean up well. She wishes she could lose 10 pounds and that she had her mother’s chutzpah.
Name: Samantha Bullock Banks
Hair: Brown (with an assist from the colorist to cover the gray)
Scars: One white shiny scar on her shin from tripping over a hand-saw in her grandfather’s barn, during a typical childhood misadventure.
Distinguishing characteristics: Samantha is a type-A personality who can complete almost any project she chooses to take it on. She gets a lot of inspiration from the female detectives she reads about. (She consumes at least one mystery novels a week, and her favorite detective is Agatha Raisin.) She loves being in control of situations, or at least thinking she’s in control. Very outgoing and talkative, she can befriend almost anyone and has an eerie photographic recall of people’s faces, names and most especially: the tragic things that happened to them. She’s in public relations and has been married to a newspaper reporter for 30 years: she’s always talking him into things he doesn’t want to pursue, like ballroom dancing lessons. She’s concerned her daughter Belle is too passive and feels the need to push her to be more Type-A, like herself.
Breakfast: Samantha is an early riser: she’s usually up by 6 AM. Today, she ate a bowl of the slow-cooked oatmeal she made for both her husband and herself with soy milk, cinnamon and dried cranberries.
Parents: She had a problematic relationship with her mother, who wanted a more “girly” girl and not such a determined tomboy. Her father, a farmer in Kansas, encouraged her to go to college and flee the rural town she grew up in.
Attire: Samantha takes a lot of pride in her appearance and usually wears colorful skirts, a fitted blazer, a silk t-shirt and some type of statement necklace, usually handmade or of the Santa-Fe school. Chicos and Coldwater Creek are her go-to stores.
Politics: Samantha is a conservative Democrat and often works on local campaigns or for voter registration drives. She refuses to discuss politics with her Republican husband.
Travel: Samantha would want to go on a cruise. In her dreams, she would travel on a luxury liner like the QE II, and there would be a murder for her to solve onboard.
Habitat: Samantha is a middle-class woman who lives in a mostly upper class enclave. She and her husband live in a nice home but they worry about their retirement.
Self-esteem: Samantha seems supremely confident, but she worries about facing a lack of control: in the world at large, in her family. Her motto: “The more I interfere, the better the outcome!”
Would you be compelled to read a mystery about these characters?
Belle and Samantha now have their own Pinterest boards!