History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

13 May 2013

Charting Malcolm's & Suzanne's pasts

One of the interesting questions Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose asked when she interviewed me on Word Wenches about The Paris Affair concerned how I developed Malcolm's & Suzanne's pasts and how I developed them. In addition to the fascination of researching history, I love creating my characters' history. I knew from the start that Malcolm & Suzanne's allegiances would be divided, Malcolm a British diplomat and spy, Suzanne a French agent. Then I began to think about what kind of people would end up their situations. The divide between them seemed to be to strongest if Malcolm came from the heart of the British aristocracy – he doesn’t have a title himself, but his mother’s father is a duke, he’s connected by family or friendship to a good portion of the beau monde, he went to Harrow and Oxford.

Whereas with Suzanne, I had to figure out a background that would have made someone an agent in her teens. It made sense that she had been orphaned and left to fend for herself in the tumult of the Peninsular War. She also needed to have considerable acting ability, so I made her parents traveling actors. I think the fact that she had a nurturing childhood for her first fifteen years and then had her world violently wrenched apart says a lot about her. In some ways she has a very hard edge, but though she might deny it, she’s better than Malcolm at believing in happy endings. Whereas Malcolm grew up in luxury but with parents who were a lot more emotionally distant. The irony is that Malcolm’s and Suzanne’s political ideals are remarkably similar. They’re both reformers, Radical reformers for their day, with a keen belief in human rights. They just have different very different approaches to how to bring about social and political change.  

Authors, how do you go about creating backstories for your characters? Readers, what are some of your favorite examples of characters shaped by their personal histories?    

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Blogger Isobel Carr said...

For me, a lot of it grows out whatever deep-seated issues I need them to have as adults. And frankly, things come to me as I’m writing, not always in the most convenient moments (forcing me to revise!). And of course I’m usually backtracking from whatever inspiration kicks the book off to figure out how they got there and what events could only have led to there and not some other, simpler, safer, more staid option. I need the why behind their past. Their motivations and core principles. I need them to be people in my head.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I too tend to work backward from who I need them to be as adults, Isobel. With Malcolm and Suzanne, the politics I needed them to have as adults and the roles I needed them to play as spies for their respective sides informed their pasts. And I know just what you mean about things coming to you as you write, not always at the most convenient of times - amazing how that even happens in an on going series...

3:31 PM  

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