Committing Series: Characters

Catie MurphyCatie Murphy
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I mentioned in my last post that character story arcs are extremely important to me as a writer. I want my characters to change: I want them to start somewhere and end someplace else. It can be a significant change or a subtle one, but I want to put them through those paces.

But then there are the characters who surprise you. Characters you might have plans for who go totally off the rails–and if you want to know the truth, practically all of the Walker Papers characters went off the rails. I’m going to talk mostly about Gary, Joanne’s 74-year-old cab-driving sidekick, behind the cut, although I can’t talk about where it all ends because it gets Too Spoilery. :)

You want to know a terrible truth? Gary was supposed to die in book five. I had it planned from practically the moment he came on screen: he would introduce Joanne to her real-world mentor, he would be a distant background character who became her friend, he would die in book five as part of Joanne having to deal with the real world and grow up.

Furthermore, I still believed that while writing THUNDERBIRD FALLS, which was by then the 3rd Walker Papers story. In the space between URBAN SHAMAN and TF, Gary had–in the original version–gone off and gotten married to someone he’d met and he hadn’t told Joanne (this was a direct result of a friend of mine sneaking off and getting married without telling me). His new wife was going to be Joanne’s mentor, the one she learned about life from.

Why? I thought she needed a female mentor, and I think it was *probably* my editor, reading the first 3 chapters, who said maybe there were too many new characters introduced and could I maybe change something? And I did, and I slowly realized that of course Gary was the mentor character, and I felt very, very silly for not knowing that right away.

And then I gave him a heart attack in that book and my mother threatened to never speak to me again if anything happened to him. :)

But I knew then that he was going to get a pass in DEMON HUNTS (not that I reassured my mother on that subject!), and furthermore, when it got to that book, the scene where originally Gary would have died was one in which he got to totally kick ass instead.

By this time people had been asking me literally for *years* if I could tell them Gary’s Story, because they were *positive* Gary had a Story. I kept saying–I KEPT saying!–Gary hasn’t *got* a story, Gary is just this really cool sexy old dude who Jo hooked up with and who is her friend, these things, they happen!

Only then I wrote RAVEN CALLS, the 7th book of the Walker Papers, and mid-way through the book Gary rides off to do some important stuff that needs doing and Jo can’t do it. And for the first time ever–ever–I wanted to totally drop Joanne’s storyline and go follow Gary and find out what happened with him. Because Something Happened.

At that point I ran my Kickstarter for NO DOMINION, the intersitial ‘book 7.5′ of the Walker Papers, in which the main story–a short novel, more than half the length of a regular Walker Papers book!–fits literally into the middle of RAVEN CALLS.

And holy crap, everybody had been right for all of those years. Gary *did* have a story, and it was huge, and it was important, and it was heart-breaking. It turned out to majorly influence SHAMAN RISES, the final book of the series.

So, yes. This character introduced in book one as a secondary character intended to die actually became the second-most important character in the series. Because characters don’t always do what you expect them to.

Also? Cernunnos? He was supposed to be a one-shot character. I had no idea he was going to inform the entire series. In fact, when he came back in WALKING DEAD (WP #4) I was all like “hee hee hee, yay, look, I got to bring him back for a little bit, ain’t that cool?” and STILL didn’t know he was going to feature heavily in later books. Jeez, writer. :)

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4 comments to Committing Series: Characters

  • Gary is a terrific character, and his rapport with Joanne is one of the (many) things that makes the series so special. I recently turned Sephira’s life story — specifically a key event from her childhood — into a short story that will come out in an antho later this summer. Finding the back story for those key secondary characters is so much fun.

  • If a character doesn’t surprise the author by doing the unexpected, then it may be that the author has failed to come up with* a character of depth and dimension. I’ve too often seen a protagonist or other principal puppeted into a script that did not suit them. To be real, they need to be given room to breathe and stretch their own muscles.

    (*I hesitate to say “created”, because a vibrant character seems more to come fully realized from the ether than to be any sort of artificial construct.)

  • I always say this, even secondary and tertiary characters have some sort of story. My character in Rogue 5 I needed to wrest his story from him, but he finally gave it up, and it made the work better as a result, even if I didn’t put it all down into the novel. I plan to write short stories now for all the characters in the book eventually. One’s an ace ship pilot that was abused once, one’s an awesome mechanic that’s also a massive guy that loves the pilot, one’s a rogue and sly guy but with a thing for helping those he loves, one’s a fun-loving battle suit pilot kid with a heart of gold, one’s a guy in the wrong place at the right time, and then there’s the rest of the story. I think I could use each story as extras, as I know each back story. Though Verin Lastranos’ is the most poignant to his personality.

  • Razziecat

    I totally LOVE when this happens. It doesn’t even surprise me as much as it used to :D I have characters who were meant to be a very minor, almost background sort of character, who said, “Oh hell no,” and proceeded to take over the story. I have a guy who was meant to be a villain in one story, and when it was over he insisted on my telling his side of things; he still hasn’t stopped. My favorite character in one story turned out to be the one who has to die to power the spell that saves the world, but he’s got such an intriguing backstory that I’m still working on it. I even had one character burst forth fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s head ;) but there are still new things to be learned about her. :D