We authors love our main characters. We have to if we’re going to spend so much time with them. But I’m always interested to see which of my supporting characters most pique the interest of readers. In the case of The Smallest Thing, Aiden is almost stealing the show.
Aiden is a relief worker who comes into the quarantined village to provide assistance and support, and ends up befriending Em and helping her in ways neither of them had anticipated. Here’s what one reviewer had to say about him.
“Aiden oh Aiden what a wonderful caring character. He also sounds absolutely delicious for a guy hiding in a hazmat suit. Haha. He is a perfect match for Emmott and exactly what she needs in her life.”
As you can see, Aiden is making quite an impact! But, he didn’t exist in the original idea for The Smallest Thing. Like many of my characters and story twists, he was born from a writing prompt.
The prompt was a first line, “He hides in the marrow of my bones” and here’s what I wrote in my notebook back in May of 2014:
In case you can’t read my scrawl, here’s the whole scene.
He hides in the marrow of my bones, never showing on the outside, but going with me wherever I go. I lie in bed at night and I clear my head of thoughts of him, sweeping his image aside with reason after reason for why he doesn’t belong in my head. And after I’ve brushed him into little piles of jumbled memories and admired my handiwork in cleaning up my mind, I feel a gnawing in my bones and I know right away it’s him.
I saw him in the village today, and even though he looked like all the other members of the crew, covered from head to toe in his yellow hazmat suit, isolated from the world and me by his sealed hood, there is something in the way he moved, a flow to his body, that let me know it is him. I turned away before he could see me, pretended I hadn’t seen him and hoped he wouldn’t see me either, and yet I lingered in the street, stopped to talk to a neighbor, and I could tell from the stiffness of my movements, the way I held my head and exaggerated my expressions, that my instincts were pulling me to look and only my determination prevented it.
As I turned back towards home, I saw him looking at me, the face guard of his suit turned my direction. I felt my sense slow down, as if I were moving through water, and before I could stop myself I was swimming his way.
He raised a gloved hand as I approached and through the little window of his mask he smiled at me. His eyes were hazel, with flecks of gold, but as he turned I saw greens and browns and yellows. Tiger eyes, I thought, as the moisture evaporated from my mouth.
“Hi,” he said. His voice was raspy and echoed in the chamber of his respirator. “How’s it going?”
I tried to answer, but my voice had left. All I could do was smile.
I read what I’d written in my workshop group and the response was immediate and intense. Everyone wanted to know, “Who is this character? What is he doing in the village? Why is he dressed in a hazmat suit?” One of the writers in my group developed an immediate crush on this mystery man. And so Aiden was created.
Around that same time, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was just making its way into the news. With it came stories of relief workers risking their lives to provide care in the region. I was struck by the personal stories of ordinary people putting themselves in danger to help others, and I knew that this was who Aiden would be in the story.
As I kept writing, his character blossomed into much more than that, and he eventually became a hugely important part of Em’s story. But he started life as a ten-minute writing prompt. The rough scene I wrote that day didn’t end up in the final book, but if you’ve read The Smallest Thing, you’ll know that elements of that first inspiration did.
If you have favorite characters you’d like to know more about, leave a comment and I’ll be glad to tell their stories.