In this series, I plan on introducing you to the characters I write about. My hope is that whilst I expound on the babies I lovingly created in my head that it will help me make better characters with engaging motivations and interesting personalities. And at the same time, I hope to entice you to read my stories to find out what happens to them!
I’m a tactile person as well as a visual learner. When I can touch and feel something it makes it real for me. So I create my Story Bible. I find the perfect pictures for reference, cut them out, glue them in and then let them speak to me. Even if everything about them is fictional, characters can become real enough to start directing their own story. And honestly, that’s what I’m aiming for. When my characters start directing their own story, they become much more believable and the flow is more natural. Part of this process is finding pictures of people that represent what is in my head. I try really, really hard not to use actors, or rather, actors that the average person would recognize. I have been known to break this rule occasionally, especially when no one else will do. In the case of my first character profile, I’m pretty sure she’s not a famous actress though it definitely looks like a professional headshot.
Anna Gilbert is the main character in my novel, Sweetwater. She is the point of view character of the love story between her and the damaged hero Phillip. She is very much her own person with things that will make you fall in love with her and things that you just wish she would knock off! When I created Anna, I was trying to explore what it would be like to find yourself not only a mother, a person with a disability but also a widow. I had explained not too long ago that the origins of Sweetwater came about from the statement that John Waters made about his movie “Hairspray”. He wanted to make a story where the fat girl wins. I wanted to make a story where the girl in the wheelchair wins. Could she have her cake and eat it too – be rescued and then rescue in return? Some of the themes that Anna represents are dear to me as a person with a disability myself. One of my first objectives was to make sure that Anna felt like a real person – how she deals with her disability, how she deals with her kids, her family and most of all, deal with finding love again when there was a lot to get in the way of that.
Here are some basic Anna Gilbert stats:
- Age: At the beginning of the story, 30
- Family: Two children – Brody, Zoe
- Husband – Darren (deceased)
- Parents: Arthur and Ellen Mackey
- Siblings: Ophelia Mackey
- Love Interest: Phillip Laughlin
- Place of Residence: Sandy, Utah
- Occupation: High School English Teacher
- Special: Manual Wheelchair using Paraplegic
When we first meet Anna, she is on a road trip vacation with her family. While in California, she meets Phillip, a retired Special Forces soldier and sparks fly. As my family could tell you, at first glance she might have been modeled after me. I’m a paraplegic, my husband was ex-Army (not Special Forces though) and we live in Utah. But while the framework for her was me, she quickly developed a personality of her own.
Here’s a breakdown of some of Anna’s characteristics:
- momma bear
- encouraging teacher
- critical, bordering on naggy
- likes to be in the driver’s seat in a relationship
Anna and I do share characteristics. It’s the easiest way to get a sense of your character’s reactions to the things going on in the story. Her job, if you want to call it that, is to highlight for my readers what life and love for a person with a disability are like. Too often we see people with disabilities as helpless, angry, suicidal and unwanted and unattractive. I know different. I wanted to show that people with disabilities are just people – we suffer loss, we find love, we fight with our loved ones, and our kids drive us nuts. She is a model of independence – she owns her own home, teaches at a high school and send her own kids to school – all ways among thousands that people with disabilities are useful and integrated parts of their communities.
Love is a huge theme in Sweetwater. I wanted to showcase Anna to prove a few points about love. First, just because one has a disability did not automatically disqualify someone from being loved. Romantic or sexual love is possible, and like anything else in life, it takes meeting the right person for it to occur and second, to a lesser extent, finding love as a person with a disability is problematic when you’re dealing with people’s expectations. The latter point is not explored in too much detail as its obvious that Anna is lucky enough to have found men who loved her for her and didn’t worry about her disability as a possible hindering factor. It may be something I’ll explore in a novel later on.
I wanted to create a female character that was both strong and feminine at the same time. It’s a theme I think you’ll find in my other writings. You don’t have to be a gun-toting, tattooed, buzz-cut wearing female to be tough or strong. At the same time, you don’t have to a wilting violet in pink chiffon, coiffed just from the salon-type female to be soft and feminine. As women, we quite frequently, despite our insecurities and fears, still fight for what we want and raise and support our families. Sometimes with the female characters I’ve read, there was no middle ground. If she had fears, she was crippled by them and needed an outside force to move her forward. You don’t have to buy into that idea. People do hard things all the time even if they don’t think they have the courage or the ability.
Anna, for all her good, definitely has some pretty big negatives too. One of her worst is this control-freak side to her nature. She’s not happy unless she can make sure that she’s in the driver’s seat to any major decision. A trait like that can serve you well when you’re a single parent and the only one making decisions that affect you and your family, but it’s not so great if you’re trying to integrate others into your family. She also has a bit of a flash-fire temper which doesn’t help in situations when emotions are high and things aren’t going her way. And to tie it all up into a neat little package, she is a total momma-bear. You don’t mess with her kids. Ask Phillip. He’s run afoul of this aspect of her personality. To be fair, Anna really does want what’s best for her family, but I think sometimes she forgets that her way isn’t the only way they can be happy.
Anna has been really fun to write. She’s enough of me that I can see where she’s coming from but she also different enough from me that I can put her in all sorts of terrible circumstances and not feel too badly about it.
Next month I’ll be profiling Phillip Laughlin and we’ll talk about the military, serving in the military and the good things and the downsides to all of that.
What parts of Anna resonate with you? What parts of her are you having a hard time understanding or relating to? Tell me about it in the comments and let’s talk about it!