When writing Locked Up, Charlie developed pretty quickly, and soon after I had Teddington too. But it’s a rare book indeed that survives on just two characters. Even when you only actually see two, others tend to get referenced.
And since my book is set in an overcrowded prison, I needed lots of characters and I had to know who each of them were. Some I knew better than others, and some became friends faster than I was expecting.
When I started writing the whole book was to be carried by Charlie; that he would do all the leg work, find out everything. But the reality of any real investigation is that it is a team effort and Charlie really wasn’t at liberty to go far.
Of course, Teddington was the obvious choice to assist, but even she was limited by her knowledge (or rather lack of) investigative practices.
Besides, there was Piper. DCI Piper was always going to be in the book, because procedural checks told me that the police would look into a murder inside a prison. Originally that was all he was going to do. Turn up and allow a whitewash.
Then I wrote his opening scene.
Without me really thinking about it, Charlie knew Piper, knew him well. Worked with him. Admired him. And I knew Charlie. Charlie wouldn’t admire a bent or even a lazy cop. He just wouldn’t. His instincts are good enough he wouldn’t be easily fooled either.
That changed who Piper had to be. Then I started really thinking about who he was, what he would be like, how he could help.
Suddenly Piper stepped out of the shadows.
And when Piper stepped out, Carlisle stepped out too. DS Carlisle was a bit of a surprise to me. Hadn’t expected him to be much more than a couple of “Yes, Sir”s, but he turned into way, way more. In fact, it’s Carlisle that keeps surprising me. I am currently writing book three and Carlisle has taken a path I never expected from a character originally intended to be a nothing more than a procedural prop.
Then there were the other characters; the prisoners and the prison officers. There had to be enough of them for the population to be realistic, but not so many it confused the reader. Have to admit I kind of misjudged this one and in the final edit I slashed ten characters out of existence.
Have to also say that there is one minor character in “Locked Up” that I have known for a very long time. Jack Perkins. Perkins is a grade A (insert insult of choice – they all work). He’s a misogynistic wife beater, a bully of the worse kind. I know Jack because I know his wife. I wrote two and a half books about her. They didn’t stand up to scrutiny so you’ll never meet his wife but I’ll always know her and Jack, being the “man” he is, with a back story of jail time, fit perfectly into “Locked Up”, so I used him, it’s what he’d do to any woman he had under his control. He’s still a minor character, and that is all he’s worth, but I know him very well.
I know many of the other inmates, may be not quite so well, but better than the readers will ever know them. I know what they are in for, their crime, and I know what they are in for, their fate. The readers won’t necessarily see all that because there are a lot of things that I didn’t put on the page – there is nothing worse than trawling through superfluous information that doesn’t matter. I also know that I can afford to forget these people now because they aren’t likely to crop up again; unless like Jack they are the piece that fits the puzzle, in which case, knowing the weird way my memory works, I’ll remember them, and if I don’t, they’ll knock on my skull and make me remember them.
Characters really are people, the good ones are real people, and like people, characters can surprise you. As a writer, I think that makes for better, more interesting characters, which makes for more interesting books, but you, the reader, will be the true judge of that.
While most of the intended to be minor characters stayed that way, Piper and Carlisle did not. That pair have more surprises in store and if you read the Locked series, they may surprise you too.