I have been creating more characters for my novel and, given the novel has some historical basis, I have been researching too. History is rife with interesting tales. As a writing activity, select a place, breifly research its history, its culture, etc., and write a brief character profile on one of its previous inhabitants – in whatever format you want (dot points, a list of characteristics, a character biography paragraph. As you write, try to find the ‘voice’ of the character. It is a useful exercise to write this for a character who is completely different to you, trying to write in a voice that is not your own, but that belongs fully to the character.
Here I have written a short biography of Princess Eleanor: you can see wherever I am unsure of something, I have just marked this – don’t let a lack of knowledge stop you from writing, you can always go back and add detail or fix things later on:
My name is Eleanor Elisabeth Amalia Magdalena von Schwarzenberg. I was born into the House of Lobkowicz, born into nobility, on 20 June 1682, in Mělník. My father was Prince Ferdinand August of Lobkowicz, the Duke of Sagan. My mother was Margravine Maria Anne Wilhelmine of Baden-Baden.
I was favoured by my father and honoured to accompany him in all manner of political life. I learned to ride late in girlhood and was taught to shoot. I developed quite a passion for hunting and was indulged in this by those around me. I was never conventional; I had the luxury to bend the rules.
On 6 December 1701, I married the hereditary prince Adam Franz Karl Eusebius von Schwarzenberg. In 1702, my brother Georg married Maria Henriette von Waldstein, and in 1703, my sister Ludovica married Anselm Franz, prince de Thurn et Taxis. Though they were fine matches, mine was the happiest marriage.
I wanted nothing more than to give my husband a son, but time went on and I produced no heir. I became desperate. I sought the advice of healers and mystics and finally came across an old woman outside of *which* village. She had eyes the colour of a river, deep with wisdom and compassion. I was inclined to believe whatever she told me.
She advised me not to kill any wolves on my husband’s land, and to drink daily the milk of a nursing *female wolf*.
In 1722, my son, Joseph I of Schwarzenberg was born, and like a hungry wolf cub, he had a ferocious appetite. I was 41 years old.
After 31 years of loving marriage, my husband died. He was shot by Emperor Charles VI in a hunting accident on imperial land near Brandýs nad Labem-Stará Boleslav.
And here is the same kind of thing, but for a more fictionalised character:
My name is Annabella. I don’t know where I was born. My mother abandoned me when I was a baby. I was raised by my grandmother just outside of *which* village, in a small cottage by the *which* river. My grandmother was born in *which* village and lived there until her family were accused of witchcraft and consorting with the devil. Totally ridiculous – all these things were lies. My family was victim of the whims of those in power, desiring my grandfather’s wealth, and when he refused to bow down to them, they got rid of him.
As you can see, these are works in progress with a number of details still to be worked out.
Have a go at this yourself. Try bringing two historical characters (from a different place or time) together, just to see what happens – who knows, you might find a story where you least expect one!