Basil: A Discussion of Character Growth Through the Drafts

Let me tell you about how interesting the process of character creation is using an example from my novel-in-progress.

Taken with a phone. I offer many apologies.

Taken with a phone. I offer many apologies.

His name is Basil, and he’s a Homunculus.

In my book, Homunculi (at least in Europe) are an all-male species of artificial humans created by Alchemists. They function mostly as lab assistants and labour, having no actual human rights. While they are human in every regard, they are seen as property by law. As my first book focuses around a young alchemist named Amelia Knox, I felt I needed a Homunculus character to show off some workings of alchemical society.

Without much thought in mind to who he would be, I cobbled together a basic appearance (different from the one you see above). I’m terrible at naming, so I as I was thinking of a name for this guy, I asked myself, “What is the most British name you can think of?”

The first thing to come to mind was Sherlock Holmes.

This was followed closely by Basil Rathbone.

Thus, I named him Basil.

In my very terrible, early draft of the book, Basil was meant to Disanimate—a process which renders Homunculi feral monsters—and attempt to kill Amelia, only to be stopped by a bullet to the head.

This being a terrible first draft, Basil got absolutely no development beyond being obedient and nice before I killed him off. When I did the re-write, my intentions were the same: I would have him Disanimate half-way through the book and get shot. This time, however, the audience would weep.

But then I actually started writing it. I decided Basil needed to interact with Amelia more. I made him sweet and witty and a little sarcastic. I put them in a scene together and sparks just flew.

They were in love.

I could work with this. Nothing’s more tragic than losing someone you loved. Besides, he wasn’t the guy she’d end up with anyway. I had another man in mind for her. A man who would appear as a villain and be reformed.

Yet, the more I wrote and the more I explored my characters and their world, the more a little nagging voice in the back of my head told me, “Maybe don’t kill this guy off.”

“No, he has to die,” I told the voice. “That has been the plan since the beginning.”

“But he’s fun to write. And look at how he interacts with other characters. He offers a perspective of your world that’s not human and unique. Plus he’s really cute.”

“He is so cute.”

Needless to say, when I submitted my re-write of the first chapter for a work shopping class, Basil got some good reactions, many of which came from his “cool” visual appearance. By the time I submitted chapter 3, people seemed genuinely fond of him, even though he hadn’t appeared much.

In the end, the little voice won out. I found a logistical loophole in my characters to keep Basil alive. He’s since been promoted to the position of Love Interest and co-protagonist.

It’s a far cry up from “Minor Character who was Doomed from the Start.”

Really, I have quite a bit to work on with this book. So much has changed since the first drafts. Better ideas always come along. Keeping Basil around was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my writing.

Now, if you’re wondering about the art, it’s not mine. It was drawn by my friend Kaylee Gautier. She’s a really good artist, and you should check out her cool stuff at

Categories: musings, On Writing, This is my life | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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