I’ve made some changes to Justin’s life as I imagined it in my previous post. The great thing about filling out character profiles is that changes are easy to make. If you make up lives as you write the novel, there are dozens of places background facts are tucked in that have to be ferreted out in case of a change of mind (the author’s). I am using a standard character sheet that begins with personal, professional and story goals, and then goes into physical appearance. From there, important childhood events are listed along with the size of the family and the character’s place in it. Religion, education, best friends and worst enemies are some of the other details to fill in. Most of the information will never make it into the novel, but it is necessary to know what motivates the character and have ready those tiny pieces of life that can be used to evoke the reader’s emotions and empathy.
As I began filling out Justin’s biographical information, I realized 43 was too old for his current age. Somehow, I had messed up on my math. (That math thing is why I became an English teacher.) Justin is now 40. He was born in 1819 in Illinois. I also decided that being the son of a soldier wouldn’t work because in Book 1 of the series, he is uneducated, which would not have been the case for a soldier’s son living at a fort. Instead, Justin is the oldest son of a farmer and his wife. He has three younger siblings: a brother and two sisters. His father dies when he is seven, leaving his mother to support four children by sewing and doing laundry. She barely makes enough to feed them, so something must be done.
When Justin is eight, his mother learns of a farmer a few miles away who needs help. She signs papers making Justin an indentured servant. He is to work for the farmer, Ezekial Boggs, until he is eighteen. In return for Justin’s work, he will receive room, board, education, and farming knowledge. It turns out the room and board is meager and the education non-existent. He does learn farming, something he grows to hate.
His mother visits Justin only twice in the year following his indenture to Boggs. The first time, she says she has come to make sure he is being treated well and adjusting to life with the farmer. She stays only a few minutes. The second time she comes, she tells him she is remarrying and going to California with her new husband. They are taking his brother and sisters, but since he is bound to Boggs as a servant, he cannot come with them. It is the last time he hears from her or his brother and sisters. When he was first bound to the farmer, he had felt some pride at being able to relief the hunger of his younger siblings by working elsewhere. When his mother leaves him behind to move to California, he feels loss that turns to resentment as years go by with no word from her or anyone in his family. Mixed with the resentment is the feeling of somehow not being worthy of love, a feeling that affects all future relationships.
At 16, Justin runs away. The year is 1835, and he has heard trappers are making piles of money and wants his share. Little does he know that the heyday of the fur trade is almost over.
Who is next?
Now that I know something of Justin’s background, I will leave these facts to stew around. In the next post, I’ll explore one of the three other major characters in For Want of a Father: Cordelia (Justin’s biological daughter), Hiram Pierce (Cordelia’s stepfather), or Lucy Pierce (Hiram’s biological daughter). I’m not sure which one at this point.
What else would you like to know about Justin Quinn?
You can help me develop Justin’s character with your questions and comments. Please ask, and I will answer in an upcoming blog post.