Back around 1996, my friend, Dave told me that when he was fourteen, his father died. At the funeral, a woman said to him, “I guess you’ll have to be the man of the house now.” Dave said to me. “I did not want to be the man of the house. I wasn’t ready for that responsibility.”
I never forgot his words and nearly a decade later, as I prepared to write the story of a North Carolina polio epidemic which happened in the midst of WWII, those words helped me discover my character.
Here’s what Ann Fay Honeycutt tells us on the first page of my book, BLUE.
Daddy took my chin and made me look right at him. “I expect you to be the man of the house while I’m gone,” he said. He handed me a pair of blue overalls. “You been wanting to wear britches ever since you first climbed that apple tree. I reckon this is your chance.”
Dave’s sentiments provided the spark for Ann Fay’s personality. I needed a character who would be overwhelmed with more responsibility than she thought she could handle. One who would feel weak but discover an inner strength. She’d need to be feisty and determined, resourceful, and sometimes bossy.
Before I knew her name or gender I considered giving my story a male protagonist but there was something in me that wanted to tell a strong female story. And, after all, the story called for it because so many women kept the home front strong during WWII.
Ann Fay was also informed by what I knew. There was a great deal of me in her. While writing I drew on the love of my daddy and his garden as well as my determination to conquer whatever obstacle gets in my way. All that came from my personal experience.
It’s natural for authors to draw on themselves and their own personalities and this can work well. But each story needs its own cast of characters and they can’t all be made in the author’s image. Sometimes the author has to research to discover authentic characters. Finding characters and rounding them out hasn’t always been as easy for me as knowing who Ann Fay was.
I anticipate sharing my process as well as what I’m learning from my beta readers, editor, and other experts at Write 2 Ignite’s Writing Fiction Master Class. I’ll also provide some hands-on exercises for finding your character’s personality and voice. I hope to see you on September 19, 2020!
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Joyce Moyer Hostetter lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren. Before she wrote historical novels, Joyce taught special education, worked in a camp for at-risk children and directed a preschool program. She also wrote Christian curricula, magazine articles, and a newspaper column & feature stories. Her novels have won an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, Parents’ Choice Honor Awards, and a North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Her books include Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story about a teen boy’s survival in Hawaii’s leprosy settlement and the Bakers Mountain Stories series: Aim, Blue, Comfort, and Drive. Equal, the fifth book in the series will be released in Spring, 2021.