Every story needs a great protagonist. Someone who’s relatable and who keeps readers invested. It also needs a great contender. A force, whether natural, supernatural or human. In AND THEN THERE’S MARGARET, it’s Margaret. She’s the force that creates much of the conflict and chaos for our protagonist, Allison Montgomery (Allie).
I wanted to write this story in first person, so that readers could join Allie in the rollercoaster ride of dealing with the challenges of a twenty-year-old marriage, her burgeoning midlife crisis, and her grieving mother-in-law, Margaret, moving in. Like the increasing number of light-hearted dramas that feature older & wiser, but still fun & cheeky protagonists, I also wanted the voice for AND THEN THERE’S MARGARET to be relatable, genuine and accessible readers.
Once I was clear on the voice, I had to get to know Allie. Who is she? What makes her tick? What rattles her? Overwhelmed by all the possibilities, I created a character sketch of Allie that included a rough outline of her physical description, as well as a whole list of positive and negative personality and emotional traits, too. Did it help? Yes, but honestly, I didn’t always stick to the outline. With some additional research, some observations (aka, people watching) and, of course, some musings, I let her evolve from the first chapter onward.
I wanted Allie to be relatable and flawed. She’s human, with all the anxieties, quirks and ambitions that go with this crazy, bewildering, and even strangely exciting stage of life. I know this is what connects me, and I’m sure many others, to any character, whether from a book, movie, or series. If I’m not invested in the characters and able to escape with them into their world, then I’m quick to tune out and move on.
Interestingly enough, I received some criticism from my beta readers, about Allie’s character, after I gave them the first draft of the novel. They felt that Allie was a bit too snarky and unsympathetic. As trusted friends, colleagues and like-minded members of the “hen-lit demo”, I embraced their feedback. I didn’t hesitate one bit and went back to the drawing board to make Allie a little softer around the edges. I tried to project more of the internal struggles she was having with her marriage and midlife, and the external ones she was having with her prickly, turbulent relationship with Margaret.
Although AND THEN THERE’S MARGARET really lives in the present, I still had to create a back-story for Allie, including thinking about an “Allie” before marriage and an “Allie” in the honeymoon phase. Before marriage and honeymoon phase Allie didn’t want a “grown up” job or kids that would tie her down. But life happened and both of those things came along, which led to a version of “Allie” where she had to adjust to a new reality. This was one with Margaret stepping in and providing a much-needed extra set of hands but also using that to get her claws in for good.
It was fun seeing Allie evolve, especially those times when anxiety and stress got the best of her. I really enjoyed the process of going back in, several times actually, to rewrite her character based on the actions of others. And it wasn’t just Margaret that “triggered” her. Her husband Hank and her two children, Samantha and Cameron, are all a part of the trials and tribulations that make up Allie’s day-to-day life.
Did I have a clear vision of what Allie exactly looked like physically? Yes and no. It actually changed several times. At one time, I had Kathryn Hahn in mind. Then it was Toni Collette on my script board. I guess I did have clarity on the color of her hair. When Allie gets a new hairstyle and after spending twenty minutes trying to style it like they did in the salon, her inner voice says I look like a blond version of Peter Pan.
I hope that readers will sympathize with, and support Allie as she struggles to adapt to the changes going on around her. I hope they’ll also cheer her on as she tries to find happiness and fulfillment – which isn’t always easy, especially with Margaret’s on-going, shall we say, guidance and support…
To join Allie on a relatable and often hilarious ride, order your copy today!
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