In my latest release, I tell the story of five sisters who changed history by asking to inherit land in a male-dominated society. I’m sure the daughters of Zelophehad were fearful of upsetting their relatives, and I was fearful of writing their story. How would I bring five characters to life on the page? I had tackled two sisters in “Jerusalem Rising,” but never more.
How did I make Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah distinct? And what about those names?
I have taught writers to avoid similar sounding names in their novels. Readers can become confused with too many similar names. In my debut novel, I had to change Gilead and Gershom to Gilead and Shimron. The repetitive “G” was causing my editor some confusion. The daughters of Zelophehad have names that all end in “ah” and two of the girls have “M” names. These are historic names that cannot be changed. Would I send Mahlah and Milcah out to collect manna? May it never be.
In the opening scene of my story, I send Mahlah (my main character) and Tirzah out to collect manna. I separate them from their sisters so the reader can bond with my main character. The reader gets a glimpse of the sisterly bond without having five girls in the mix. I also have one of the girls outside of the Israelite camp to limit the number of names a reader has to remember right out of the gate.
Using birth order stereotypes, I could craft unique sisters. Firstborns are usually rule followers. Younger siblings tend to be spoiled a bit more by parents, or shall we say indulged. What about the middle child that seems to be overlooked in a hectic household? The personalities of the girls would mirror their birth order and what society expected of girls their age in Bible times.
Do you have a special object that defines you? What would we find in your purse or in your car? Do you wear jewelry? I used personal items, habits, and skills to create memorable characters.
Noah is a shepherdess who spends time outside of the Israelite camp with male shepherds. She carries a whip on her hip in case she encounters wild animals. She speaks her mind to be heard among a group of men. Her wrist bands are made of leather. She is not a delicate flower and her accessories reflect who she is as a character and a sister.
Women have roles outside of the home today, but in Bible times, women’s roles revolved around the house—or the tent. All my characters have some task that further defines them and makes their voice unique. The oldest sister is the manager. The second sister is the provider. The middle sister is the cook. Milcah is a thinker and Tirzah is the “baby” of the bunch and tests her sisters.
I am not gearing up to write another series with five characters, but if I decide to tackle a group of siblings again, I will remember to:
-Create names that start with different letters of the alphabet
-Consider birth order and how it influences personality
-Dress my characters with jewelry and items that reflect their station in life and their personality
-Limit the number of characters I place in a scene and especially in the opening of a novel
-Record the personal items, ages, and idiosyncrasies of my characters for future stories
-Have fun doing something I have never done before as an author
What about you? What stretched you as an author?
Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. Barb writes romantic adventures for teens and adults in the Christian fiction market. Her Biblical fiction brings little-known Bible characters to light. Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. She has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate. Find out more about Barb’s books on her website.