Genesis of If a Butterfly – Decisions, Decisions

In the previous post, I talked about how the idea for my first novel, If a Butterfly, originally formed. It was early Fall, 2003, and I had been trying to develop a plot idea for NaNoWriMo, which was then about two months away. I had a basic idea (have a butterfly somehow connect a group of strangers together). I had the basic What. I still needed to develop the Who, When, Where, and How (and a lot more What).

Who: I had no characters, but I felt I needed to come up with several of them for the idea to work at all. The idea could work with just two people and the butterfly, but it seemed like a pretty thin thread to hang a plot on.

One logical character was a lepidopterist, maybe someone who was a research scientist at a university. I was working at Rice University by then, but I worked for one of the math professors, not a butterfly researcher. I thought finding people to talk to about Monarch migrations would be easy enough, though.

November 1st, when NaNo begins, was getting closer, so I needed to make some decisions. I wouldn’t have much time to develop characters. I decided to take a shortcut and draw from my own experience. I wouldn’t have to research nearly as much. My wife and I have both been actors, so one of my characters could be an actor or an actress. I was a middle school teacher for twenty-three years, so there was a possibility. I had been a disc jockey, so I could make one of them a deejay. My wife is now a quilter, so I could use that too. I always wanted to go into outer space (still do). I applied for NASA’s Teacher in Space program in the 1980’s, and have since met several people who work for NASA or are in the space industry, so I thought I could call on them for background if I made one of my characters an astronaut. I counted: butterfly researcher, actress, teacher, deejay, quilter, and astronaut. Six main characters, not counting the butterfly. That should be do-able, right?

How could I connect them together with a butterfly?

The answer to that was easier than I expected. Every September, millions of Monarch butterflies leave the northern United States and Southern Canada, heading for Mexico. If the butterflies are traveling south, some of the characters could be living in their path, some could be traveling toward them.

One idea I began with, using the above premise, was that the butterfly could interact with people on its route, and the novel could pick up each of their stories after the interaction. It didn’t work out that way (not entirely). I abandoned that idea because of a business trip to Arizona, and jury duty in Houston. Also, before I was done, the six MC’s expanded to eight. I’ll tell those stories in a future post.

How do you develop your characters? Do they arrive full-blown with the plot idea, or do you construct them another way?


The next set of decisions, got me a little closer. Read Genesis of If a Butterfly – Decisions, Part Deux

About michaelsirois

Just a retired educator taking a stab at the Great American Novel.
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2 Responses to Genesis of If a Butterfly – Decisions, Decisions

  1. It would be so nice if my characters materialized with my plot… On second thought it would be great if my plot just came to me in one shot. Hohum, it seems everything to do with my novels comes after a million edits. I love it though. 😉 Great post! Your story sounds very intriguing!

  2. Thanks for your kind note, Christine. Yes, the story did grow and change — and then shift sideways — over time. A million edits sounds about right for me too. 😉

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