August 22, 2013

Think Ahead As Your Character Develops

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director For Southern Writers Magazine

Recently, I reviewed a brochure from my cell phone provider. It listed wonderful apps for any smart phone or tablet. These were broken down by professions and as luck would have it included suggestions for "writers" apps. 

One app shown in the brochure sounded great for outlining characters on the go and it was free. I immediately picked up my tablet and downloaded. However, after the download a screen came up, stating the app company would no longer have support for this app after August 30. What? To quote a Queen Song, "Another One Bites The Dust". 

I'm sure the cell provider brochure was printed a couple of months ago prior to the mail-out to customers but the facts in the brochure should have been checked before going to print. App companies don't stop supporting their product overnight so someone didn't check the facts before having brochure copy printed and then mailed. 

This experience made my mind drift to authors books set in the past and how careful they have to be in checking their facts on the era. Author, Sue Grafton developed her Alphabet Mystery Series, with protagonist, Kinsey Millhone, a P.I. who lives in the 1980's before Internet and cell phones. With her starting book, A is For Alibi, Kinsey is 32 and it's May 1982 the same date the book was published. This date setting gives readers an appreciation for the difficulties of a PI's job, pre-Internet days. These are the times before "Google it" was the verb of today. 

If you are writing a series, you need to determine how your character will age or not. Grafton's B is for Burglar takes place in June/July of 1982, C is for Corpse takes place in August 1982. Grafton developed her series character to age in slow time not real time. "C" was published in 1986.

Thinking ahead was brilliant character development by Grafton. Her latest book, W is forWasted will release in September. If Grafton had not frozen Kinsey in the 1980's era instead of being a 30-something private investigator, she would be of social security age at 63 in present day. Her delightful relationship with her 80 plus year old landlord Henry wouldn't be part of the book in real time. Kinsey Millhone at 63 would not have the same energy, attributes or flaws that keep millions of fans craving the next Kinsey mystery adventure.

As the picture on the right shows, Princess Diana holding the heir to the throne, Prince William born in 1982. Thirty-one years later the picture on the left shows Prince William and Princess Kate with their own Prince in 2013. Think about this picture as you decide how your main character needs to age or not in your book series.

As readers it's about the interaction of characters not are they aging as we do. Writers’ development of characters and human nature as it unfolds in the pages of a book is what keeps us reading until the very last word. 

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