Character Crossroads

Every time I begin to think about a new character, three questions have to be answered:

  1. What’s his or her name? Names, particularly in a foreign language, have meanings. What’s the translation and does it fit his or her role?
  2. What’s his or her background? We all have history and as an author, two things are important. Is the character’s background believable and how is it relevant to the story?
  3. What’s his or her role? In other words, how does the new character contribute to the story?

For each manuscript, I spend a lot of time researching names so they fit the character. For example, if the character is of German ancestry and is wishy-washy I wouldn’t give him the last name of Starke, which is strong in German wouldn’t be appropriate.

The most difficult decision is the individual a “good” or “bad” guy or gal?  Next question is how do I build the character in the story.  One option is to lay it out the person’s total background in the beginning of the book. Another approach is to tease it out in different passages. Or, theoretically, one can tell all in the end.

In some cases, a passage about a character becomes a matter of discussion between the writer and the editor. In the Josh Haman series, Josh and Marty are the good guys but there’s a “nasty edge” to them that occasionally comes out. For example, in RENDER HARMLESS, Josh let’s his anger get the better of him and beats up an East German Stasi officer.

Chris Paige, who was editing the manuscript for Fireship, and I went around and around with this passage. She didn’t like showing the dark side of the good guys. Chris wanted Josh “pure.” It stayed in the book because I thought it was an appropriate way for Josh to show his anger at the East Germans who he was pretty sure were protecting the member of Red Hand and Germans in general for the Holocaust.

Back to MANPADS…. As I write the first draft, every few passages new characters have to be added. After a few days of fumbling around, I figured that to get past what was holding e back was that a new character.   To get going again, I rewrote the beginning of the book and created what I think will become and interesting character.

His name is Ra’id Kassab. His first name translates to “leader” and his last, “butcher.” What will come out in the book was that Ra’id was born in the Sudan and came to the U.S. Sudanese with his parents when he was two. He became a citizen when his parents were naturalized. Raid grew up in Dallas, TX, joined the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged. While in the Army, he was a maintenance technician for TOW, Hellfire and Stinger missiles.

So the question is he a going to be a good guy or bad?  Right now, I don’t know. Over the next few months, we’ll both find out!

Marc Liebman

August 2015