Deb Kelly’s Characters are Fatherless Children

Don’t read too much into this but there are no dads in my books so far. They aren’t bad or absentee or off at work. They just don’t exist. In THE GOOD LUCK GIRLS OF SHIPWRECK LANE the two main characters, Janey and Nean, are both fatherless from day one, don’t know who their dads are, don’t give it much thought on the page. Sure, there is a whole prequel to be had in the story of how they dealt with those circumstances, but that’s not the stuff of this particular book.

In the box-under-the-bed manuscripts I wrote in the years before I was ready to write my debut, dads didn’t play a huge part either. This is not because I have a personal problem with dads. Dads are great! I love mine. My problem with dads is much more systemic: they’re not moms. In other words, they are men, and I like to write about women. That’s just who I am as a writer right now. Maybe always, who knows.  Lucky for me (Hm) women have been so subverted for so long that I can do this and not worry about sexism.

My dear old dad at 3 years old. I love this picture because it perfectly illustrates the Harms family motto: Stalwart from Birth.
My dear old dad at 3 years old. I love this picture because it perfectly illustrates the Harms family motto: Stalwart from Birth.

After I wrote GOOD LUCK GIRLS, I wrote a book about twins. Both of their parents died in a fire. They were raised by their… grandmother. Then I started one about a woman whose father took off when she was a baby and whose mom held it together by one particular and rather delicious obsession. Now I’m working on one about a woman solo parenting (I’m writing myself a whole ‘nother dad-less generation) while setting her little world on fire, and I was getting into this slump as you do when you’re a writer in that murky land between the first chapter and the last. I was stuck on her background and how she ended up in this particular set of circumstances and who would stand by her when she was alienating the world left and right and center.

Then I started to think about this week’s topic, and it hit me: I could, um, give this poor single woman a father! My dad is the sort of person you can look to in your lowest moment, no matter what came before; why shouldn’t she have the same thing? It simply never occurred to me. For those of you who are fans of Noah Lukeman’s books on writing, you are probably going to smack me upside the head next time you see me and I get it, I really do. Shouldn’t I have spent six weeks writing her character bio and background before starting this book and wading right into plot with a person I barely know?

Eh, maybe. I got there eventually. There will have to be some serious rewriting if I decide to go this route. But let’s face it, there’s always going to have to be some serious rewriting, even when you’re a decider instead of an investigator. Expedient, my system ain’t. But the nice thing about my wandering ways on the page is that when inspiration comes–be it from a blog post, a movie, a quiet moment just before I fall asleep, I can chase it as far down as it wants to go. And when the answer to a sticky moment arrives, there’s no pesky “outline” or “background” to keep you from using it.

What about you, fellow writers? Are you a decider or an investigator? And is it because you were born that way or because of a conscious decision on your part?

2 Replies to “Deb Kelly’s Characters are Fatherless Children”

  1. Oh, I am definitely an investigator!! And I love that term so much better than pantser. In fact, I think I’ll borrow it, if you don’t mind!! I investigate down all sorts of side roads and have found that most of the time that’s where the gold lies. 🙂

  2. My characters come to me trailing their baggage behind them. I don’t think too much about it until I need to, because the most important people in their lives seem to make themselves known. One of the hardest things for me to learn when I started writing fiction was that every character doesn’t have to have a village around them all the time. They can exist alone if that suits the story. In my WIP, Falling Into Place, the main character has parents but they don’t play a big role. I knew that right away because she has a substitute mother figure who is prominent in the story.

    I love this post, it makes me think. But it does not make me want to go work out all the character details first. WHEW!

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