I have been playing with some of the characters for the short story. I find it much easier to write if I can ‘hear’ how a character looks and speaks. Yesterday, I spoke of the Ambassador whose nickname was the Embarrass-ador. I see a genial and charming man, someone who has obtained his position through who he knows rather than what he knows, who was never meant to have a position in diplomacy. He isn’t even close to being an evil man, but he isn’t clever enough to be a force for good either. This makes him something of an embarrassment to both his staff and other diplomats.
Since this is a man with an absurd lack of common sense, I want him to have a name to reflect his nature. In Italian (such a beautifully descriptive language), I discovered the word ‘sciocco’, which means silly, foolish, stupid, daft, doltish, goofy. Isn’t that just the perfect name for the gentleman I just described? So now my character has a name: His Excellency, Sir Bozz (as in Bozo) Sciocco, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, of the fictional country of Foelddim, next to the country of Erewhon (in other words, the middle of nowhere).
This is fairly close to how I imagine the Embarrass-ador looks, based on his name. He loves his slice of cake, and he’ll have another, thank you. Rotund. Old-fashioned. Well-mannered. Avuncular. Flustered by ‘modern’ ideas and technology. Not a mean bone in his body. Somewhat vague. Not a risk taker. Dependant on his staff. Loves the sound of his own voice, and sometimes speaks before thinking. Enjoys a tot of rum, a dram of whiskey, a snifter of brandy, a glass of gin … all in the one day.
Can you see this character coming together? When he talks, his voice resembles Wilford Brimley’s endearingly gruff voice, but with a very posh British accent (as English is not his first language). When he says jump to his staff, they don’t ask ‘How High?’, but ‘In which direction?’
What are his motivations? Mainly, he wants a quiet life. He took the diplomatic job because he thought it would be a doddle. He isn’t too worried about his own honour, but he is very loyal to his country; it is his greatest virtue and the main reason he was given the job. He is looking forward to retirement.
Now, this is probably ten times more information than will be revealed in the short story. But as one of the backbones of my story, I need a three-dimensional person. I quite like this gentleman, as he should be fun to write about, and he is complex enough to create surprises. A two-dimensional character, or a stereotype, can’t provide too much in the way of surprises, without breaking character. There is very little tension or pleasure in a ‘flat’ character.