When my dad first started reading “From Scratch”, he asked why Sean wasn’t a firefighter.
I tried to explain that Maggie’s character would naturally need the support of a police officer in her situation, but being a retired firefighter himself, he wasn’t convinced that the hero in the story shouldn’t always be a firefighter.
Career choices for characters can evolve from many different places. For me, I am first introduced to the character and often after understanding the situation, then his or her career comes into play.
With Maggie (From Scratch), I knew her career needed to bring comfort. Based on her life, she would have sought a career to share love to balance the fear and loss she’d endured. (I also happen to be an avid baker so the phrase “write what you know” fit beautifully with a lead character who baked.J) Because of her past experiences, she was not likely to become romantically involved with just anyone. The combination of landlord – who she needed to keep her business moving forward – and police chief – who she would likely need for protection – was a good fit for Sean.
Ideas for different career paths come from a variety of places.
A few years ago I was attending a speaker and writer’s conference and one of the break-out sessions was around ghost writing. I was fascinated by the speaker and the flexibility she had created in her career. Sitting in the session I sketched out a character biography and high level story line for Ella Donavon – a ghostwriter who lands in the middle of a murder mystery – a story yet to be written. After one session, I tucked away the idea of ghostwriting as a career for a future character.
In “Life on the Porcelain Edge”, Tessa had lived a life just on the border. She was the perfectly behaved only child of Gibson’s Run’s favorite pastor, creating a life of trying to avoid the spotlight. Ghostwriting was an excellent fit for her. She was able to pursue her passion without the nasty fear of judgement. So, when her anonymity is destroyed through the leaking of her stories, she is forced to face her true self, but not before running home to try and hide. Thus, the beginning of our conflict. (Side Note – Ella Donavon ended up being one of Tessa’s best friends. Crazy small world my mind. J I do think her story still needs to be told, but that’s a blog for another day.)
Counter to Tessa, Ryland was living his dream in the very public eye when his world came crashing down with the death of his wife. Ryland’s return home is about finding healing and comfort in the career of his father – trading player for coach. (And thus helpful for Tessa and Ryland to be reunited...in high school.)
Career choices for characters are not too different from career choices for us real live folks. We often choose a path that appears to be the only or the safest choice. For Sean Taylor, becoming a cop was a natural fit. He was the middle brother always finding the justice and harmony. He found strength and family in Gibson’s Run. He, in turn, wanted to protect his family. Thus cop.
For Jane Grey, she wanted to find her passion and a big part of her story revolves around her trying to find her purpose through her career. But through that journey she discovers the job isn’t what is important – the people God placed in her life to love are.
For so many of us, our careers define how we see ourselves. Characters in a novel are no different. The choices they make... The paths they take, are often seen through the lenses of the careers they have chosen. Each choice has a purpose and is crucial for moving forward in life.
I’m certain one day a character will decide he or she is a firefighter. And my dad will be the first to know.
PS – Thank you so much for all of the great comments! Keep them coming. Hope those of you who have downloaded the eReader version of “Life on the Porcelain Edge” are enjoying Tessa’s & Ryland’s story.
PSS – Do you have a career you’d like to see a character pursue one day? Please share…
I often talk with friends about the characters like they are real people. I share snippets of story ideas and how I see a future series or character’s life unfolding on a page. When one of my dearest friends Ashley and I were discussing this blog series, I asked her about what topic she would like to read. She thought the idea of how all of the characters - whether major or minor parts of the story - are interconnected with full-blown backstories might be an interesting thing to share.
I hope you agree.
Last summer, I had the honor of reconnecting with an old family friend who is also a writer. We started talking about the process of writing and she told me she retired because she wanted everyone to quiet down. Instantly, I knew she was referencing the characters living in her head. I was simultaneously validated and relieved I wasn’t borderline certifiable.
Characters are the focus of any fiction – and often nonfiction – manuscript. They tell the story. The writer merely transcribes the events as told through the characters experiences. At least this is how the process works for me.
The character is the first place a story begins. This person begins to reveal himself or herself to me and I start the falling in love process.
With “Life on the Porcelain Edge”, quiet, unassuming Tessa Tarrington made a loud splash in my life when the opening line from her book popped into my mind while walking through the aisles of @barnesandnoble.
“Tessa Tarrington’s life was in the toilet.”
I wanted to know why her life was in the toilet and what I could do to help guide her back to dry land.
She quickly revealed she was the daughter of Sean Taylor’s (From Scratch) pastor, Tom Tarrington and that she’d grown up in the tightly knit community of Gibson’s Run, Ohio from whence she’d run, as far and as fast as she could, once she’d graduated from GRHS. And, Gibson’s Run was where she’d returned when her life splashed into the…well, toilet bowl. She came home to hide from the life she’d created in New Orleans, but with that running, she was forced to face the past she’d run from eight years earlier. A past including Ryland Jessup, Joe Taylor and the rest of the eccentric population of Gibson’s Run.
This is how characters are connected and grow. They are like vines and each branch divulges a different connection to new or old characters. Sometimes I hear the whole history at the beginning of the story and sometimes the backstory – including relationships with other characters – unfolds like a rose blossom.
When I started “From Scratch” I knew Sean was one of three brothers and each Taylor Brother had his own story to tell. Because each, one day, would be main or secondary characters I need to understand their histories and what paths they might be walking one day.
Joey – Sean’s younger brother – was such a loud voice he was able to reveal his shared history with Tessa and Ryland, becoming a feature character as the best friend of Ryland and a love interest for Tessa in “Life on the Porcelain Edge”. And as with most persons from Gibson’s Run, this is merely the beginning of Joey’s journey.
Other characters weave themselves through stories as they continue on their own personal paths off-page and those minor characters often have the most distinct personalities.
From Millie Tandis to Sissy Jenkins to Tessa’s best friends, Lily Mae and Ella, the minor characters in each story tie the whole tapestry together. They bring the color and the splash. And just like friends we only see once a year, each visit is a treasure.
Character development, for me, is about listening. Listening to the characters stories and allowing each piece to fit into the jigsaw puzzle to create the overall picture. And like my writer friend, I often want them to quiet down so I can focus, but on the other hand, I’m always ready to hear a little more. I guess I’m a little like Sissy Jenkins that way. Always curious.
PS – If you have any questions you would like answered, please post in the comments and I will make your question one of the “Behind the Writer’s Veil…” posts.
When The Wooing of Jane Grey first came out I had several readers guessing where Jane’s family lived. For those readers in Ohio, the speculations ranged from Granville, Ohio to Circleville, Ohio and every other small town in between including my native Groveport, Ohio. In reality none of those wonderful communities were the sole source of Gibson’s Run. But I “borrowed” many of the unique charms of each of my favorite Ohio small towns to act as the framework for the quaint village.
Wooing was a great way to showcase Columbus, Ohio, but I found I wanted to write about particular places or spaces and was limited due to public knowledge of certain areas.
When I set out to write “From Scratch”, I wanted the juxtaposition of anonymity against “everyone knows your business” community of a small town for Maggie’s story.
As a writer, I liked the freedom of creating my own place. My own restaurants. My own churches. My own parks. (You get the drift.) And yet, I pulled from the experience of growing up in a town with less than 2,000 residents (the family cruise we went on my freshman year of college had more people on the boat than we had certified residents of the Village of Groveport*.) Knowing I could walk into any place of business, school or church and someone would know my mom, my dad or my grandpa gave me a sense of security. My history was known by everyone. There were no secrets. And yet there were unspoken stories that seemed to hover over my town. Things people didn’t ask. “Let well enough alone.” This is where Maggie’s story unfolded beautifully – everyone cared and yet they let her tell her story as she was able.
With the telling of Maggie and Sean’s story, the character of Gibson’s Run was born.
When I started writing “Life on the Porcelain Edge”, the characters developed through the canvas of Gibson’s Run. (And how could I not return everyone to the nosiness of Sissy Jenkins, the sweet aromas of Only the Basics and begin to delayer the streets we hadn’t yet traveled.)
In “Life on the Porcelain Edge” you will get to visit Gibson’s Run High School, the community church and meet a colorful array of town members. Old friends pop up to give you a wink (e.g. Sissy, Jane Grey, Maggie, Sean, etc.) but you will also meet new friends whom I hope you come to love as much as I do.
Don’t worry - we still make a couple visits to the “big city” (aka Columbus, Ohio). But the character of Gibson’s Run is maturing into a beautiful place bursting to the brim with stories to tell.
*I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Groveport has been a city of over 7,000+ residents since 2010. The town had quite the boom with the turn of the century.
The city of New Orleans is draped in a silky wrap of romance.
When I was approaching the back story for the heroine of Life on the Porcelain Edge, Tessa Natalie Tarrington I knew she had a hidden hopeless romantic tucked inside of her everyday Pastor’s Kid persona. Her mother was a native of Louisiana and the allure of the hazy romance of the state began with the pedestal she’d set her mother upon since childhood. The second natural allure of Louisiana as a second home came with Tessa’s innate need to run from life. To hide behind her perfect image as the quiet only child of the town’s pastor and his near perfect wife. In Louisiana, first in college at LSU and later in the city of New Orleans, Tessa sought anonymity and NOLA was the perfect place to live life hidden in the shadow of normalcy.
I’ve been in long term love affair with New Orleans and the state of Louisiana since my aunt and uncle moved there when I was entering high school. The first time I went to visit and saw the intricate wrought iron fences protecting art in the form of houses, felt the hum of the city that seemed to seep from every crevice and crook, and tasted the rich punch of spiced food tamed by the luxuriously sweet delicacies I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about the origins of the creole culture and the precious mix of Spanish, French and Southern traditions. I watched countless movies set in the city, read books utilizing the city as a secondary character and added zydeco and Harry Connick, Jr. to my ever growing playlists.
I used to imagine becoming a student at Tulane and the creative draw of studying amidst the laid back culture. I wondered if every person walking the streets of New Orleans felt the thread of acceptance and passion that wove its way through the city. Did they too appreciate the wonderful soul of a city that had felt the downpour of tears over loss or the shared in the joys of newfound love linked in the hands of young marriage?
New Orleans has experienced myriad of outsider reflections through my lifetime. The paraded corruption. The utter destruction of natural disasters. The hope of human will. The resurrection of a city. The renewal of love, joy and “laissez les bons temps rouler” – Let the good times roll.
I wanted to share my love of New Orleans. Not as a political statement or a seedy backdrop. But as a character who helps love blossom in her sultry, romantic whispers.
New Orleans is the perfect backdrop for Ryland to experience a side of Tessa he never knew existed and yet comes to appreciate. For Tessa, New Orleans is the place where she was able to discover who she was – besides being a PK.
For me, New Orleans will always be a place calling to me. She is comfortable and inviting. She is filled with delights, allowing her visitors to ooze into the wonder of her surroundings. She is filled with a music all her own. And she woos the weary. Welcoming them home with a warm beignet and milk laced cup of chicory coffee. I hope you enjoy meeting my NOLA in Life on the Porcelain Edge.