Characters are People Too

on October 30, 2008

After wrapping up my copyedits on SUDDEN DEATH at 1:30 a.m., I moseyed on over to Murder She Writes to write my blog for this morning. I had a vague idea of writing about copy edits (no surprise there) but after reading Deborah’s post, I had a much better (I hope) idea. At least, it grabbed me enough and I no longer remember what I thought I’d write about!

Deb talked about hating synopses. I hate them to. Who likes them? Well, I think there’s something wrong with you . . . ha ha, just kidding.

I don’t write a synopsis until I have to. I mean really have to, like, “Sales needs this today for a meeting . . . ” kind of have to. And even then, I have problems.

Take the FBI Trilogy. SUDDEN DEATH? No problem. The book was 80% written at the time then needed the synop, so I wrote it . . . and an ending I thought was going to happen. Well, that ending DIDN’T happen, but fortunately they don’t put the climax on the back cover copy.

FATAL SECRETS? I thought this one would be the no brainer. Matt Elliott, a secondary character in PLAYING DEAD and SUDDEN DEATH was the hero. I adore him. He was also the hero of the short story I wrote for the KILLER YEAR antho. He was a reluctant candidate for Attorney General and someone tries to assassinate him. I could totally picture the opening chapter because I’d written something like it long ago in a book that never sold . . . but this was a completely different story. The heroine was an FBI Agent. I wrote a two page rough synopsis. I instantly knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what . . .

. . . so I wrote the two pager on CUTTING EDGE. This story I only had a premise . . . someone killing those involved in cutting edge technology. (I got the idea after reading a story about a biotech genius coming up with ways in save salmon . . . I didn’t understand the technology, but did think that some people might not like it, and what if one of those was a psychopath . . . ?) Anyway, I didn’t know the characters, so I sat back and pictured the opening scene. A fire at a state-of-the-art laboratory. They’d have security, right? Sure . . . who does security in Sacramento? Rogan-Caruso . . . was this J.T.’s book? No . . . not J.T. (If you’ve read PLAYING DEAD, you know who JT is . . . he’s also in SUDDEN DEATH. Yum.) But one of them . . . I picked Duke Rogan, the middle Rogan brother. He just jumped out at me and said yeah, it was my security system, but it didn’t fail, so you’ll have to change that. My security systems don’t fail.

I sent off the synopses. That night, I couldn’t sleep. Something was wrong. It was FATAL SECRETS. I knew it, and now I knew way. Matt’s heroine was wrong, the storyline was wrong, and WHAM! I knew then that my NEXT trilogy, the first book would be Matt’s. And the heroine? No one else would do. It’s JT Caruso’s sister, an international photojournalist who disappears on assignment . . . and Matt and JT go to find her.

But that story wouldn’t fit for this trilogy, which needed an FBI agent as one of the main characters (hence, the Sacramento FBI Trilogy tag . . . ) So I emailed my editor and said, stop, FATAL SECRETS isn’t going to work. Give me a day or two, I’ll have something.

What popped into my head was a story that had been simmering for awhile. I’ve wanted to write a story about human trafficking. But it’s been done a lot recently, I needed something a little different . . . and then I came up with it. My heroine is an ICE Agent who had been sold as a child, and escaped, leading police to the bad guys, then adopted by an American law enforcement family. The hero, an FBI Agent. What was the connection? . . . what if the hero was investigating the bad guy for tax evasion, ala Eliot Ness. And the heroine for human trafficking. And their respective sting operations collided and Wham! Instant conflict. It worked, and I was going to write a story I’ve wanted to write for awhile.

I wrote up the synopsis, happy, and even got the back cover copy and was thrilled with it (it sounded so much better than what I had! I could hardly believe they pulled out a story that sounds this good from the crappy two-pager I wrote . . .

By this time, I had finished SUDDEN DEATH, revisions and all, and started FATAL SECRETS. I had a great opening scene pictured, and started writing, and within five pages I knew I had the wrong hero.

See, characters are people too. Once I pictured Sam Callahan, he became real to me. He had a personality and attitude that I couldn’t change. He’s laid back, happy-go-lucky, and very smart. He’s from a large, happy family. He doesn’t have issues. He’s a cross between Patrick Kincaid and Will Hooper. Fun, happy, dedicated, and a bit of a ladies man.

Sonia Knight is a hot-head. She’s driven, dedicated, and a work-a-holic. She is in it for one reason: save the kids. She’ll do anything–break rules, argue, lie, fight, plead–to save the girls being imported for nefarious purposes. She’s also smart and brave and has a soft-spot for kids. But other people? If you’re not part of the solution–and listen to her–you’re part of the problem.

Sonia Knight would eat Sam alive. There was no connection. I couldn’t even MAKE it happen. I couldn’t change either character.

I banged my head on the desk . . . and Dean walked in.

Dean Hooper, Will’s brother. He’s mentioned briefly in the past as an FBI Agent who Hans is impressed with. But that’s it. I had a name, and I had admiration from one of the top FBI guys in my books. I could do anything . . . and he became sort of an Eliot Ness meets Quinn Peterson (my hero from THE HUNT.) Dean is a mathematical genius and a leader in white collar crimes, a high ranking agent out of Quantico. He’s been tracking Xavier Jones for two years, and moved to Sacramento to work with the white collar crimes team (led by Sam Callahan) to finally take Jones down. As soon as he stepped out of the black SUV, I knew. He was the hero. Sorry, Sam. I hope you get a book someday . . . though I’m not 100% certain you’re going to survive this one.

So there it is, a sneak peak at my absurd and quite erratic process of . . . what? Pre-writing? I think my muse is psychotic, and does this to me to keep me on my toes.

Yet, I can see my characters and know that if I saw them on the street, I’d know them. Some writers do that for me, too. JD Robb’s Roarke and Eve Dallas . . . I would KNOW them if I met them. In fact, all her characters in that series totally pop for me. Peabody? McNab? Dr. Mira? Sommerset? Mavis? I know them all. Even Trina is a real, defined person in my mind, someone I’d recognize.

That’s what makes characters come alive for me, when they are three-dimensional. I could no more change Sam Callahan’s character than I could change one of my children.

What characters come alive for you? Who becomes real, someone you just know you’d recognize if you met them in person?