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Valerie Biel on Creating Characters

Valerie Biel is one of my fellow Blackbird Writers. She writes a series for middle school readers based on ancient and modern Irish culture.

Valerie Biel

One of the best parts of being an author is the freedom to create diverse casts of characters. I like combining characters of different ages or characters from different eras. In my Circle of Nine series, I combine historical chapters and modern chapters. The main character in these novels is a modern teen in the United States, but the historical characters (her ancestors) are Irish and range in age from teen to elderly. And one of my middle-grade novels is set at a senior living center, combining a cast of pre-teens with octogenarians.

This is why my rejection letters often said, “While I enjoyed the story and characters, I am not certain how to market this.” Oh, the horror! What shelf should this book live on?!? The good news is that my books have managed to live on many shelves, and I have had no problem marketing my titles to a broad audience of readers.

Writing age-diverse characters within the same novel or series is not always easy. In the Circle of Nine series, two of my favorite characters are roughly the same age but live more than 550 years apart. They have so many similarities, including sharing the same magical heritage as descendants of the Tuatha de Danann—a legendary founding tribe of Ireland. But, their reactions to challenges and their overall life experience is very different.

With one character living in medieval Ireland and the other in the modern-day USA, their decisions and viewpoints are informed by the era in which they live, and the constraints placed upon females in that era. Reactions are different because their options and choices are impacted by the reality of their worlds, even if their hopes and dreams are the same.  

And truly their desires aren’t that different. Both Dervla living in mid-1400s and Brigit living in the 2000s want to fit in with the others around them and they both (desperately) want to control their own destiny. Brigit, living in the modern world has the most freedom to chart her own course, while Dervla is at the mercy of her brother who has decided to arrange a marriage for her.

But, while you would assume that Brigit has all the advantages by living in modern times, that isn’t completely the case. In Dervla’s world, while not everyone is an enthusiastic supporter of mysticism and magic, at least she doesn’t suffer much societal rebuke for practicing these “old ways.”  In Brigit’s world, her mother is looked upon as a freak and is the subject of gossip that has followed Brigit her whole life, keeping her mostly on the fringe of others the same age. These different experiences have a big impact on how they embrace their magical heritage when learning of it for the first time.

My goal was to make these characters’ desires, wishes, and hopes very relatable, even with the many decades that separate their lives. There are so many characters that have stuck with me long after reading their stories. I only hope that the characters I’ve created do the same for those reading my books.

You can find out more about Valerie Biel on her website ValerieBiel.com, and find information on buying the first book in the series here.

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