(The Elms, 1901)
This week, I’ve talked about using the Newport Mansions as a good way to create a unique and realistic setting, so I’d like to branch off of that and talk about using the owners of the mansions as a sort of guide for my characters. The fun part about fiction is creating, so I wouldn’t make my main characters exact copies, rather, I would take what I’ve learned on the tours about their day-to-day lives and apply it to how my characters would live in a similar environment.
Character development can be challenging, but if you ask the right questions, it can get easier and be fun. As a “creative flow” writer, I used to just jot down a word or two about what my characters looked like and their role in the story…however, that didn’t really help me when it came time to actually write their story. Now that I am adjusting my writing to take a more planned approach, I spend a lot of time developing the outline, so why wouldn’t I take some time to develop the key element to my story: the characters? So, I developed a sort of questionnaire to help me effectively and efficiently find out more about my characters.
Basic questions to find out about your character based on the plot:
Where do they live? Now, apparently if you were in high society in Newport, Rhode Island, you had to have a Bellevue address to have any kind of standing. In order to make writing historically accurate, the character must be placed on the correct side of the tracks. If they were poor, you wouldn’t place them on the wealthiest avenue in town…unless they lived in the servants quarters. So, research your town/city and find out the streets that your character would have occupied based on their income.
What is their net worth and how did they make their fortune/living? What is their education level and does it effect how they speak/communicate? Now, a lot of the people at the Newport Mansions made their fortunes through silver, oil, sugar etc. and some of the men did not even have college degrees; however, if there was a son, it was likely that he would obtain a higher education, such as a law degree, and the daughters would have been married off to the most eligible bachelor available.
What do they look like? What are their personal habits? What’s their personality like? From what I found out about these wealthy women on the tours, it seems that being a woman in the Victorian era was rough. While they were pampered and dressed like royalty, they led rather sheltered lives. I can imagine that the daughters would be frustrated to be so confined…and the servants might find their frustration linked to ingratitude. These questions are pivotal to your story.
What is their hobby? If your character is the wife or daughter and heir of a silver mine, they wouldn’t work, so how would they spend their days? At one of the mansions I toured, I heard that the hobby of the wife was to throw lavish parties. Research hobbies for the wealthy or if the character is poor, get creative and find ways for them to have an outlet that doesn’t cost anything.
What/who do they secretly like? What/who makes them sad/happy? What is their greatest dream/fear? What is the thing that is dearest to them in the whole wide world? These questions can lead to your character’s motivation and what drives them, can drive your story along.
I hope this list of questions help you understand and develop your characters faster. Happy writing!
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