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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Elizabeth Essex: My Heart Is All My Own

One of the most important aspects of any author’s writing is his or her ‘voice,’ the style, attitude and point of view that makes the telling of a story unique. Early on in my writing career, my critique partner defined voice for me with a marvelous quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “All the knowledge I possess anyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.”

I use this quote to inspire me not only to strengthen my individual voice as an author, but to assist me in creating strong, unique characters readers will love. One of the hallmarks of my stories is deep characterization. My stories spring from an idea of a character, and hinge upon making sure I let that character’s individual voice ring true.

In A SENSE OF SIN, my second Georgian romance from Kensington Brava set in Dartmouth, England, Rupert Delacorte, Retired Colonel of His Majesty’s Marine Forces, and now Viscount Darling, meets his match in a quiet local beauty, the Ravishing Miss Celia Burke.

Right from the start, Del has it in for Celia. He has come to Dartmouth in search of her, thinking she is responsible for the death of his beloved younger sister Emily, and vowing to have his revenge.

Both of these characters can be seen as archetypes. Del is an archetypical Avenger, while Celia can be seen as an archetypical mousy Librarian/Scientist. But such cardboard cut-out characters only work when they are personalized and made unique enough so the reader can see and hear them as individuals.

To make a character unique, I do two basic things: I ask myself how the character sees the world, and examine how the world sees the character. The answers to those questions involve the two things Goethe wrote about, knowledge and heart.

Del’s knowledge has been acquired in his upbringing as the son of a Duke, and in his profession serving in His Majesty’s Marine Forces aboard Royal Navy ships. All the things that are familiar to him come from that world. To describe Celia, Del would not compare her to a summer’s day. He would describe her as being “like a trim, nimble sloop.” When he thinks about exacting revenge, he would want it to be like his profession, “straightforward, violent and bloody.”

Celia Burke is a quiet country girl who is also a botanist devoted to the study of freshwater plants. She spends her time reading about scientific discoveries in ‘The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,’ and she sees the world through her experience as a dedicated and detailed observer of the universe’s scientific fact. In her encounters with Del, Celia would never describe herself as having been ‘swept off her feet.’ She would think “the earth had ceased to exert it’s pull on her and ceded all it’s gravity to Viscount Darling.”

The events of the story, the seeking of revenge, the thwarting of blackmail attempts and the falling in love, provoke strong emotional reactions from our characters, and those emotions are filtered through the prism of their experience. And it is those strong, unique emotions give the characters their individual heart.

What character of romance fiction stands out in your mind for their strong unique heart?

14 comments:

Sally Felt said...

I love that you made Celia a science nerd! It's not the "usual" for an historical, and just one of many things that excites me about your books.

In case you wondered, your gift for deep characterization is TOP-o-the list of what makes your romances special for me.

elizabeth said...

Sally - Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words. But I will debate "gift" with you. My point today is that this is something I taught myself to do, and so can everyone else. I just write the kids of books I like to read, and those are full of wonderfully deep characters who come alive on the pages!

Totebag Guest said...

Elizabeth, I love your quote by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. It so clearly explains "individual voice" so essential for characterization.
Great post.

Helen

Michele L. said...

Hi Elizabeth,
The person that most immediately came to my mind when you said who in romance fiction stands out in your mind with their strong unique heart is Scarlet O'Hara from Gone With The Wind. She sure was a determined, independent lady with a very strong dedicated heart. She is the epitome of a strong woman with an unique heart wouldn't you say?
Very cool topic and your book sounds awesome!

Hope you had a fantastic Sunday!

Na said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I agree, even cardboard type characters can have defining personality traits that make them unique. A Sense of Sin doesn't sound like a cardboard story at all. I'm looking forward to meet Rupert and Celia. I like "meeting" new characters and learning their individual quirks, because how they act in situations is what makes them memorable to me.

A character of romance that stands out in my mind for their strong unique (and defiant!) heart is Alaina MacGaren from Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's Ashes in the Wind. She is a much loved character because she HAS character, bringing me into her world and invoking such strong emotions.

elizabeth said...

Helen, thanks so much for stopping by. I have a whole wall full of quotes like that to help me through the writing day, and everyday life as well. One of my favorites, and one I've put into the mouth of my hero in my next book, THE DANGER OF DESIRE, which comes out in November, is, "Things turn out the best for those who are prepared to make the best of the way things turn out." Not sure who said it, but I think it's a great philosophy. Cheers, EE

elizabeth said...

Michele, it took me a really long time to warm up to dear Scarlet, probably because I saw the movie long before I ever read the book. I liked the character so much better in the novel because I understood her motivations and choices so much more clearly. And my yes, she was so strong, and made such a strong impression as a character. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Cheers, EE

elizabeth said...

Na, Oh my how I loved 'Ashes in the Wind.' I can still quote lines from that book - that's how strong that character of Alaina was for me. And it was also one of the first romance novels I ever read so it made a very strong impression on me. And turned me into a lifelong fan of the genre. Hope you enjoy A SENSE OF SIN! And thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Cheers, EE

marybelle said...

Cathy in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Such a strong, irrepressible love for Heathcliff. To love & feel to the point of madness.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Gwynlyn said...

Excellent blog, Elizabeth. Love the examples.

elizabeth said...

Marybelle, Cathy and Heathcliff are great examples of fantastic characters. They have certainly made a lasting impression in literature through the years, and have actually become archetypes on their own. Everyone would know what you meant if you said someone was a "Heathcliff' character (unless they thought it was that cat!). But I must admit I'm not a big fan of the 'dying for love,' part of the proceedings. I much prefer a 'happily ever after' for the characters I love.
Thanks for stopping by! Cheers, EE

elizabeth said...

Gwynlyn - Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind comments. Sometimes I think it's a little easier for me to illustrate the interior world of my characters, because most often their exterior world is the same - my hero are typically from the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Era - and a world I know very well. But making each one of them unique .... well, let's just say that's a chore I struggle with every day! Happy reading, and happy writing! Cheers, EE

Jo's Daughter said...

I liked Riona from Karen Ranney's the irresistable macrea. She is free at heart and yet she's willing to sacrifice her happiness for that of her sister.

elizabeth said...

Jo's Daughter - Oh, yay! You've introduced me to a character I haven't read yet! (That was what I was secretly hoping for!) :) I'll have to give The Irresistible McCrea a try. Thanks so much for stopping by and for the recommendation. Happy reading! Cheers, EE