Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more
My second cold reader, who read the third draft of the novel, had much the same reaction.
Both Susan and Mims, however, made it clear that they were on board to see what was going to happen next in the life of Thomas Lynley although they did want to know why I had made the decision to eliminate one of my five central cast members and to do so in such a brutal and unexpected manner.
Because this is a question that I encountered often on my national book tour—both for With No One as Witness and for the follow-up novel to it, What Came Before He Shot Her —I want to give readers who perhaps did not have the ability or opportunity to come to one of my book signings in the US, England, Germany, and Austria the chance to read a bit about the process I went through to make the decision to eliminate Helen.
To understand that decision, the first thing you need to consider is the two alternatives available to a writer when she decides to create a series that features continuing characters. A series like this can be approached by freezing the characters in time, place, and circumstance.
Or it can be approached by allowing the characters to grow, change, develop, and move through time. Characters who have been frozen in time, place, and circumstance are best exemplified by Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes with the obvious exception of that trip over the waterfalland Dr.
More simplistically, perhaps, Nancy Drew is frozen in time, place, and circumstance, eternally that seventeen- or eighteen-year-old girl in the roadster that became a sports car. Poirot and Miss Marple do not change from one novel to the next; nothing in their lives changes; they are sleuths who take the reader on a journey through a crime.
So the writer trots her out in every novel, no matter if her presence is called for by the storyline or not. The problem here is that the writer is going to run out of Italian recipes and ribald comments for poor Aunt Maria Lucia eventually and, if and when that happens after a few years, the character herself is going to become as tired and lifeless as her oil pizza.
On the other hand, when the main characters are not frozen in time, place, and circumstance, the reader is given a lot more to deal with and care about.
The writer endeavors to make the sleuths real people undergoing a real human experience. The writer also attempts to bring to full life the characters most intimately affected by the crime, beyond the continuing characters.
These novels are about character. Early on and prior to writing my very first attempt at the British crime novel, I made the decision to create that second kind of series, allowing my characters to grow and change through time. I did this for one reason only: I like to write the kinds of books that I like to read.
Rather, I like my reading experience to expose me to people in their misery, their happiness, their trials, and their triumphs. These are characters who reflect what William Faulkner once said all characters should reflect: Now, having embarked on a series in which the characters do not remain static in any respect, the writer has to make certain that every change she brings about in her novels is a change that opens the story up, not one that closes the story down.
Soap opera writers have understood this concept forever: When John and Mary—after an agonizing seven-year courtship—finally seal the deal, you can depend upon something coming up fairly soon to destroy their marital bliss.
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