Yesterday as he was drilling away at me left eye tooth, my dentist asked “When you’re writing, which comes first, characters or plot?” There was no way I could answer him with a rubber dam in my mouth, but the answer would have been, “Characters, always characters.”
I may have the germ of a story idea in my mind, but it doesn’t take form until I know my characters. Before I write the first line of any book, I write detailed character studies. I do this even for the less important characters. Only in that way will they behave in a consistent way as I get them into and out if trouble in my story.
Below is the study I wrote for my heroine in Sonata. As I wrote the story I made some minor changes, but for the most part, here she is. Please meet Sayuri McAllister.
Sayuri McAllister—heroine. Sayuri is twenty-nine when the story begins. She comes from a wealthy family. Her father, Sean, is a Canadian tech tycoon. Her mother, a Japanese woman he met through a business colleague when on a trip to Japan. It was a love match, not well accepted by either family.
Sayuri shows signs of musical talent early. She attends the local public school and, after school each day, the Vancouver Academy of Music for classes in music theory and history. She studies with the first chair cellist of the Vancouver Symphony. While still in high school, she plays with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. After graduating from high school, she majors in cello performance at McGill. Her life to this point has been made up of nothing but classes and lessons and long hours of practice. She has had little time for anything else.
As the story opens Sayuri is returning from Paris where she has spent two years studying with the famous cellist, Cecile Dubois and then another three years on the concert circuit through-out Europe. She has played both solo recitals and as a soloist with orchestras. She is now an accomplished performer, planning to audition for the first chair cellist’s position in the Vancouver Symphony and preparing for a solo recital at the Chan Centre. She is fluently bilingual, English- French and speaks Japanese as well.
Sayuri is a strong young woman, self-reliant and secure emotionally. She is very much her own woman. She’s had some sexual experience but not much, not a virgin but she does not give of herself casually. **note: I changed this and made her a virgin.
Physically, she’s tall and long legged. She has straight silky dark hair worn back and caught at the nape of her neck. Soft, doe-like, almond shaped brown eyes. Oval face. Creamy complexion. Wears no make-up except lip gloss. Graceful as a dancer. Likes to wear casual clothes, low heeled shoes, slacks and sweaters, vortex jackets— not really into jeans. Never wears hats or carries an umbrella. Doesn’t mind getting wet. Has a wardrobe of formal professional clothes for performances. Most prized possession—her Guarneri cello.
Sayuri is a one hundred percent modern Canadian woman, independent and self-sufficient. She’s focused on building her own life and career. She has kept in touch with her Japanese grandparents, and when she visits them, to please them she observes the customs of that country. She knew her Canadian grandparents only briefly. They objected strongly to their son’s marriage and she was in her teens before she ever met them. They died soon after, leaving her independent financially.
She has had a series of casual boyfriends over the years at McGill (Montreal) and in Paris, but none she was serious about. She hasn’t time in her life for serious relationships. She was in love with Michael Donovan when she was in high school—but cut him out of her life when he strayed once.
On meeting Michael as an adult, she is once again attracted to him and she is prepared to be a bit more tolerant of his past indiscretions, if she can just get him to make a move in the present. Trouble is, he’s now a detective with the Vancouver Police, and is investigating a major robbery at her father’s house—and he suspects that her father may have been involved.
Blair McDowell, Author