Characters Make the Novel

My online dictionary defines a novel thus: A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.  By my own definition a novel is a fictitious story about real or imaginary characters who live in a place, either real or invented, and move in a world either based on past events or created by the author.  My previous books are both historical novels: The Lees of Menokin, in which both characters and setting are based on fact; while The Sound of Caissons, has fictitious characters living lives in real time and settings.  My latest novel, Turn on No-Bridge Road (soon to be released) has both fictitious characters and a made-up story.  But however you define it, a novel is all about the characters, and characters rule.

This past week, with No-Bridge Road being edited, and the cover art underway, I was missing having something to write about.  I began seriously thinking of a fourth novel.  No-Bridge takes place in a fictitious town, Holly Grove (loosely based on my former town of Montross), in Virginia’s Northern Neck where I spent more than a quarter of my lifetime.  Marty Glenn Taylor on the dedication page of her book The River Me, describes the Neck as “…a region bounded by the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers in eastern Virginia, a flat area intercepted by countless creeks and marshes, where time was measured by the tide and livelihood depended upon seasonable weather.”  Although she was referring to days of her childhood in this dedication to her mother, the description seems to me as apropos today as it was in the 1930s.  Life in the Neck was good for me and I have many fond memories of the area and its people.  Although we left that place almost 20 years ago, I still feel at home there and I’m comfortable writing about it.

So, knowing that the Northern Neck continues to be fertile ground for my imagination, a plot began to take form in my mind.  I’d settled on the place, but creating a new protagonist was not going to be easy.  It takes time and a lot of care to mold a new character—is he/she kind? selfish? happy? Looking for trouble?  What are the physical characteristics?  Who were the parents? The siblings?  What events influenced his/her life?  And on and on.  Then it occurred to me.  Perhaps my new story could simply evolve from the No-Bridge work—and why not the next generation of the original characters—  the twins, Kate and Tim, children of Claire and Nick Darling?   I already know them, I thought.  And I like them.  Their background in a place I know well, is already established.

By the time I had written the first few pages, I was setting the plot, excited about moving along to find out what these people I already knew were going to do about it.  Is it too much to hope my readers will share the same curiosity?  If you read No-Bridge, these people will not be strangers; if you haven’t read it, I hope my familiarity with their traits, their background, the very essence of what makes each one tick, will pull you into their lives quickly.