When I brew a new book, I always spend lots of time with the characters, getting to know them and working out what makes them tick. However, sometimes characters simply appear of their own accord, marching onto the pages and demanding a role that I didn’t plan for them. This happened when I was writing Paternoster, and I ended up not only with a character who had a significant role in that story, but who has insisted on being a part of every other Eden Grey novel. When people read Paternoster, they’re often amazed to find I didn’t plan Lisa Greene from the beginning. She seems to be such an integral part of the story that people say, “But you must have planned her.” I didn’t. This is what happened.
I write out a record card for every scene in a new book and a record card for every character. On the scene cards, I write whose point of view it’s to be in, the hook, the pace and tone, and any snatches of dialogue or description that I want to include. This method helps me to keep (sort-of) on track without it being planned so meticulously there’s no adventure in writing it. It leaves enough space for surprises and new directions, and Lisa took advantage of that space. For a start, there’s no character card for her. Not even simply her name on a blank card. Secondly, the scene in which she first appears doesn’t have a card, either.
My plan was to have a short scene in which an unnamed forensic anthropologist takes a look at the skeletons that have been found, gives a short report on the state of the bones and what killed the victims. She was unnamed because she was never going to appear again and there’s a rule in writing that if you name a character, you have to do something with them. Give a character a name and readers latch on to them and wait for them to reappear or be relevant in some way to the plot. I planned a scene that was short and factual, just there to drop a couple of clues.
Lisa had other ideas. Sometimes when I’m writing, I’m simply recording what I can see and hear; it doesn’t feel as though I’m consciously making anything up. One moment I was writing about the skeletons laid out on gurneys and Lisa was giving her professional opinion, next thing she was flirting like mad and it was obvious there was history between her and Aidan. I carried on writing, mentally crying out, “What’s going on? Do you two know each other?” It became apparent that they did know each other. Very well indeed.
By this stage I felt as though I was scampering to keep up. Lisa had hijacked the scene and was demanding her own subplot. Now I had two noisy characters on my hands: Aidan, who frankly never shuts up and routinely has to be threatened with heights, enclosed spaces or being turned ginger in order to get some peace; and Lisa, a person who always gets her own way. She’s rude, opinionated, and sharp; an absolute delight to write. Whenever I put the two of them onstage together, I don’t have to think; they just start sparring.
This was all a huge amount of fun, but each character has to have a purpose. For Lisa, throughout the three Eden Grey books (Paternoster, Holy Blood and the forthcoming Devil’s Chimney), her role is to cast doubt on Aidan’s relationship with Eden. It’s Lisa who asks where Eden grew up, where she went to university, if she has siblings, why she became a private investigator: all questions that Aidan can’t answer and that cause him to wonder why he knows so little about Eden. His jealousy primed, ultimately he goes in search of answers. For the protagonist Eden, it serves to underline her isolation and how vulnerable she is that she cannot reveal her true identity, even to those closest to her.
Sometimes I wonder what’s next for Lisa. It’s great to write a character who is single minded and ruthless, and I toy with the idea of creating a story where she’s the protagonist. Being centre stage, all eyes on her, the heroine of her own story. She’d like that.
Paternoster has been re-issued and is available for pre-order here. The new edition will be published on 16th December 2019.
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Kim Fleet lives and works in Cheltenham. Her two cats help the creative process by standing on the delete key.