When a Character Takes Over...
How a character takes over your keyboard and thus, your story.
Most authors plot out their books before they sit down to write. I respect that. I really do. But what I have learned is it’s often a waste of time. Because ultimately, the characters will take over your story. It’s not necessarily a coup, it’s more they just step onto the stage and stay there. And you realize you want them to.
In Murder at Barclay Meadow, the first in the Rosalie Hart mystery series, I had a few minor characters I added with the purpose of contributing to the local color, maybe give the story some atmosphere and authenticity to the setting.
The series begins when Rosalie, who has just learned of her husband’s affairs, abandons her life in Chevy Chase and flees to Barclay Meadow, the farm and very old house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland her dear Aunt Charlotte had bequeathed to her. The farm had been in their family for generations. But when Charlotte died two years before, Rosalie, at the encouragement of her husband Ed, planned to eventually sell it.
Not long after her arrival, feeling lost and alien as ET, she decides to reclaim her life and, well, for starters, go for a run.
I stopped abruptly, skidding in the gravel. I yanked on the ear buds and threw my iPod on the ground. “No!” I covered my mouth. Bruce Springsteen had begun the intro to Rosalita. Ed and I danced to the song at our wedding. He used to call me that—Rosalita—when he was feeling affectionate. I pushed the heels of my hands over my eyelids. When had he stopped? My mind raced. When had he stopped?
It took a few seconds before a sandy-haired man came into focus. “Who are you?” I brushed a tear from my cheek.
“Tyler Wells,” he said as if I should already know.
Enter stage left.
He was tall with wide shoulders and wore a denim shirt, the rolled up sleeves exposing muscular forearms. A chocolate Labrador with graying fur was planted next to him. I glanced around, remembering how isolated I was. The nearest neighbor was a half mile down the road. There were no sounds of traffic, not even an airplane overhead. The only noise, other than my panting, was a red-winged blackbird sitting on a fencepost clearly taken with the sound of his trilling.
“This is private property, Tyler.” I looked up at him. His face was tan and slightly weathered. His vivid green eyes held my gaze.
He pulled a boxy cap lower on his head. “You running this place?”
“Yes.” I shrugged. “Sort of. But why are you standing in my driveway?”
“Doris said you were finally putting this land back to work.”
“Doris Bird—Birdie’s Shoe Store.” He crossed his arms tight to his chest. Biceps bulged under his shirt. “Unless you’ve leased it to someone else.”
“Honestly? I was kind of hoping everyone would forget about that.”
He narrowed his laser beam eyes. “Ma’am?”
“Why are you calling me Ma’am? I may be cresting the hill but something tells me you’re getting there too. And just how did you get here? I don’t see a vehicle. It’s like ‘poof’ all of a sudden you and your dog are in front of me.”
“My truck is at the end of the lane.”
“Why didn’t you drive up to the house?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“Well, you took me by surprise.”
He shifted his weight, kicking up a puff of dust. “And who are you, exactly?”
“I’m Rosalie Hart, Charlotte’s niece.” I put my hands on my hips. “Wait a minute…Tyler. I remember that name. You leased these fields from my aunt, didn’t you?”
He gave his head one sharp nod.
“She used to talk about you.” I stared down at the gravel. “She liked you very much.” I huffed out a sigh and looked up at him, taking in his rugged good looks. “I don’t suppose you’d like some coffee?”
I started toward the house. Tyler followed with the dog trotting at his side. Gravel crackled under his boots. Why did the Marlboro Man have to show up when I was in spandex?
And that was it. He stole the show and my heart. At every book club I attended the first question, once the attendees learned there was a sequel, Death at the Day Lily Café, was, what happens with Tyler???
At one book club comprised of lovely, intelligent, enthusiastic millennials, a woman asked her friends, “Who should play Tyler in the movie?”
The answers ranged from Brad Pitt to Ryan Gosling. I totally agreed.
“What happens with Tyler in Death at the Day Lily Café?” they asked.
“Tyler isn’t going anywhere,” I said. “He set it up that way.”