Why My Favorite Character Went in the Drawer

Katherine Longshore 4 Tuesday, May 31, 2011
“On guard!” I shouted, holding my stick sword in front of me.  My mom told me once that what the three Musketeers actually say is something in French, but I couldn’t remember what it was, and it sounded like “on guard”, so I said it that way.  Besides, it makes sense, doesn’t it?  If I’m going to come at you with a sword, you’d better be on guard.
And so began my first novel for children.  A middle grade time-travel adventure about a classic movie-loving ten-year-old who discovers that his best friend is actually Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower, supposedly murdered by Richard III in 1483. 

I loved this book.  I loved the character, Henry, and how his voice literally sprang to the page.  I loved the quirky things he said and did.  I loved throwing in little nuggets of fact that only a well-read historian would find humorous, but it tickled me to write them.

When I wrote this book, I had no idea what character arc was.  I don’t think I even understood plot and crisis points.  I understood the ticking clock.  I understood raising the stakes.  But the book was episodic and a little esoteric with its Errol Flynn narrator and not-so-humorous asides about Thomas Howard (ten years old in 1483, but grew up to be the Duke of Norfolk, who features in GIRL IN A DIAMOND COLLAR.  I’m nothing if not eco-friendly, recycling characters).

I entered the book in the Nevada SCBWI mentorship program and climbed an incredibly steep learning curve toward the actual crafting of a novel.  But the more I worked, the more the story seemed to fall apart.  And I fell with it.

And then a brilliant children’s book author published a time-travel adventure about a boy who finds out his best friend is actually Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower, supposedly murdered by Richard III in 1483.  She didn’t write the classic movie-loving bit.  But it was close enough for me.


But I learned from the writing.  I learned that I love it.  The joy of sitting down every day with a living, breathing character at my fingertips.  Finding terrible things to happen that would raise the stakes for the poor kid.  Researching the history, the layout of the Tower of London, the sequence of events that led to the belief that the two boys – the King’s own nephews – were dead.  The glee at finding a way to save them – and Richard III – from the fate history had dealt them. 

Not to mention discovering plot and character arc.

Sometimes we need a practice novel.  At least, I did.  I needed something to play with, to struggle over, to ruin.  To love.

If that other book hadn’t been published, I might still be trying to shop this one.  I might still be afraid it isn’t good enough.  It broke my heart when that book came out.  But it gave me the push I needed to move into an actual historical novel.  And YA.  And I fell in love all over again.  This is the beauty of what we, as writers, do.  We can fall in love with every project.  With every character.  It’s self-perpetuating. 

Aren’t we lucky?


First of all, I can't believe someone had the same idea about a kid who discovers his friend is the Duke of York. Freakish! But that kind of thing seems to happen fairly often. (I think there are 4 or 5 YA books out this year that play on the Hades-Persephone myth. Weird, no?) But it's so awesome that you persevered and came up with a new idea that was more polished and had more potential. We are so lucky we get to do this job. Most days are rough, but the ones that are sheer pleasure make up for it!

You said it, Eve: "We are so lucky we get to do this job." Even the rough days are worth it (though I might not have said so last week...)

I am so glad you rose from your heartbreak and found new characters (or recycled old characters) to love. It has been inspiring to watch you go from that hard, hard moment to writing something new and to having that something new break through.

Thanks, KJ! It has certainly been quite a ride.

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