I Created Sister Agatha. But Father Selwyn Crashed the Party.
Sister Agatha, an amateur sleuth and Anglican nun, worked alone until the end of chapter one when Father Selwyn drove up in his 1968 BMW Mini. And it was love at first sight—for me anyway, not for Sister Agatha. As it turned out, she had been
best friends with Father Selwyn for years. I just didn’t know it yet.
When I can’t write or find myself in desperate need of a break, I read about writing. Which is almost as fun as writing. And since most of my writing is character-driven (with good dose of twisty plot), I think that I have read countless blogs, books, essays,
and advice columns on developing great characters. All the
writing advice agrees on one thing--a good writer plans out a detailed description
of each character (everything from hair color to personality quirks) before
launching into writing. I took this advice to heart and before I even began the
outline to The Shadow of Death, I set out charting and planning the characters
who would inhabit Gwenafwy Abbey and the gentle village of Pryderi in North
Wales. Soon I had compiled an elaborate spread sheet filled with Welsh names,
each one paired up with sets of exhaustive traits and features from shimmering
blue eyes to luscious auburn hair to...well, you get the point.
I worked especially hard at developing my detective, Sister Agatha. Every quirk and fault, every strength and endearing quality was neatly entered into my spreadsheet before I even knew what kind of weapon the murderer had used. It was only when I had
fully described each character that I began writing. So imagine my surprise when Father Selwyn, vicar from the village church, tall and a bit frumpy, who drank Glengettie tea, enjoyed fly fishing and loved the people of his parish showed up.
He crashed my party.
And he did it without reserving a single space on my handy spreadsheet . And to my even greater surprise, I fell in love. Love at first sight. Right there on page seven. Best friends with Sister Agatha since grammar school and a beloved priest in the village, Father Selwyn has enriched the story, motivated other characters, and infused the book with a
pathos and passion I had never planned on. I can’t imagine Sister Agatha without
If you haven’t noticed, btw, I’m a plotter not a pantser. I love the process
of carefully outlining the plot, refining a synopsis, establishing timelines. I did all
that with this first novel because I believed that planning and plotting would lead
to good writing. Yet, out of the blue, something even more productive and
exciting happened—the story and characters that I was leading, began to lead me.
And when that transpired—when I began to follow them—all sorts of interesting
things began to happen.
What did I learn from this first novel in the series? I learned that when my
characters want to lead, I need to jump behind them and follow. They might just
know a better path forward.