“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
I hadn’t been writing for long when I read these words by Stephen King. I didn’t intend writing a thriller, so I pushed those thoughts to one side.
Choosing the Characters
When I decided to write that first novel, twenty years ago, I followed the teaching, write what you know and chose a pastor and his wife and family to be the center of my story. However, lest anyone think I was basing the story on my own family, I made my main character to be an artist (which I most definitely am not!) I deliberately gave them four children, whereas I have three. So the Douglas family had Holly, a precocious thirteen-year-old, a pair of ten-year-old twins, Sue and Ronny, and a cute little two-year-old who was in the process of being hopelessly spoiled.
And so the family remained for a whole twenty years, never getting any older, but with me getting to know them better.
Killing Off a Darling
When I sat down to write this final story, I knew I had way too many scenes and situations and I had to do some drastic cuts. One that really saddened me was the realization that I needed to cut down on my characters. And the one that really contributed little to the story was Bobby, my two-year-old. He was just there because he was cute! And to give me a fourth child in the family.
And so I had to remove him from the story. I didn’t exactly kill him. I couldn’t do that. (So now you know why I will never become a thriller writer!) Bobby was just dropped from the cast. He ceased to exist. How sad. Of course, there’s no guarantee he won’t one day turn up in another story, because … he really is cute!
Introducing the cast of Returning to Amanda
In introducing you to the cast of this novel, I’m going to make use of Jerry Jenkin’s useful list of the eight different types of characters needed to make up a well-balanced novel.
The protagonist is the hero of the story. He or she is the person the readers most identify with. She, as in Amanda’s story, needs to be the center of attention, drive the plot, and change and grow as the story progresses. She must not be perfect, and Amanda, aka Mandy, certainly isn’t. But by the end of the story she needs to become a different and stronger person.
Every story needs a villain, aka the antagonist. He (or she) opposes and undermines the main character. I went through several of my characters, trying them out in the role of the antagonist. However, once the story started to evolve, it became apparent to me. My antagonist was none other than Owen, Mandy’s husband. How about that? Fancy being married to your antagonist? He needs to have a realistic backstory, and he actually causes the protagonist to grow. In Jerry’s words:The antagonist in a story must 'force the protagonist to make difficult choices' ~ Jerry Jenkins. Click To Tweet
My protagonist needed a friend, or as is often called, a confidante. Into the mix came Carey, a younger lady who blogs for a living. Originally, she was just a friend of the pastor’s wife. That is until Mandy unexpectedly runs away. Carey knew nothing about her plans, but she sure ends up stepping up to the plate to help the struggling pastor and his family. (And incidentally, she is the protagonist in the follow-up novel to Returning to Amanda.)
This character is usually a troublemaker who instigates trouble for the key character. And boy, did Mrs. Cartwright fit that bill? She lives across the road from the Douglas’s home, and spends long hours sitting in her bay window watching out of her binoculars. She claims to be a bird watcher. But when there are no trees outside her home? And the pastor’s home is directly in her sight? The old lady becomes a prickly thorn in Mandy’s side as she eagerly passes on her own interpretation of what goes on over the road.
I struggled to identify the character who would be a foil in Returning to Amanda, until I recognized the traits shown by Owen’s secretary, Evelyn. Initially, I had her earmarked as an antagonist, but she is not the enemy. She just has a very different set of values and approach to life to Mandy and doesn’t hesitate to show attention to Mandy’s failings. Perhaps she’s trying to disguise her own failings? We’ll see when it comes to Book 3 in the series. At this stage, that is likely to be Evelyn’s story.
The position of sidekick is often a friend who supports the protagonist, offering advice and adding depth to the story. This role is well played by a certain lady who needs to remain a mystery to you until you read the book. You’ll recognize her when you reach her during your reading!
These are the people who are essential to the story, but not an integral part. I don’t know that the thirteen-year-old Holly, or the irrepressible ten-year-old twins, Sue and Ronny, would see themselves in that role, but they are certainly key members of the cast. There are also a number of minor characters who play an important role.
Oh yes, this category shows up in the story, but once again, I cannot disclose it at this point or it will ruin the story for you.
If you’d like to know more about the story, the e-book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon at a discount price. You can read the blurb (back-cover story) at that link before ordering. And by the way, you can always cancel your pre-order if you change your mind.
If you’re one of my launch team and you’ve read the book, have you spotted the characters? (Please, no spoilers! Just a yes or no!)
If you haven’t read the book yet, do the characters interest you?
If you are an author and want help in choosing your characters,
the post I’ve referred to by Jerry Jenkins can be found here.
Other blog posts about Returning to Amanda are as follows:
A Debut Novel at My Age?
Write What You Know
Character Interview: Mandy Douglas
The Cover Story
Thanks for this. I mentally checked off all the character types mentioned against my current WIP : )
Although, the shorter the story the fewer characters you need : )
True, I guess. But I don’t write short. 🙂
I’m glad you found this helpful. I loved categorising mine! In Returning to Amanda’s sequel, I intend checking I have them all present and correct before I get stuck into my main edits!
Great to see characters laid out in this way!
Thank you Anna. The exciting thing is the story was written. I knew I needed a protagonist and an antagonist – the others just “happened”. And I identified the wrong antagonist anyway!
Shirley your blog certainly conveys the excitement of the story. You have all of the characters that you need in this story!
Thanks so much, Brenda. Yes, I found it thrilling when I actually identified all the “types” of characters!
Yes, I spotted them. Yes, I loved them all. I even love the lady across the street. She incites a lot of creative thinking.
LOL..yes the old lady across the street is a fun character … not to the Douglas family though! Thanks for your visit!
Thank you Dianne. Fun to see I had them all represented hey?
Yes! Loved them all!
Thank you Deryn. I found it thrilling to discover I had covered all the categories, some without knowing about them initially.
LOL thank you Allyson!!! It was fun to see I had them all.