Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

Changing Protags
By Tina Whittle

My protagonists, they are a’changing, and in some very surprising ways. As their author, I’m trying hard to keep up.

I’m working on the sixth book in my Tai Randolph and Trey Seaver series (working title: That Blankety-Blank Book). My two main characters have been solving crimes together since the first book and in a romantic relationship since the second. I’ve grown comfortable in my understanding of them and how they relate to each other.

Tai is a spitfire, a self-identified Southern redneck. She’s smart and fast and tough and assertive, sometimes to the point of aggression, and prefers taking action to thinking things over. She’s not above bending the rules if the situation requires, and then bending them back before anybody notices. Luckily for her, she’s got good instincts to balance her tendency toward recklessness. If I ever got caught in a bar fight, I’d want her by my side.

My other main character, Trey, is cut from different cloth. Equally smart and tough, he’s former SWAT and therefore prefers to operate through rules and procedures and laws. He respects authority, and he expects to be respected in turn. He’s data driven and analytical, prone to hesitation, though once he decides to act, he’s pure forward motion – no stop, no retreat, no change of direction – until the situation is rectified. If I ever got caught in a bar fight, I’d want him on my other side.

Reckoning and RuinAnd now I’ve dropped the two of them into a situation where the more latent parts of their personalities are being pulled to the forefront. Because of the trauma Tai suffered in Reckoning and Ruin – the dynamics of which are still playing out in her life as Book #6 opens – she is more guarded and protective than I’ve ever seen her. For the first time since I started writing her, she’s becoming reluctant to take on a case. She has donned her armor, and she’s going to have to be pried out of it.

Trey, however, is behaving in exactly the opposite fashion. I’ve pulled up a dark case from his past, one left painfully unresolved, and now he’s chomping at the bit to finally put some closure to this investigation once and for all. He learned some things about himself in Reckoning and Ruin, most importantly that the Big Bad of his nightmares – a psychological breakdown – isn’t really as terrifying as he once thought it would be. He’s become reacquainted with his own powers of resilience, and is ready to tackle whatever comes his way.

It’s a bit anxiety-ridden for me right now, writing characters who are surprising me on every page, even though I know the mechanisms that led them to their current states. I feel as if I’m on the edge of a high dive – exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

What about you? As a writer, do you find yourself a little nervous when your characters start behaving out of character? As a reader, do you like it when characters change and grow, or would you prefer them to stay basically the same?

Comments

  1. I think good characters can and should change as they learn from their experiences. If you are with them long enough, as you have been, change is inevitable.

    • That’s a good way to think of it — if we write intelligent people and throw conflict at them, then they will surely learn from these experiences.

  2. I like to see change and growth, but nothing too drastic. Michael Connelly moved Harry Bosch about a bit but at the heart, he was still doing what he always did. He’s a detective, and his credo –“everyone matters or nobody matters” sticks with him no matter how many changes take place in his life. I can’t wait to see what’s up next for Tai and Trey.

    • I can’t wait either! Because apparently they are going to surprise me. And you’ve probably hit the reason I’ve stuck with Bosch for so long.

  3. Sounds as though your characters have some exciting times ahead. I am finishing book 14 in my Bad Hair Day series. The hero/heroine have overcome past hangups, fallen in love, married, and now may be about to plunge down a new path. I like how they’re working together as a team to meet new challenges.

    • I am in awe of 14 books — I imagine as Marla’s author, you must feel dragged around by your own hair at times. Congrats on such a winning and long-lived series!

  4. maggietoussaint says:

    Tina, I think you nailed it with your description of being on the high dive, which is all the more terrifying for me with the resurgence of my vertigo. In the early days of writing, I wasn’t secure enough to give my characters free rein, but once it started happening (a certain character wouldn’t stay off screen as the outline dictated), my writing got a lot more interesting. I still get to control the destination (shh, don’t tell them), but the journey is lot more vulnerable. In that wonderful creative chaos is a story that’s always better than what I envisioned. So, yeah. It feels crazy to even talk about characters who change on you, but its a nice crazy.

    • I love the way you describe this — that even though you control the destination, the journey gets a lot more vulnerable. That’s nail-on-the-head right there. I can’t wait to see what’s up in your latest!

  5. Sharon McFalls says:

    Love them both they make a great team would like to see more of them and Tea’s family since her uncle is her dad see more on that back story

    • I’m currently writing a novella exploring Tai’s life in Savannah before she moved to Atlanta. It’s been strange to hang out with her then, before Atlanta, before Trey (even though I could feel him waiting in the wings the whole story) back when she was a little wilder but still a fine sleuth. And still with the heart to care about other people’s troubles. I hope you’ll look for it!

  6. Great post, Tina. And I do love Trey and Tai. As Jim said, there’s comfort in consistency ala James Bond, but people are so much more interesting when they grow and adapt.

  7. Grace Koshida says:

    Static characters get a bit boring after several books. I like to see characters develop and deal with both past and current challenges, traumas and situations. But I must admit, I think you have put both Tai and Trey through a lot in the past books!! Looking forward to the next book!

    • Tai and Trey would agree with you. And more trouble gets dished in this book. Thank you for sticking with them, and me, through it all. You are very much appreciated!

  8. There is comfort in characters who remain constant in the same way as comfort food: grilled cheese and tomato soup. But a steady diet becomes boring, and I find myself turning away from a series where the characters remain constant, but sticking with series where characters grow from their experiences.

    • That’s my readerly take too, Jim. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy your series — Seamus is always Seamus, even when he’s changing. And that’s a writerly trick to pull off.