Friday, May 31, 2019

Characters and Their Lives

I'm finally coming up for air after spending the week racing ahead of a deadline. I've been thinking about the questions about characters my blog mates have asked this week. I have to admit that I am always more interested in the characters in a book or short story than in the details of plot. Not that I don't notice when the plot is weak or lackluster or ridiculous. But if the characters are intriguing and thought-provoking, I will read on and even pick up another book by the same author to find out what is happening with them. On the other hand, no matter how clever the plotting, if the characters are irritating, two-dimensional, or clueless (in both senses of the word), I am not likely to look for another book about them.

I, too, have had that question about how I avoid getting my two protagonists, Lizzie Stuart and Hannah McCabe, mixed up when I'm writing. I don't have that problem because I've written much more about Lizzie than about Hannah. I know Lizzie so well that I would recognize her if she came to life and walked into a room. I am in her head because she is a first-person narrator. She does
occasionally surprise me because she is changing as her life changes. But I can hear her voice. We also share a way of thinking about how to go about being a sleuth because we both do research in the archives and in old newspapers. In contrast, Hannah is "McCabe" in the books. She is the protagonist in the two books I've written so far, but the books are police procedurals. I write in third person, and sometimes from the point of view of other characters.

That brings me to the question about having characters from different series share the stage. I've been thinking about that because I did a radio interview recently and the host asked me a fun question -- one that only a mystery writer (or reader) would love and that I had never been asked. It was, if you were murdered (God forbid!) what fictional character would you like to investigate. My immediate response was Adrian Monk. Then I added Lt. Columbo. I'm sure there are other sleuths who could be as effective and would draw on all the latest in forensics, but as I lingered, waiting to be freed to travel on by having my crime solved, I would be able to enjoy watching those two investigate. Still, as soon as I said I'd like to have both of them work on my case, I started to think of what would happen with their very different styles.

I have thought about bringing my two female protagonists together in a story. I could have McCabe call Lizzie in Virginia to ask her about something. Or Lizzie, who attended graduate school in Albany, could come back for a conference or an award or stop in as she's in the area. I would love to hear a conversation between them. But, I'm sure McCabe would find it much easier to work with John Quinn, Lizzie's former homicide detective fiance. Quinn and McCabe would be on the same page and talk the same language. Not to say that they would be in complete agreement, but they would share the "cop thing." But the problem about trying to bring these characters together is that they don't exist in the same space. Lizzie is in the year 2004 right now, in the recent past of "our" world. McCabe is in 2020, in a world that is much like our own, but has an alternate history/timeline. The series that began as near-future will soon be in the present because the first book is set in October 2019.

The idea of bringing Lizzie and Hannah together is intriguing because they have an overlapping plot. This plot -- stretching over decades -- includes Jo Radcliffe, a character who has appeared only in a short story I have in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Jo lives in a village in upstate New York. She is in 1946, a former Army nurse, and she has a secret. Her life, overlaps with Lizzie's and her legacy affects McCabe. I once did a chart with all of the characters on a timeline. I've even played with having one of them provide the frame for my 1939 historical thriller that references these connections. But I'm still pondering. I don't know if I can pull it off. It might be safer to keep the secret that links them all to myself. But I'm thinking. . .

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