As an author, I love writing about flawed characters because I find myself rooting for them to prevail over their weaknesses and find their happy ending.
Whether it’s personality shortcomings, physical imperfections, or emotional scars, each flaw helps to create depth to a character and make them appear more human and relatable.
When Among the Innocent was still just an idea—even before I’d developed the storyline fully—I had the two main characters pretty much figured out.
That probably sounds strange, but for me, characters definitely drive a story.
In Among the Innocent, the heroine, Leah Miller, was once an Amish teenager content to live the Plain life until her entire family was murdered. Leah knew she could no longer live in the community where her family died and survive. She left the faith and was adopted by the former chief of police and his wife. Yet Leah carried the guilt of being the only survivor with her since that night. Not only does she bear the scar of the killer’s attack, but Leah also struggles to make connections to those around her. She joined the police department and worked under her adopted father to reclaim some of her power.
Dalton Cooper is very much a part of Leah’s tragedy even though she doesn’t realize it. Dalton’s Amish brother was accused of killing Leah’s family and later taking his own life. After the former chief of police was killed while out on a call, Dalton takes over the position to prove his brother’s innocence.
Dalton has been chasing after the truth for ten years, and it caused him to miss so many important things in life, like how seriously ill his wife was until it was too late, and she died.
Leah’s adoptive mother, Marge, plays a huge part in the story. We see Marge struggling with dementia. Some of the things Marge says goes against everything Leah knew about her and Ellis’s life. Is it part of her dementia or old secrets rising to the surface?
The right location can make or break a story, especially in suspense. I’d read about the St. Ignatius, Montana area in the past and chose it for the setting of Among the Innocent. There is much about the location that adds to the suspense of the story. The Mission Mountains cast their shadows on the Amish community below, while the isolation and vast stretches of countryside allow for plenty of places for a killer to hide. There is something about setting a suspense story in an Amish community that reminds me of the age-old struggle between good and evil.
And what better flawed villain could there be than a serial killer with plenty of baggage of his own. Serial killers are some of the most frightening of all villains. They invoke fear in real life and in fiction because they can move among society and usually function normally while hiding their true selves even from those closest.
Unraveling what makes this killer tick will take readers back to his childhood, and to a past that hopefully comes as a huge surprise.
Throughout the story, the faith aspect plays an important part. Both Dalton and Leah were once strong believers, but Leah’s past drove her away from God, while the tragedies in Dalton’s life brought him closer.
Among the Innocent is a story filled with secrets. At the heart of it, is the decade old murder of Leah’s Amish family and the surprises lurking behind the case.
One of my biggest challenges as an author is to be able to keep the reader guessing about the identity of the bad guy until the very end. If I can do that, then I’ve done my job. I truly hope readers will be surprised when they read the final pages of Among the Innocent and learn who the killer is. And hopefully they’ll say, “I didn’t see that coming.”
Mary Alford is a USA Today bestselling author who loves giving her readers the unexpected, combining unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots that result in stories the reader can't put down. Her titles have been finalists for several awards, including the Daphne Du Maurier, the Beverly, the Maggie, and the Selah. She and her husband live in the heart of Texas in the middle of seventy acres with two cats and one dog. Learn more at www.maryalford.net.