I'm most recently a writer. In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot. As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades. An unwilling transplant from the South, twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US. Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect. When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do. Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!
Monday, July 22, 2013
Second Class Characters?
Then there's the bathroom reno, still in the final stages, the torrential rains that hit SE Kansas in the past few days, the fact that my son is moving back East next month, and my struggle to find time to work on Shannon's Daughter. But tonight, I think I'll write about something completely different--secondary characters.
I hear so often from readers how real the characters in my stories seem to them. Not just the principals, but the secondary, or as I prefer to think of them, the supporting characters. I'll tell you a secret, when I first started writing Hearts Unfold, I really imagined most of the scenes as starring just the hero and the heroine, meeting in an isolated place and sharing a lot of very private time together. It didn't take long for me to see the flaw in that plan. No one lives life alone. Not really. Emily Haynes might be an orphan, but there had to be people she'd known in her childhood, friends and neighbors--the characters who populated her little world. And a famous young artist like Stani Moss would be closely surround by a select group of handlers, even though he lacked a real family--characters who kept him moving at the hectic pace his career demanded. Slowly at first, but then more and more, I could visualize these characters. and they fascinated me with their unique qualities and distinct voices, just as much as Emily and Stani had.
Some of these folks bear a strong resemblance to characters in my own life. Jack Deem, Emily's devoted godfather, is a melding of all the quietly strong, always-on-hand-with-a-smile-and-a-wise-word sort of men I was blessed to have in my fatherless childhood. John Kimble is cut from much the same cloth, although John has a darker side to him, a drive born of his own tragedy which makes him the perfect companion for Stani. Mike McConnell, the returning Vietnam vet, is representative of several friends who struggled on their return from war, and he is also my tribute to the one very special boy who did not return. Mike gets to live the life of service my friend would have, had he been given the opportunity. Angela and Lil Salvatore are the kind of bright, bold women I've been privileged to call my friends through the years, women I seem to have been drawn to as a foil to my own more retiring nature. Many of the characters in Emily's home town are the people we've all known at one time or another, the salt-of-the-earth types who hold every community together from generation to generation.
Others in my cast of characters are born purely from my imagination. Milo and Jana Scheider and Peg Shannon in particular, were people I had to get to know as the story progressed. They revealed themselves slowly, and just when I thought they would fade to the background, they stepped forward to offer something important again. The cast in the London townhouse, Mrs. Winslow and George Bertram, just walked onto the stage and did their thing with little if any help from me. I loved writing them! They always made me smile, no matter what they were up to.
It's been fun to see characters who at first were nothing more than a name, featured in just a scene or two, reappear and become central to the story. I had no idea when I wrote about a stranger's baby delivered in the back seat of a police car on Christmas Eve, that Ruthie and Bobby Dixon and their family would become so important later on. And when Emily reminisced about a mule from her childhood early in the story, little did I suspect he would become a hero one stormy summer night.
There are no small parts, the saying goes, only small actors. The same is true for characters. Each must be a distinct personality, with a past, a present and a future all their own, whether we see it on the page or not. In my mind, I have a clear picture of how they look and sound, where they came from and where they're going, so that in the moment they appear in the story, it makes sense to me that they are there. I think I could write a book about many of them, after all the details I've imagined just to prepare them for their, in some cases, brief roles. In fact I am writing a book about one of them now! Peg Shannon started out in a supporting role, but I can assure you, today she is the star of her own book. But that's another story, right?
So now tell me, do you have a favorite supporting character from Valley Rise?