For a reader, the backstory and characteristics of a character should appear to be “just how things are”. But from the writer’s side, it’s a careful process of designing that character’s history, abilities, and skills so that they have exactly what they need to fit into the role they’re required to play.
I had to fine-tune parts of Roz’s backstory carefully to give her enough experience with dressmaking to have developed an ambition to learn more, and enough sewing skills to make up for starting an apprenticeship at such an advanced age (all of sixteen!).
The sewing skills were the easy part. It seemed quite natural that someone who had been trained (and had experience) as a laundry maid would have basic mending skills. And further, given her early training from her aunt in small-town environment, it was natural to expect that she’d have experience and training in the whole gamut of types of mending and basic sewing she might need. In a fully-staffed house in the city, more of the fine mending might be covered by personal maids and valets, but it would be plausible that Roz had had a chance to pick up a broader experience. For one thing Aunt Gaita wasn’t necessarily training Roz for the specific position she started in, just for an entry-level household position of some sort.
In the first draft of Floodtide, the prior interactions between Roz and Dominique were simply to give her a foot in the door. A basis for why--having found herself by chance on Dominique’s doorstep--she took the plunge and asked for work.
* * *
I’d been sent to the dressmaker’s shop when the maisetra’s gown needed making over, and then again when the young maisetras wanted ball gowns in a hurry and the dressmaker needed extra hands for the sewing.
* * *
But in that first draft, it didn’t occur to Roz to aspire to the dressmaking trade herself until she was in the middle of begging to be taken in off the street. It was after she landed her half-time apprenticeship that she fell in love with the work.
Among the feedback from the beta readers was a suggestion that it needed to be clearer that Roz had specific and deep-rooted aspirations in that field. An indication that landing a dressmaking career would provide her the same fulfillment that Celeste got from working on magic charms.
So now, when Roz has been wandering the freezing streets all night, and finds herself at dawn--by pure chance--standing in front of Dominique’s house-cum-shop, it becomes a cruel irony to remember that taste of creating beauty.
* * *
Oh the colors! And the feel of the fine fabrics in my hands! Watching cloth turn into something beautiful, even though I was only doing the plain sewing. All the lace and ribbon and buttons, better than sweets and bonbons. That week had been like being in heaven and I dreamed that maybe some day I could climb up from washing and mending to that kind of fine sewing. It came back to me now. Now that the dream was farther away than it had ever been.
* * *
And so, instead of the idea of becoming a dressmaker being presented as a spur-of-the-moment thought as she’s begging for work, it becomes a cherished secret, offered up in a moment of vulnerability.
* * *
There wasn’t any point in dancing around with her. I was tired of telling half-truths so I said it plain. “I’ve been let go. I’ve been starving and freezing and I don’t know what to do. I can work. I can sew, plain or fancy, whatever you need. Or I could scrub floors, if that’s what you need. I can cook a little.” It struck me that I hadn’t seen any sign of a housekeeper or maid of all work when I’d been here before. It was a tiny place that wouldn’t need much keeping, but you’d think they’d have someone to come in. “I want to learn to be a dressmaker.”
I heard Celeste make a rude noise but Mefro Dominique shushed her.
“You wish to learn to be a dressmaker,” Dominique said, looking me up and down again. ... “The thing is impossible.”
* * *
But this is a story of impossible things coming true.