This week, CWC member, Margaret Barnes, uses the main character from her series of legal thrillers to test the theory that a character must change over the course of a novel.
“Most literary agents and editors tell writers their protagonist must change over the course of the story. I have asked myself whether that is a valid assumption to make. Does a character have to go on some kind of personal journey which alters them?
Because I am writing the last of a trilogy about a barrister, Cassie Hardman, I have considered a number of strands. Her profession means she has to be objective, competent, hardworking and have a strong sense of justice and empathy for her clients. Those characteristics can’t change; she wouldn’t be able to do her job if they did. Her role in the criminal trials has changed as she has become more senior. In Crucial Evidence she is the junior barrister defending a young man accused of murder with a QC. She risks her career to ensure he is acquitted.
The second novel, Reluctant Consent, sees her representing another young man accused of rape and as a leading junior in a racist murder. She is less reckless in these cases as she realises she will be applying for Silk herself soon. She also has doubts about whether she wants to continue her life as a barrister.
In the final novel, which has the working title of Legal Privilege, she is representing a defendant charged with a serious burglary. During the course of this trial she learns she has been awarded Silk, and her career path is now well defined.
The other area is her emotional life. Her story begins with her relationship with her scientist boyfriend, Ben. She is divorced and childless and she struggles with making any commitment to him. She puts work first, although she wants to continue seeing him. He’s equally hardworking and ambitious and the two of them waltz around each other. As Ben becomes more certain of his feelings for her, she backs off. While he is away at a conference she flirts with a much younger barrister who is her junior in the murder trial. This theme continues in the third novel where the relationship with Ben finally ends and she is about to start seeing another man, also a barrister, who is some years older than her.
The other question I have asked myself is what age is she? Does she age over the three novels? I think she must. To my mind, she is mid-thirties at the start and about forty at the end.
Having identified areas of Cassie Hardman’s life that do change, she doesn’t. She is still the same person as she was at the beginning. What has changed is her circumstances and her response to those.
[I was prompted to write about this by an article in the Guardian Review on 27th June. You can download it by clicking here.]”