Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keeping Familiar Characters Fresh

One of the great things about writing novels is hearing from readers that they love the characters you create. No, that's the wrong verb. You don't create characters as much as find or discover them.
When I decided to write a private investigator novel, I had to ask myself where I wanted to set it. Many authors will stake a claim to a city or a state as their protagonist's turf. I wanted to do something different. So I thought I'd use a house as my guy's central setting. To make things interesting, I chose the White House.
That's natural for me. I have an interest in politics that started early and remains strong. But I didn't want to echo my own character directly in Jim McGill. So I went a different way. McGill is an unflagging supporter of his wife, President Patricia Grant, because he loves her above all else. Except for his kids.
He's a family man, first and foremost. I liked that because it's not typical for a tough-guy PI. Using that as a starting point, I looked for other things about McGill that would differentiate him from other characters in his genre. One of those traits was a reverence for life and a reluctance to take lives.
Sure, he'd be happy to bust someone's nose, if that's called for, but he doesn't pull his gun and shoot people willy-nilly. And when he gets in a physical confrontation, he doesn't shrug it off. Sometimes he needs the attention of massage therapists and a long soak in a hot bath to ease the pain.
Heck, he's so human he even has to submit to a colonoscopy and has pre-cancerous polyps removed.
All of that is part of discovering just who this guy is. But now we know all that. Along with his wife, McGill is now coming to the end of his time in the White House. Which is good because he's grown tired of it. The relentless pressures are wearing on everyone involved, not just him.
And as much as readers have enjoyed McGill in that context, they (you) might soon think things are getting stale. So McGill, to stay fresh, has to move on. Just as all of us do as we move through life.
He has to assume new roles: the CEO of an international detective agency, not just the head of a one-man shop; the father of children fast becoming adults, and maybe soon the role of being a grandfather; maybe someone who has to deal with an unexpected physical limitation.
I can't say for sure. I'll have to find out as I go along. Make new discoveries. That's what will keep McGill fresh for me and, I hope, enjoyable for you.

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