backstory, character change, historical fiction, sidekick, writing a sequel


Cold Comfort is in final draft stage, and I’m happy with what I’ve done with the character of Wanda, the ‘sidekick’ of my first novel, The Girl on the Mountain.

Wanda as a child was charming, spontaneous, and shocking to her elders. Cold Comfort takes place fifteen years later.

My first problem was how to transition Wanda to a grown-up.

Other characters in The Girl on the Mountain described Wanda as “undisciplined.” For Cold Comfort I decided to let her be the aggressor in romance, and to put her in conflict with other characters. Bad experiences and the loss of her husband have given her a desire for revenge. She continues to carry a knife, and this time it gets her in big trouble.

Wanda’s character is darker in Cold Comfort, but plenty of others offer comic relief. Readers of The Girl on the Mountain will also catch up with May Rose, whose full story is yet to be told!

author control, character change, creating a world, fiction, good characters, The Girl on the Mountain, Writing

The Novelist as Control Freak

It’s been noted before that one of the pleasures of writing fiction is to create and populate a world. How God-like! But novelists get to go farther than God, because they’re engaged in the business of fiction. Without someone manipulating every word and deed, fiction has no life. Writers have control, baby.

So writers get to project events as they’d like them to happen, or as they fear events could happen. As they make characters lovable or despicable, reward and punish them, writers show what they value, whether love, physical attractiveness, superhuman skills, or everyday hard work.

Near the end of The Girl on the Mountain, one of my minor characters tells the main character he’s writing a book similar to Dracula, a novel read by several others in the story and popular in the real world of 1899. She asks why he’s making a story about a monster when there’s so much evil in ordinary people. He says the more grotesque and evil the character, the more the ending will satisfy.

Like my heroine, I think there’s abundant evil in ordinary people. Rather than concocting monsters, I’d much rather explore what is true. But the writer-character (the teacher, Mr. Cooper) makes a valid point. An audience is relieved, after experiencing fictional dread and fear, when a situation ends and resolves in a satisfying way. You know the feeling when your emotions have been stretched, then brought to rest on a good ending. Whew!  It worked out! What a ride!

Here’s a secret: a story doesn’t always work out like the control freak intended. Like real life, fictional events and characters can get out of hand. Writers frequently talk about characters taking on a life of their own, doing things the author didn’t plan. I think this happens when our characters are so well-fleshed-out that what they do and what happens to them becomes inevitable. I wouldn’t have chosen to put my innocent young heroine through so much trouble, but that’s what happened, because of the people I put around her. I found a couple of scenes emotionally difficult to write. If you’ve read the story, you may guess which ones.

So back to the beginning. Writers of fiction may be control freaks, but we’re never totally in control. First we must wrestle with the inevitable. THEN we release the story to readers. Once that happens, readers take over and experience it through the lenses of their own sensibilities. I think that’s a good thing.

character change, main characters, sequel, sidekick, The Girl on the Mountain, Writing

Wanda, the sidekick who nearly stole the show

When I was told several times that my main character’s sidekick was stealing the show, I decided to make her the main character of the next story.  In the first one (The Girl on the Mountain) Wanda is 13, abused and homeless, but resilient, wise, and strong-willed.  In that story she’s a contrast to the older, somewhat naive main character (May Rose), who gives her a home and is inspired by her.

I like starting a new project with a character I know so well.  But almost immediately I’m confronted by the problem of maturity and change.  The new story takes place fifteen years later, and rough little Wanda has become a rough grownup. 

As an adult, Wanda can continue to be independent and outspoken.  Those traits can help as well as hinder the accomplishment of her goals in the new story.  But she can’t retain the reactions of a child, or she will be neither loved nor a good main character.  I’m also wondering if her ungrammatical speech will make her less acceptable as a grown-up main character.  People do tend to associate ungrammatical speech with ignorance–not an accurate association, but true of our prejudices.

So help me out.  What do you know of “rough” main characters, especially female ones?  Main characters with poor speech?  What makes them lovable?