Hook, Line and Linker

linked charactersDuring my twenty-eight years of writing, I’ve heard plenty of advice from other authors. One tidbit stands out: tighten the relationship between characters. I know exactly where (in Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel) and when (1995, as I wrote Reflection) I read this suggestion. It’s stayed with me all these years and I draw on it with every book I write.

I thought of how critical that piece of advice is recently, as I read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In The Thirteenth Tale, the young female narrator is tasked with writing the biography of a popular elderly author. I would have found it difficult to care about either character, strangers to one another, had Setterfield not found a way to tie them together. She did this by making each woman a surviving twin: the elderly author had lost her twin in a fire, while the narrator had been a Siamese twin at birth, losing her sister during the surgery that separated them. The powerful impact “twinhood” had on each woman links them together and makes the story truly work.

When I was writing Reflection, one of my central characters, Michael, was in conflict with the town’s mayor, a woman. That was fine. But as I read Zuckerman’s book, I realized I could make the conflict better than fine: I made the mayor Michael’s cousin, instantly upping the tension as they butt heads during the story. In my recent reissue, The Courage Tree, the aging actress and the lost little girl seem to have completely unconnected storylines until their stories–and their survival–become inextricably linked. In my most recent novel, Secrets She Left Behind, the links are everywhere! Some of them surprised even me.

In my upcoming (November) re-release, Breaking the Silence, the major link is a mystery: A woman’s dying father asks her to take care of a stranger, an elderly woman with Alzheimers. Readers won’t know what the link is between the elderly woman and the protaganist’s father, but they’ll know it must exist and (I hope) they’ll want to keep turning the pages to discover exactly what it is.   

I’m thinking about this advice now as I work on the revisions of  my June 2010 book, The Lies We Told. The two central characters are linked not only by virtue of being sisters, but also because they’re doctors and even moreso because they shared the same harrowing situation from their adolescence.

As a writer, it’s fun to come up with new and intriguing ways to tie characters together, knowing that each link will pull the reader deeper into the story. If you’re a writer, think of how you can create new links between your characters. And if you’re a reader. . . just sit back and enjoy the story!


  1. Denise on September 17, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    I love it when you know there must be a link between certain characters but are made to wait a while before you know exactly what that link is. I remember that being especially true in *Breaking the Silence.* I was dying to know how the elderly woman was related to the protaganist’s father, and you made me wait a long time before I found out. Lol

  2. Margo on September 18, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Diane, one of the things I love about your writing is how you connect characters to one another…many times we don’t find out how one person relates to another until later in the book and that’s what makes the whole picture so intriguing. I’ll never forget HER MOTHER’S SHADOW, the 3rd book in the KEEPER TRILOGY and the huge surprise we discover between 2 characters that were introduced in the original Book 1…I think you surprised yourself with that one! Anyone who has not read these books, be sure and read them in order…KEEPER OF THE LIGHT, KISS RIVER and the 3rd being HER MOTHER’S SHADOW.

  3. Gina on September 19, 2009 at 11:06 am

    As a reader, I will definitely sit back and enjoy. Keep doing what you’re doing Diane. Your books are wonderful. I’m excited about your new book coming out in June. I particularly love stories involving sisters so I’m real anxious about reading this one.

  4. Diane Chamberlain on September 19, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Gina, this “sister book” is one of the most challenging I’ve written (I think I say that every time, though. LOL). The sisters are so different and I want the reader to root for both of them. I think this will be a good book for book club discussions, because nothing is black and white.

  5. Gina on September 19, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Stop that. You are getting me WAY too excited Diane!! Oh, I can’t wait for it. :-))))

  6. brenda on September 19, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Can’t wait…

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