Nicola here, with our Ask A Wench for August. A while ago Kathleen Hendeson asked:
“I read somewhere that Jane Austen had told her family where all her major characters ended up after she had written the ending of her books… I wonder when you’re done with a book or series of books are you done with those characters or do you too know how their lives played out?”
Kat wins a copy of one of my books for her question, which has provoked some very interesting replies from the Wenches. Jane Austen may well have known what happened toall of her characters and she did of course parody the fashion for Gothic romances in Northanger Abbey but as one of the Wenches said: “I'll bet Jane didn't know there would be a zombie infestation!”
Over to the Wenches:
Cara Elliott: Unlike Jane, I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about what the future holds for my
hero and heroine. I’ve worked really hard (<G>) to get them to their HEA, and I figure I’ve given them their perfect matches, have helped them work through their conflicts, and now it’s up to them to make the most of it!
What intrigues me more are my secondary characters. Now, many of them do get their own books, but a few in particular who were meant to be background “wallflowers” have come out of the woodwork, as it were, and whispered in my ear that they had a very interesting story, if only I would listen. This recently happened in the book I just finished. Too Dangerous To Desire, which will be out in November. The heroine’s younger sister turned out to be such a fun character—and as she’s engaged to a dashing young army officer (who never actually appears in the book) I can imagine some very intriguing adventures for them. Hmmm . . .
Joanna Bourne: I am so very curious what happens to my characters after the book ends that I write up year-by-year lists of where everybody goes and what they get up to. It's all very interesting and exciting. My books wander up and down a thirty-year timeline, being written in no particular order, so the end of one book is often the beginning of another.
Maybe I return to the same folks and the same fictive world because I never want to say goodbye.
Anne Gracie: An interesting question. Usually when I've wondered about where my characters have ended up after the story is finished, it's been because a) I'm writing a connected book or b) a reader has asked me about them.
In both cases, I find I'm perfectly confident about how they are. By the time I finish a book my heroes and heroines have usually had to work pretty hard to earn their happy ending, and that happiness doesn't end with the end of the book. Otherwise I only think of them in general terms, not specific. I know, for example that most of them go on to have children, though unless I need to put it in a book, I don't always work out how many, which gender, or name them.
Mostly the questions I get from readers are about the minor characters — for instance people want to know what happened to the children the heroine was caring for at the beginning of TALLIE'S KNIGHT. This message was sent to me only a couple of weeks ago:
"Please please make up a story to help little Georgie and his sisters escape or revenge their horrid mother, Laetitia. A little, short story will do! It's just that, time and again, I reach the end of Tallie's Knight and think – what about Georgie?? Help him, poor mite!”
Apart from reassuring readers that Georgie and his sisters are fine and Georgie is growing up to become a fine hero, I have no further details. I've had similar questions about the hero's little sisters in PERFECT KISS — Cassie and Dorie — and my PERFECT KISS book was actually written in response to reader requests for the story of Grace, the youngest of the Merridew sisters. And I can't tell you how many requests I've had for Marcus's story, from the Devil Riders series.
But in those cases, though I might have an idea of what happens to them after the book, it's not until I come to write the story that I really know what happens. I just hope I get to write those stories one day and then I'll find out — and let you know.*g*
I think most authors have experienced similar things — readers bond with characters and want to know more — they don't want to leave the world. I'm the same. I reread Eva Ibbotson's Countess Below Stairs (aka The Secret Countess) recently and found myself hoping little Ollie grew up to marry a really wonderful hero — and I wondered if it might be Peter, the heroine's young brother. It's irresistible, I think.
Pat Rice: "One of the truly brilliant elements of a series is the ability to see what the characters are doing in the years after they get together! I loved writing the Magic series and playing with the possibility of what kind of children the magical Malcolms and genius Ives would produce. And now I can write about the children of their children in the contemporary Magic series. I really don't know how their lives play out unless I write them."
Mary Jo Putney: I have a generalized sense that my characters lead long, happy, and healthy lives, and die peacefully in bed together in their 80s or something like that. They love each other deeply, are happily monogamous, and while life will toss them some curve balls, they have the ability to deal with whatever comes their way.
But they don’t all just sit around on an estate for the rest of their lives. The heroes who are in the House of Lords work for reformist legislation like child protection laws and Catholic Emancipation bills. The heroines are probably starting schools on their estates. In the case of the heroine of No Longer a Lady, she’s founding battered women shelters through the Methodist Church because she was a battered wife, and the Methodists were (and are) famously involved in social welfare.
In other words, my characters are part of the life of their times. They grow, they learn, and they care about their communities. As has been said by other Wenches, a series does give one a glimpse of what other characters are doing. This was most noticeable in my Circle of Friends contemporary trilogy, where the characters had well defined careers: Kate continues to blow up buildings, Rainey is still producing movies, and lawyer Val is still providing justice for little guys against big guys.
But as Anne said, the most queries come from people who are interested in what happens to secondary characters. (Being romance readers, they understand that the heroes and heroines are living happily every after. <G>) I’ve lost count of how many readers who are wondering rather anxiously if there will be more Lost Lords books, and surely I wasn’t going to stop with a trilogy, was I? No, of course not. I’m just as interested in finding out what happened to those secondary characters as they are!
Jo Beverley: As all but one of my books are in linked series, I clearly do like to see how my characters go on, and as I've not finished a series yet, I haven't had to deal with that. I only follow them as far as the next books take them, however. I'm not interested in imagining their middle age or death, or following their children.
As a reader I often play out the story a little bit longer, imagining how it might go on.
Susan King: I'll finish a book and keep on thinking about the characters, though to be honest, I don't wonder too much about my romance characters — I feel certain that they'll all live happy, productive, unique and wonderful lives together. In subsequent stories, a peek in their direction always shows that they're content and doing just fine. I guess it's the characters who aren't doing fine, the current heroes and heroines of stories, that capture my attention a bit more — though it's fun to bring in the others to advise the newer book couples!
I did wonder what became of Lady Macbeth, as it's anyone's guess with no documents in existence. So I continued her story in Queen Hereafter, Margaret's book — and still was left thinking about her. I imagine that she remained a bit of a rebel in that tough world, never giving in to convention. Maybe she finally married Ruari, the warrior who had stayed loyally and quietly by her side through her two marriages — he was always straightforward with her, and she trusted him with her life (and I did my best to push them together in the sequel!). Maybe she studied more magic — I'm sure she would have delved deeper into that.
As for Queen Margaret, we know what became of her, though my novel ended sooner rather than later in
her life: she had more children with Malcolm Canmore for a total of eight healthy kids (remarkable for back then), and she continued to push herself in every way, compromising her health with rigorous fasts and long, prayerful nights without sleep.
Nicola: The other Wenches have just about said it all. I too have a general feeling that my characters will all live long and happy lives – although not without bumps along the road because which of us don’t have those? I love writing linked series and developing the stories of the secondary characters and I love it when readers ask for these. Lady Emma’s Disgrace, the short story that is currently being serialised on my website, arose directly as a result of so many readers writing to tell me that Emma, a secondary character in Notorious and Desired, definitely deserved her own happy ending.
As a reader I do sometimes speculate about the fate of the characters, particularly if a book or character makes a very vivid impression on me, and when I was an aspiring author I did the fan fiction thing of developing the stories I loved in my own head, in my own way!
What about you? Do you ever wonder about the future lives of the hero and heroine of a particular book? Do you have favourite secondary characters whose stories you would like told?