Monday, November 26, 2012

Silly Me

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

When I first began writing my Odelia Grey series I had a collection of core characters in mind and the books would revolve around them. I had never written a series before so, to be honest, recurring characters outside of this important handful didn't even occur to me. Peripheral characters, I determined, would be used and discarded, their purpose over once a book hit the end.

Silly, naive me. By the end of that first book in the series, I had learned that some characters tell you, the author, if and when they are leaving. 

Take Michael Steele, for instance. And I don't mean the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  MY Michael Steele started off as a minor character. He was Odelia's obnoxious attorney boss. The original plan was for his part to be small and over by the time the 2nd book began. Mr. Steele had other plans.  The more I included him in Too Big To Miss, the more he insisted on additional page time. The more page time he received, the more arrogant and ballsy he became in demanding more scenes and dialogue. Finally, I gave up and let him have his way.  I've worked for attorneys myself for over 40 years. Trust me, surrender is the easiest way to deal with them.

But Mike was right. His page time is gold and readers love him. He's in every book, even if it is in a small way. 

A similar thing happened with the character of Willie Proctor, a felon on the lam. He arrived on the scene in book 2, The Curse of the Holy Pail, and was only supposed to be in that book.  Imagine my surprise when I'm writing book 3, Thugs and Kisses, and he makes a surprise appearance. I had no plans for including him in that book when all of a sudden my fingers typed his name.  Weird, I know, but true. And like with Mike Steele, he's a scene stealer. Willie is not in every Odelia book, but he's in several and mentioned in most.

Similar things have happened with other minor characters, but not to the same extent. It's very convenient creating characters, letting them rest for awhile, then pulling them out of your bag of tricks when you need someone to flesh out a story. Why create an entirely new character when a familiar character with a back story in place fits the bill?

Just make sure you didn't kill them off in a prior book.

The other half of this character coin is when do you remove a recurring character from service?  The answer is when they stop being entertaining, helpful to the protagonist, or a tired joke, or if their demise moves the arc of the series forward.  For example, Odelia's father is deceased at the beginning of book #5, Corpse On The Cob. I really didn't want to kill Horten Grey, but removing him from the picture gave Odelia an opportunity to develop and grow as a person, which is important since she is the star of the show. It turned out to be a very good decision. And Horten didn't kick up a fuss. He was a gentleman about being removed from the storyline.

I can, do and should listen to my characters, but in the end, I'm the author. The CEO of the series. The Head Honcho. The Big Kahuna.  As I like to remind Mike Steele on occasion: I brought you into this world. I can take you out of it.  It's really the only way to control him.

P.S.: I've been teasing the members of the Sue Ann Jaffarian Fan Club by letting them know I'm killing off someone near to Odelia in book #8. It's the truth. One beloved character will not be returning to the series. The teasing is mean, I know, but it has definitely created some lively speculation and discussion, and the demise is not a PR trick. It will push Odelia towards another spurt of personal growth.


Catriona McPherson said...

Great post, Sue Ann. How easy do you find it to weave the beloved minor characters through the book? The challenge for me is to give them something real to do, so they don't just book-end the action. Mind you, that's why I always preferred the bit of Harry Potter before anything happened - because that's when we saw the Durselys and Weasleys.

Catriona McPherson said...


Carolyn J. Rose said...

I love to see authors talk about how characters speak to them. Some of my non-author friends wonder about my sanity when I mention that. I never started out to write a series, but about a year after the first book, characters start to clamor for more page time.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I agree, Catriona! Minor characters must have a purpose. Sometimes their backstory is what decides the what, when and where of their return. They become useful, not just bookends. I also like changing up Odelia's sleuthing sidekicks, so minor characters, like Sally Kipman, her brother Clark, best friend Zee, come into play there and that helps keep it fresher for the readers.

VikkiJeanne said...

Your recurring characters are more like family members to your fans, Sue Ann. No wonder we're going *CRAZY* trying to figure out just what kind of *growth* you have planned for Odelia. Since you say it's a *beloved* character, I guess we need to prepare ourselves for a kick in the kidney, huh? Still, please don't make it one of the pets!!!! :) ♥

Meredith Cole said...

What a great tease! And a great way for Odelia to grow... Minor characters are a lot of fun--but it's good to remind everyone who the book is really about.

linda love atwater said...

Love odelia. Waiting for book 8. I want to be in the early morning waliking club sends when the movie comes out.