I have two books out that are considered a series—The Breakaway (about a girl who’s kidnapped and falls in love with her kidnapper) and Pieces (about the same girl, but two years after the events of The Breakaway). To me, the duet feels like a companion set rather than a series, but one thing remains constant, and that is the fact that when I sat down to write Pieces seventeen years after I very first wrote The Breakaway, I had to figure out how to mature Naomi, my main character. Although I’ve written nine novels in my career, I’ve never written a series, so you can imagine the sense of fear I felt heading into such a project.
Naomi, the main character in the duet, is seventeen when The Breakaway begins. She’s almost graduated from high school, has an abusive boyfriend and absentee parents. She’s a little more mature for her age, but she’s still only seventeen. By the end of The Breakaway, Naomi is nineteen. By the time Pieces opens, she is turning twenty-one. All I can say is … um, yikes. Did I have a surprise coming when I started writing Pieces! I got about 10,000 words in and hit a BRICK WALL. Turns out I had to stop completely and pull out my copy of The Breakaway.
You have to understand that at this point, The Breakaway had been published for about three months. I couldn’t go back and change anything. It was set in stone. Anything that came in Pieces had to be worked around The Breakaway because, well, I never, ever for one-teeny-tiny-second planned to write a sequel/companion/whatever-it-is. It just happened. To say the least, I was a little lost when I started. I kept running into problems. Naomi was a character I created years and years and years ago. Sure, I did revisions and edits on the book before it was published, but when I first created Naomi and her voice and all her little nuances, I was almost a different person. I was a teenager. I’m far from that now. So what did I do?
I read through The Breakaway from cover-to-cover. Twice. I got to know Naomi all over again. I pulled out my highlighters and started highlighting physical descriptions, certain words characters like to use, details all over the place…until I finally felt I was immersed enough in the world again that I could continue forward.
The other problem, though? How much would someone like Naomi really change? Without giving too much away of the story, all I can say is she suffers from pretty severe Stockholm Syndrome. I never really get into that term in the books, but it’s there, in every line, in every crazy decision Naomi makes. So I not only had to take into account how someone changes between nineteen and twenty-one, but how someone with Stockholm Syndrome might change (or, in Naomi’s case, not change between nineteen and twenty-one). I did a lot of remembering back to my college years, the insecurities, the need to belong to someone and/or something, the need to discover who the heck you really are and where you are going. I wrapped all that up into Naomi’s character, added her insane issues, and I had a refreshed character I could finally start writing. And yikes, was it a fun ride! I love Pieces because I had no idea Naomi had so much more to grow. I’m happy I made the journey with her, though.
To wrap up, I’d say anyone working on a series/duet/companion where you have to mature a character across a span of time, keep one thing in mind—people change, but at heart, they don’t change that much. The biggest changes, I’ve found, are in people’s decisions and realizations, not in who they are.
Michelle Davidson Argyle lives and writes in Utah, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. She loves the seasons, but late summer and early fall are her favorites. She adores chocolate, sushi, and lots of ethnic food, and loves to read and write books in whatever time she can grab between her sword-wielding husband and energetic daughter. She believes a simple life is the best life.
----- Thanks so much, Michelle, for coming by and sharing your insights on maturing characters, and also on how to pick up a former creation and build a whole new story for that protagonist. What do you think, readers? Do you have any questions for Michelle? Have you attempted series writing? What worked for you? Ever try to pick up a character you first wrote more than a decade ago?
City dweller, word nerd, Indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile. Professor's wife and mom to an aspiring Ravenclaw who's eagerly awaiting her Hogwarts letter in August. Follower of the Good Shepherd, who is faithful when we are faithless. My poetry and fiction explore the places where heart and soul are tested and growing up truly begins.
I also work in the Ivory Tower of academia as an editor, but don't hold it against me. Have a cookie.