One more thing about Nora Roberts. She grew up with four brothers and I'm sure that added to her savvy insight into the male mind, dialogue, actions. Plus, it is not unheard of for her to write about a family of four brothers (the MacKades, for just one example). And I know my "Good Ole Boys: The Prequel" that I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2011 went smoothly and I gather that has to do with the fact that I knew my character already. He was Pops from Good Ole Boys, my debut e-novel. I had him figured out in that first book. Yet I still needed his given name in the second.
I'm not saying Nora bases all her male four-sets on her brothers. Maybe she does, but I have no way of knowing that. What I did think, though, was how great that would be to establish this foundational basis, just waiting to take on our characters within a story. With all their foibles and flaws, values and strengths, already mapped out--based upon our own unique individual take on life. On love. On family. On careers. On fidelity. On monogamy. On money. On looks. On whatever else we have a definite and unchanging opinion.
Take those "root" characters embodying our morals and mind-sets, slap a different physical body on them, select another career, drop them in a different city, pair them up with an unlikely (?) romantic interest and . . . see what happens. Not that the writing process is this simplistic. But, for a blog, this pared-down snapshot works for me here.
You can always use the opposite of those mores and drives to serve as foils, useful for your minor characters.
I love Jane Austen's opening line to Pride & Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
That statement pretty well encapsulates many items I want in my books: morals, universalisms to be oft quoted by my readers, both the successful workings and equally disastrous undoings of relationships, love, plus other things. Also, in line with my immediately previous post, confirms the theme of her book. Sets the tone. Gives the reader the emotional baseline for her story.
And shows us four examples in Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, Lydia and Wickham--ooh, two more couples, I forgot about Charlotte and Mr. Collins plus Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner--without going into any of the underlying subplots of sibling interaction. If you think of your story's byline as being your theory to prove to your readers, then these four examples are your proof. To me, the plot is thin if you only have one. But you don't want to clutter your premise with too many, either.
Now I'll share my Author's List of Lists.
After reading Getting into Character (another earlier post from January 2012), I was moved to compile some Cheat Sheets to aid my writing. Two I have not yet done, one for its complexity and the other for its ease which already resides in my mind. But the facile remains on my list as it serves as a reminder nonetheless, for while I like bearded men, I'm not explaining it well enough or completely. I like men with well-trimmed beards. Which must be spelled-out to adequately portray the picture in my imagination.
So here's my lists. To be used in the process of revising my novels.
4. Facial Expressions / Body Language
7. Hairstyles / Beards
8. Sixteen literary archetypes (eight for hero; eight for heroine)
9. Sixteen archetypes for villains
11. Descriptive verbs
12. Specific nouns
13. Six senses (I include intuition)
I found a wealth of searched-for information within www.descriptivewords.org. Also check out online Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions in addition to Parrott's Emotions by Groups. Within Wikipedia, I found a good list of virtues. I got some Body Language Basics as well off the internet, although I have Margie Lawson's class notes on body language that I need to gather from and add to my current "short" list. For voices, see www.dhorizon.org/characterBuilder/voices.html. Find a great overview of the archetypes at http://www.tamicowden.com/default.htm.
As for the names, I've got a handful of baby name books and I should go through one letter a day and slowly build my preapproved list of names for my male and female characters that embody what I am looking for. This, alas, is too personalized to become a list you can Google and locate.
The above list is not the end, but that should get an author started. Remember, these lists help us zone in on that elusive yet "perfect" word we are looking for. Not for first draft purposes. Later. Once you are adding finesse to your story.
Have fun, y'all!