Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Character Origins: Jessica Carter

So, I've talked about how my characters are composites based on multiple people I know, but what exactly is my process for creating these people? The answer is, there is no process. Each character is different. Over the next few posts, I'm going to talk about characters from my first book and how they came to be.

Spoilers, maybe.

The very first incarnation of the "Jessica Carter" character is far removed from the mystery genre where she is now the neutral (re: intentionally milquetoast) center of my murder mystery series. Actually, she was the main character in a science fiction novel I never managed to write more than a single chapter of before scrapping and moving on.

In the first chapter, I introduced a female starship captain who had been dishonorably discharged from military service under dubious circumstances (which were never really fleshed out). She has been unemployed for some time and in the first chapter is riding a space elevator up to the main spaceport of Earth for a job interview with an interstellar shipping company.

I wrote that chapter sometime in 2010, then came back to it in early 2011 briefly where I tried to resurrect the project (oh, how many unfinished novels I have sitting on my hard drive, too broken to ever be made into something more than a shard of a story). Because I had met an amazingly confident, capable woman during an international work trip, I decided it would be fun to give the character her name: Jessica. After all, I wanted to write about strong female characters, and that name fit in my mental space at the time.

Years later, when I set out to write a murder mystery with the intent to actually finish and publish, I developed the characters Corinne, Andrew and Kristina long before I had a central character in mind. While browsing my old works for unused names, I came across the starship captain Jessica and realized she would be a perfect fit for my central character (and the fact that she shares a name with my wife's favorite murder-solving character didn't hurt). The idea of her being a disgraced starship captain would work well for a personal conflict with the character, and was reworked so that she ended up being an out-of-work Millennial. Later, I sought to invert the popular image of Millennials to have her be a former success who was only late in her 20's returning home to live with her parent rather than never having lived on her own.

Very early in Jessica Carter's development, I was browsing the internet and decided to check out the wonderful blog Hyperbole and a Half (of "clean all the things" fame). Its creator, a woman named Allie Brosh, had written/drawn a touching narrative of her own depression which caused her to stop working on her blog despite its viral popularity. I realized how badly I wanted to see Allie make a comeback, and decided to base the character of Jessica around that central conflict.

Later, I would add details like her judgmentalism and alienation from her friends as the plot and theme of my novel started to take shape. For a while, I thought about basing Jessica Carter more around a YouTube personality like Grace Helbig, but decided that contrasted too much with the character's inward bookishness.

So, that's how Jessica Carter came into existence within my head.

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