Princess Ixul and her ways.Posted: October 24, 2015
Above: Dalia Hernández in the film Apocalypto, which is very problematic re: authenticity about the ancient Mayans for many reasons, but holy shit, the casting.
In his Paris Review interview, Norman Rush says this:
Before I start a novel I make a dossier for each character, even minor ones. Life history, curriculum vitae, oddities of culture and taste and background, appearance, gait, voice: it all goes in there. These dossiers can grow quite extensive, and some get completely out of hand. I’ve had to train myself not to keep expanding them endlessly when I should be working on chapters. Even so, with the book I’m working on now I’ve almost driven myself mad, writing dossiers.
How much from each dossier works its way into the novel?
Often very little, directly. But absorbing that deep background gives me the sort of conviction about each character that allows me to write.
Do you map your plots beforehand in a similar way?
No, just the characters. But the characters write the plot. Their natures do.
So of course, I made dossiers for all of the characters in The Girl in the Road. Here’s the one for Arjuna Swaminathan, whom Meena meets early on in the book.
Name. Arjuna Swaminathan.
Birthday. December 5.
Age. At the time of meeting Meena: 34.
Zodiac Sign. Sagittarius.
Gestalt. World traveler, wealthy, smooth, charming IT prince.
Ayurveda Doshas. Pitta primary, Kapha secondary.
Race & Ethnicity. Persian and Indian.
Religion. Nominally Hindu.
Sexual Orientation. Queer masculine dominant.
Education. Educated at Mumbai Boys Preparatory, then Eton after his parents divorced and his father took him to Britain. Returned to India for college at IIT-Bombay.
Family. Only son of divorced parents, Sunil Swaminathan and Neeloufar Kadivar.
Occupation. Weird energy developer.
Appearance. Handsome, dark, clean-cut, confident. Works out on a regular basis.
Gait. Like a member of Ocean’s Eleven.
Favorite Food. Margherita pizza from a certain Italian restaurant where he knows the owner.
Favorite Color. Silver-grey.
And this week, I had to stop work on The Actual Star to write a whole bunch of dossiers. I knew the three main characters very well, but every time they encountered someone new, it was like they were a big blank question mark, and so I had to make some quick choices about who the heck they were interacting with. The above categories don’t work in Terminal Classic Mayan times, though, so I had to figure out new ones. And, like Norman says, those choices will inform how the action goes; and then sometimes the action will develop such that the characters need to be altered, and so it goes, back and forth. This is what I have so far:
Body and Gait.
Spirit Animal (wy).
…and I have pictures, too. I don’t share those, because sometimes they’re faces I pull off the Internet, and sometimes they’re faces of people I know, and yeah, that’d be weird. Except when the face is already out in the public sphere!—like that of Dalia Hernández, above, who played Seven in Apocalypto. But in my book, she’s a very different character, by the name of Ixul (pronounced “ish-ool”)—full name, Princess Ixul Lahun N’oj’ of Ekwitz, heir to the realm of the Monpan.