We continue with straight talk from Author TERRY ODELL, as we discuss how Terry collaborates with her characters to get her stories.

In the early going of our collaboration to create the bedrock for the audiobook of FINDING SARAH, Terry was kind enough to send along various research she had used in creating the PINE HILLS POLICE SERIES. Included were ‘interviews’ with ‘Sarah Tucker’ and ‘Randy Detweiler’, the leading lady and man for the first novel in the series, FINDING SARAH. Terry created a scenario where the characters were evaluated for the job of heroine and hero in the upcoming novel.


 KH: I believe you told me this is a technique writers sometimes use – interviewing their characters.

TO: Full disclosure here – I wrote the interviews as “job interviews”, not traditional “character interviews” and I did them after I wrote the book.  I really don’t know (or care) about the little details until I find I need them in the book. Some authors prepare detailed character studies, down to astrological sign, allergies, and who knows what. If I did that, I’d probably never write the book. But (back to full disclosure), I read some character “discussions” between characters and the author done by Suzanne Brockmann, and I loved them, so I borrowed her idea. There’s a vignette about what my characters think of me that I had fun with and it’s included in FINDING FIRE.  (A short story collection in the PINE HILLS POLICE SERIES.)

KH: The job interview with Sarah mentions a ‘reject stack’– do you have a reject stack of characters or a stack of characters that have come to mind and then you create story around them as they begin to take hold?

TO: I’ve always got ideas for characters. Sometimes it’s a bit of conversation I’ve overheard and wonder why someone would say that, so I’ll incorporate that into a character. Or, I’ll hear music and say, “Gee, how can I get two people dancing to that in a book,” and take it from there.  I’d say that the story and characters grow together. I normally have to know the characters GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) and after that, I fill in the blanks. Or they do. Sometimes they surprise me, the way Randy did. I had no idea he could play the piano until around Chapter 8 or so of the first draft. But he opened the door to the spare bedroom, and his grandmother’s piano was there, and he sat down and played.

KH: How did Sarah Tucker, the entrepreneurial shop owner of THAT SPECIAL SOMETHING – a unique, artistic gift shop and the livelihood for the heroine of FINDING SARAH – come to you?

TO: I’m an “organic” writer (fancy term for someone who doesn’t plot in advance), so I discover the character as they get into various situations.  When I started writing FINDING SARAH, all I knew about her was that she was going to be struggling to make ends meet.  For me, the big question I ask all the way through my writing is “Why?” Why is this character doing this? And that leads me backward, and I learn more about them as I go.


KH: Randy – young, TALL guy, piano player. Seems like this really sets him apart. He’s so down to earth. Where did he come from? He reminds me of my husband, Bruce Carver. He’s not a police detective and he plays percussion, but he is 6′ 6″.

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 3.05.33 PMTO: As I said, I didn’t know he played the piano, but when I wrote the scene where he played for the first time, I realized everything else I’d written about him ‘fit’ with that side of him. Mostly, I try to avoid stereotypes, so he has cats instead of big dogs, and he never played basketball. Visually, he was patterned after Peter Wingfield from my Highlander watching (and fan fiction writing) days, but those are only the broadest of brushstrokes. His real “character” to me was discovering how I could push a man who only saw things in black and white into the shades of gray when it came to doing his job.

NEXT POST we continue in dialogue with Terry Odell about her writing style and how she sees her fit in the romantic suspense genre.

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