Monday, June 23, 2014

Character development from an obit

Using the sheet from my website 
I’m going to develop a character for my next book.

Ew, you say? Really, from the obituaries? Yes, I really do troll the obits on occasion for juicy tidbits for my characters. It’s like a smorgasbord of  factlets and tidbits of fascinating information. When I read the following obit, I knew that I had met that shadowy man before—I knew which story he belonged to but not how to work it out. Three years later, I finally put him to work.

The worksheet below is offered on my website:

Though of course, you have to fill in your own answers. I've used it for Gervas, my male protagonist in my work in progress.

Fictional Character Development Tools

Use this sheet to get to know your characters. © Lisa J Lickel Permission granted to recopy and use as needed.

Working Book Title/Today's Date: Centrifugal Force (date)

Overall Theme of the story in one word: retribution (though in a positive way)

Name of Character (including nickname): GERVAS FRIEDEMANN, Doctor PhD, Professor

Significance of Name (family, heritage, culture, purpose – include significance and circumstances of nickname): The Friedmanns are a significant family in European history; ancient and aristocratic in social and government circles; Gervas is an old name; ger means “spear”; Friedemann means “man of peace,” something Gervas realizes as he faces family crisis he’s never known.

Main conflict of character – internal: When he returned to Germany, he left behind more than a fantastic historical and culturally significant piece of jewelry. Although he’s not close to his grown daughter from his first marriage, she needs something only he can provide: a bone marrow transplant from the child he never met - if that child, Maeve, will agree. Can he make amends to his former lover, Rachel, while convincing her he’s truly sorry for his former actions, and his current motives for reaching out to her are not all underhanded.

Main conflict of character – external: Professor Friedemann lost a piece of history that wasn’t his. Decades later the rightful owner demands its return or he will expose the Friedemann family’s shameful past—in time to repudiate an important vote by Federal Minister Manheim Freidemann, Gervas’s brother, in German parliament that will affect the economy of modern Europe.

Sub-conflicts, as necessary: Rachel is alone, lonely though she’s never acted that way or admitted it; has cursed herself always for falling for the German professor though she has made peace with her family and the resulting daughter, Maeve. What will happen when Professor Doctor Gervas Friedemann, the father of her daughter, shows up after all this time, asking if she has the antique ring she took from him, and oh, by the way, would Maeve be willing to be tested as a bone marrow donor for his oldest daughter?

Hook sentence (in progress): “Mom, here’s another e-mail from that guy.”

Physical description (include height, weight, body type): average height, 5’11, on the thin side; works out but not prolifically, forward-momentum walk, as if he’s in a perpetual hurry, long arms, narrow hands and feet, few wrinkles on face so looks younger than sixties

Outward/visible characteristics (such as tattoos, piercings, scars, limp, lisp, etc.):  no piercings or tattoo; light scar on the left side of his mouth where first wife hit him

Manner of dress: academia; turtlenecks or shirts with pointed collars, jackets, suede or cashmere, black denims and henleys upon occasion when in informal situations; loafers

Hair color, skin color, eye color and glasses, significant facial features: receded hairline; near balding, grayed, goatee, half-glasses, Caucasian, gray, washed-out eye color

Emotional type (calm, hysterical, theatrical, sensible, chatterbox, suave, mature, etc.) This will help define the character's mood, actions/reactions, tone of voice, speaking voice, internal voice: mature, thoughtful but not sensitive, somewhat arrogant though works to control it, aristocratic though not formal, slightly sarcastic, lets his German accent become more European to sound more suave than harsh, smooth and practiced speaking voice from his years as a teacher, in charge personality but not necessarily calm

Birthdate, and age during the story: was born after WWII, early sixties during this story (about 2010)

Significant events in character's past, and age at the time that impact the character's actions in the current story (death in the family, marriage/divorce, attack, births, influential family, friends, moves, accidents, education, contests, work history, sibling relationships, adult relationships, pets): Gervas was born second son after Friedemanns returned to Germany to the estate after WWII; first son Manheim is in politics, the German parliament and represents German interests in several international and European cultural and financial boards; is being groomed to take over the Friedemann family interests. Gervas has not been ignored, but is understood to be somewhat the black sheep of the generation who is tolerated and supported but understands he must never do anything to cause real trouble to the family name. He has been divorced twice and has two children, a son and daughter, from his first marriage. His mother died in the mid-sixties of a heart condition; his maternal aunt died young of leukemia and his daughter has a rare blood disorder and needs a bone marrow transplant. No one else in the family is a close enough match. Manheim is married in name, has no children; his father has only distant relatives. Among Gervas’s several affairs was with Rachel Michels, while on a teaching exchange to the state, Wisconsin’s Edgewood College of Madison, twenty-some years earlier, and the cause of his first divorce (and second). Gervas carried with him always a lucky charm, a ring from a collection of Etruscan jeweled pieces left to him after his mother’s death. He’d given pieces of the set to his first wife upon their marriage. Recently, however, the story of their exodus from Germany has come to light, along with the real story of the Etruscan jewelry. His first wife and daughter have returned the pieces; however, the ring he used to wear has been missing for over twenty years. Unless he returns it along with the other precious pieces to the rightful owner, a descendant of the former Jewish neighbor who has made private, but legal claims to the property, the Friedmanns will be exposed as thieves and betrayers and Manheim’s swing vote in the upcoming decision of the German parliament whether to continue to support the failing European Union may come into question, causing a radical and potentially devastating change in the face of Europe.

Character's family history as needed: The Friedemanns are an ancient family with connections worldwide in imports, finance, and government. Gervas is the odd one in academia. The family removed from Germany in the mid-1930s, promising to help prominent Jewish neighbors by taking with them a cache of precious art history. Upon return after WWII, the Friedemann’s neighbors were no longer “available” and so the treasures were never returned.

Defining relationships in this story (marriage, friendships, siblings, co-workers, social standing): Gervas Friedemann has been divorced twice, is somewhat distant with his colleagues at Freiburg University, is an international expert on European intellectual culture and civics, the anthropology of indigenous peoples of Europe.

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