For me, building a character comes from the people I encounter in real life. One of my favorite exercises is seeing how the folks that I workout with, go to church with, and work with would react to Allazar, the majeira system, the flora and fauna, and the sheer force of my will (And if you think that writing has nothing to do with my ego, then let me assure you that it does… a lot. And I like that it has a lot to do with my ego a. lot.)
This happens usually one of a few ways; someone tells me a story that I just have to put ssome monsters and magic into, that certain something about someone’s personality (good or bad) that would be fun to write about, that gives a layer of depth to a character, or a person’s passion that just fits in my world.
It can something as simple as seeing a child dance in the rain, the world’s most enthusiastic conversation about an oak tree or the hard realization that beauty was faded and now actual skills have to be developed late in life are all little seeds that, with a dash of ‘what if?’, have developed into living, breathing people in Allazar.
The last one was the seed that grew into the D’Mai Agnon, Johanna Sabine.
What if there was a woman that could have been one of the most powerful D’Mai’s in Allazar, but used her power to kept her youth and her seat instead of developing her powers and her stronghold, or the economy of Agnon (think the rust belt and loose moral economy in a digital age). She hides any insecurities she should have in excess (to the point that she is even transported short distances in a sudan chair made of the living contorted bodies of nimble and nubile young men) and and lives in constant fear, that she hides even from herself.
Why hasn’t Johanna lost her seat as a D’Mai ? Because the prevailing thought is that Agnon is not worth the trouble. Agnon is house of ill-repute, decay, and war; and in a time of peace, that’s not relevant.
But then the Dark Spire appears and the humaniforms talk of taking their place. War is whispered about, in the dark corners, corners that Johanna should be the Master of.
I had a good feel for Johanna, but I hadn’t locked her look. I didn’t want to use the person that I originally based her on as I frankly wanted a beauty, with a touch of the tragic, not the sad.
Then I was looking at some photographs from an exhibit in New York and I came across the photographer Christer Strömholm and I found her. I found Johanna Sabine.
This is the face of someone who has power, but something to hide (the literal sense of the person in the photo, that would be that they are a male transvestite in 1950’s Paris). Her face is one of a woman that has been caught in a photo before she was ready. Or that war is coming and she realized that she was not ready… and that she doesn’t want you to know that…