A New Character

It is always hard to invent stories. First, you have to invent people, who have to feel real, well-rounded characters with lives and motivations of their own. Then you have to create a world in which they can live, and infuse that with logic and atmosphere. Finally, you need to take those people (and the readers) on a journey in which the people can show their innermost feelings, live through excitement and danger, and experience life to the full … ideally.

This is all why I’ve spent my entire career working with the same people. No, ye Gods! Not editors! In twenty years I have worked with a total of ten editors! (No one wants to work with me for long, clearly!)

No, I mean that I have worked with a limited number of characters in my stories, in my books and (alarmingly) in my head. Baldwin and Simon were the original cast, but they grew to include Hugh and Edgar, their servants. Then wives butted in on the stories, and children too. It all started to grow a bit too rapidly for this dopey scribe.

But it gave me vast opportunities. When I wanted to look at a father’s feelings for his daughter, I had Simon and his little (then less little) girl. For thinking about marriage and love, I had Baldwin’s marriage to Jeanne. I could bring in the relevant people for any story I was working on.

However, when I set out to create my Hundred Years War trilogy, it was much more difficult. First, I had to invent a whole new cast of characters, and invest them with believable backgrounds. I had to hunt down interesting people from the period, and most of all, I had to explain what English archers and other soldiers were truly like. And without over-glorifying what were really not very nice people. Many French men and women (and children) were slaughtered in the course of the English rampage through France. Women and children were raped and murdered; whole towns were set ablaze; the rich were kidnapped and held for ransom. These English soldiers behaved in the worst imaginable manner. And yet my job is to find the humanity within them. It’s not easy.

In the past I’ve been asked whether it’s easier to keep to a series, or whether I’ve wanted to write more stand-alone stories. I can see the attraction of both, but I can promise: when you are on a tight deadline and have to write 120,000 words in a hurry, it makes life a damn sight easier to have the characters in your mind already.

The other thing is, when you have new characters for a series, you have to be careful about who you use and why. I set out with the Baldwin/Simon series thinking that I’d have Simon as the lead character. Readers soon put me straight on that one! Now, with my archers, I had decided early on that the main character would be Berenger. Who am I to argue, however, with all the readers who are telling me that it ought to be Sir John?

I’m only the flaming author, after all.

Still, thanks to all who have written to tell me how much they liked FIELDS OF GLORY. I hope you enjoy the second in the series too!



5 Responses to “A New Character”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    “It is always hard to invent stories.” You never said a truer word Michael. Stick with series. :)


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Sage words :)


  3. Old Trooper says:

    Are the readers who want ‘Sir John’ to be the main character providing their rationale for their desire? I saw your first book in the trilogy as, in large part, a story of the common soldier who fought the battles and significantly contributed with little personal gain but often a lot of sacrifice. I also saw the representatives of common people and the impact of war on them. If Sir John were the main character, the story would have to be drastically changed from what it is now. If some readers can’t see that, they want another story. I have recently been reading a series about WWII. It involves lower ranking members of Eisenhower’s staff. Eisenhower is a secondary character. If it was otherwise, the story lines would make no sense and would fail to show the impact of war on more ‘every day folks.’

    I think that it is your trilogy and you have a story line(s) in mind for a purpose. I would not allow some to take that away. If they want a story about Sir John, let them pick up a pen … as well as do the research.


    • I think the comments weren’t negative – I was just surprised that they were looking to Sir John more than others. But many people do assume that the main characters will be important people, so more likely the knights than common vinteners and others!


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