Princess Ixul and her ways.


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 RoadHere’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:

Particular Devotion.
Body and Gait.
Spirit Animal (wy).
Believed Destiny.

…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.



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9 Comments on “Princess Ixul and her ways.”

  1. kirizar says:

    Monica, what made you choose this particular post to re-blog? It is an interesting look at the inner working of the author, but it is his depth of character study that engaged you, or the subject of his current work? I have not heard of this author, so I can’t hazard a guess.

  2. jamjarhead says:

    as you know actors do much the same. lots of dossiers and pictures which insinuates rather than dictates character. being versus showing.

  3. jamjarhead says:

    dangit the grammar is wrong but you get the drift. 😉

  4. Hi Monica! I wonder if assigning your characters any of these… an animal (could be a totem animal or an animal that would be an expression of the way the character moved, acted, etc: is she/he like a howler monkey, colourful bird, slimy tree leech, stealthy jaguar…); an affinity to a regional plant (characters’ fragrance, favorite food, or personal constitution – is she/he like a creeping, parasitic jungle vine; a strong, tall tree, or shade-loving plant… is she/he delicate or powerful? Healing or poisonous?). And, what do your characters smell like? xoxo!

    • Monica Byrne says:

      I actually HAVE done all these exact things since I wrote this post! We’re on the same wavelength 😉 And particularly appropriate here, as nawals (spirit companion animals) were / are common throughout Mesoamerican cultures. But I love the idea of assigning them spirit plants, too. That’ll take some more research on my part, but totally worth it…

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