Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fun with a Series Character

          When I find a writer whose work I enjoy, I’ll read his other books. If he’s writing a series, I try to read those books in the order they were written to see the development of his continuing characters and how their relationships impact their lives. By tracking these changes I can see the long-term growth the author has given his hero or heroine.

            So when I decided to write mysteries, I knew a series would allow me to stretch and grow my characters in the same way I’ve enjoyed the growth and development of those readers whose books I reach for again and again.

            I have an unpublished (yet!) series featuring nurse Trudy Genova, a Manhattan nurse who works onset as a consultant for medical scenes being filmed in The Big Apple. Trudy’s job mirrors my own favorite nursing position from 1988- 1994 when I still lived in NY. That was an easy character to develop because she was younger extension of myself and I knew her situation well. I gave her a different background and ran with it.

My series set in the UK took more work. When I developed the character of Nora Tierney, an American writer living in England, I made her reasonably young to allow for years of growth as I decided on what I call her “bible--” the history of her life that may or may not make it to the page. This background helps me know Nora better, so I have a feeling for how she would react in certain situations. The two most important things I have to decide for any character are: what they want the most, and what they fear the most.

As a writer, Nora loves research of any kind and is an information gatherer. I also gave her an insatiable curiosity, which leads to her snooping, and a strong sense of fairness and justice, both of which contribute to her tendency to become involved in murder investigations. Nora has been known to lie at the drop of a hat if it will further her gathering of what she considers important or necessary information. She sees these fabrications as harmless. The detectives she runs across don’t necessarily agree.

            The underlying theme of all the books is how the choices we make affect our life, and Nora’s background had to have some kind of kink in it that has ramifications for her now. Nora still suffers guilt from her father’s death in a sailing accident. A teenager at the time, she’d turned down his offer for an evening sail in favor of a date, a reasonable thing for anyone of that age, until a squall capsized his boat. She carries the unreasonable idea that if she’d gone with him, he would have survived. This also has an impact on her relationships with men. She’s often confused about her feelings for the men she cares about and has difficulty becoming too attached.

            Then I threw in a real kicker in the first book, The Blue Virgin: her backstory had her unhappily engaged to a workaholic scientist. Nora was on the verge of calling it off when he’s killed in a plane accident. A few weeks later she finds out she’s pregnant and she has to decide whether to keep the baby as a single parent. This is the prelude to the story in the first novel, which finds a newly pregnant Nora in the midst of trying to prove her best friend, artist Val Rogan, is innocent of a murder charge in the death of Val’s partner, Bryn Wallace. The book is set in Oxford, where Nora is packing up to move to Cumbria. But first, she is determined to clear Val.

            Saddling Nora with a child to raise alone in the future will give her many challenges and responsibilities that thwart her natural desires. In the second book, The Green Remains, Nora is living in the Lake District and heavily pregnant. I had to keep in mind Nora’s physical condition and how that would impact and interfere with her ability to snoop actively when she stumbles across a body at the edge of Lake Windermere.

            There will be more challenges for Nora down the road. I’ve already planted the seeds in these first two books that will grow into plot lines in books three and four. And I’ll keep Nora growing and changing in relation to the situations I set across her path.

Marni Graff

Congratulations on the publication of your book, one of several to come! That's something to Post and trumpet about. Siggy Buckley

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