How I Came Up With The Preacher’s Daughter

the-preachers-daughter.jpgReaders often ask how writers come with with stories, so I thought I’d share the process for one of mine.

I had wanted to write a story for Benjamin Chaney for a long time.  We saw him as a boy in The Doctor’s Wife and again at seventeen in The Lawman’s Bride.  Because of his past, I knew that a relationship with a woman would be difficult for him–especially the physical aspect.  And I wanted to develop his growth and see him become the man I knew he could be.  But all along I knew it would take a special woman to break through those barriers of the past and show him he was worthy of love. 

benjamin-chaney3.jpgOccasionally I would ruminate on Benjamin’s predicament, but the right time was coming.  When I decided it was time to write his story, I developed it the way I always do.  I start with a grid on which I chart the characters, one for each of them, and I listed the things I knew about him.  He’s competent and stubborn and inside he’s filled with anger.  His motivation is all about sex and self-control.  In his eyes passion is a weakness.  He has sworn to honor and respect women.  He’s kindhearted, but jaded.  He knows the dark and seedy side of life and feels tainted.  He has to learn how to be a man, the good man he wants to be. 

A woman would have to come along of course.  A woman who would challenge his strictly held beliefs and rattle his all-important self-control.  Being a good man has been easy until now.  Until this woman.  So who would she be? 

After much deliberation I came up with three possibilities.  I drew three columns on a sheet of paper and headed each one. 

Prostitute’s Daughter.  Preacher’s Widow.  Preacher’s Daughter.

Under each heading I listed the reasons she would create emotional conflict for Ben.  The prostitute’s daughter was obvious–his mother was a prostitute.  This person’s seen as much dirt as he has.  She’s the last woman he’d ever want.  All good.  The Preacher’s Widow didn’t have much going for her.  She provided another man for Ben to compare himself, to, but that’s about it.  The preacher’s daughter on the other hand had a list: She’s untouched, pure and innocent; He’d place her on a pedestal; She’s his heart’s desire; He’s see in her all he values; He’d believe she was perfect; He’d feel unworthy; She grew up in a life he only dreamed of.  Oh, yes…. 

My working title was The Perfect Wife.  (Great title, and Victoria Alexander just made #1 on the NYT list with her story by that name!) 

lorabeth-holdridge.jpgHer name came next.  Prudence was obvious, but not pretty.  I liked Carrie because it was sweet.  But Lorabeth…now there’s a name that brings a picture to mind.  You can almost see her by her name, can’t you?  She’s hungry for love and affection — love he’s doesn’t know how to give.  She’s passionate — eek!  She’s impulsive and expressive, warm and emotionally intense.  Thirsty for life.  Her greatest fear is that she’ll only wanted and loved because she’s perfect. 

I found my perfect visuals, a picture of him and a picture of her that hung above my desk.  And then I placed the two of them together and let them develop their story.  It was a delightful experience.  Once I created and defined Ben and Lorabeth, they did all the work.  Er, sort of…

cheryl_stjohn_logo.jpgI’m giving an autographed copy away to one of you today.  If you already have The Preacher’s Daughter, I’ll fill in a book from my backlist that you don’t have.  I’ll draw names tonight.  Simply comment to have your name in the fish bowl.

 Are you excited to hear the winner of the Spring Round Up Contest?

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36 thoughts on “How I Came Up With The Preacher’s Daughter”

  1. Cher- I bet you had a hand in developing their story 🙂 But I find it fascinating how many authors get pics to use for visuals. I’ve tried that and it takes me Forever to find what I’m looking for and at times, I give up. They are in my head and then I put down their visual attributes on paper – dimples, heartshaped mouth, etc and I get a fuzzy image of them and I go from there. Often I’m asked to put a face to my hero and I come up with the same few guys, Matthew Fox, Josh Holloway (both hunks from Lost) and Tim Daly (did you see him in The Outsider?) Christian Bale comes to mind too.

    Hope your boy feels better soon!

  2. I’m like that on occasion, Charlene, where there isn’t a photo that will do, but for the most part I use pictures. I do love Tim Daly as a visual.

    I’m taking The Boy to school in a few minutes, since he seems to have recovered completely after keeping us up half the night. He did need to sleep in, bathe, and basically have have some extra TLC. So he’ll be there half the day at least. Second grade moves so FAST, we don’t want him to miss anything.

  3. I love the pictures of your characters. They seem to catch the essence of their names. I’m curious as to who won the Spring Round Up Contest as well.

  4. Cheryl, I LOVED “The Preacher’s Daughter!” You had me on the first page all the way to the end. I absolutely ached for Benjamin. His childhood was so wretched and that one incident damaged him almost beyond redemption. I’m glad you helped him find a way to love because that saved him. Thanks for sharing the inception of the story. It’s always interesting to me how other writers create their stories.

    Very interesting! Hope your boy is doing okay. 🙂

  5. Hi. Cheryl, I like hearing about the process, the character charts and the pictures. I do this somewhat, not usually pictures, though once in a while someone comes really clear to me.

    In Golden Days, from the very first my feisty, self-sufficient little half Tlingit heroine looked like Kristin Kreuk who is Lana Lang on Smallville. I liked having a character that clear in my head.

  6. I sounds like a great story. I liked how you described why you chose the title. It makes it sound more interesting.

  7. Susan, we’re all on pins and needles!

    Thank you so much, Linda. Yes, my boy is okay – very okay now. He was feeling well enough to play his keyboard and sing, eat and get green marker on himself after I’d just given him a shower. LOL Then – he set an alarm that went off after he was gone and I was back home. What a kid.

  8. Hi Cheryl, I’m always curious how authors come up with a story. I think it’s great how you had the characters “right there with you” while you were writing. I’ve heard other authors refer to it as “I was living in my head during such and such a time while I was writing the story.” Describing the background behind your characters makes me really want to read this book. Thanks for an interesting post!

  9. Mary, I love it when I have a vusual to look at when I describe how the other character sees that one.

    Hi Rebekah! We never get too attached to titles. They often get changed on the way through the process. I’ve been really fortunate with titles, though.

  10. Hi Za! Thanks for chiming in! Glad you enjoyed hearing the creative process. It’s rarely the same from book to book, and what works for one writer doesn’t work for the next. I’m so into the people in my story right now, that I think about them while I’m in the shower and doing dishes, etc..

  11. Cheryl, great insight on how you create! Thanks. (I need all the advice I can get LOL.) It will be a great read, that’s for sure, that I look forward to.

    Any TV Western fans out there: I randomly found a World Premiere movie over the weekend and I loved it. Prairie Fever staring Kevin Sorbo. He’s a former sheriff, a drunk, earning $$ hauling rejected mail-order brides back to the train station. Humor, pathos, (each bride has a gut-wrenching backstory) and plenty of bad guys.

    Cheryl, here are wishes for continued success for you! Now, I do think a book about a preacher’s widow could be very tantalizing. 🙂

  12. I haven’t read The Preacher’s Daughter but would love to. It amazes me what you all do as writers to help with your books. Everyone seems to have different ways to come up with their charactors and make them come to life and believe me when I say you make them come to life. When I am reading a book I feel like I am there. Keep up the good work! The Preacher’d Daughter sounds like a fantastic read.

  13. Hmmmm. A preacher’s widow. Now that you mention it. LOL

    I watched Prairie Fever, too, and I enjoyed it. I appreciated seeing the character who played the piano in a part like that after being used to her on Judging Amy for so many years. I did a similar character to the heroine in The Lawman’s Bride, where she’d been trained in the smarmy gambling trade and then wanted out and ran, so I got a kick out of that.

    Mr. Biggs’s backstory was hero material wasn’t it? I don’t think I would have used Mr. Biggs for his name. It screams Sex and the City to me, and kind of yanked at me every time I heard it.

    I have to look to see when it’s on again because I didn’t record it.

  14. Hi Virginia–your name is in the fish bowl!!

    Oh, and I have another phrase to add to Laura’s list from the weekend. When The Boy’s alarm went off, it scared the pea-waddin’ out of me.

    My grandma always said that.

  15. It seems like a nice book… and I have to say I think the cover is just so soothing and thank you for sharing how you create your characters.

    Can I be entered, please 🙂

  16. Cheryl,
    I’m looking forward to picking up a copy of The Preacher’s Daughter. I’ll have to check with my favorite bookstore. I hope everyone is having a great Monday. I may take my four year old son to family science night and ice cream social at the school tonight. That should be interesting.

  17. Hi Susan!

    Janet, an ice cream social sounds fun!

    Pam, I used to call myself seat of the pants, and I still am pretty much, but I have the conflict all thought out in my synopsis, and that’s my framework. I use a grid for character and plot and from that I write my synopsis. Works for me.

  18. as always I enjoyed your post, Cheryl! And partially on a topic I recently blogged about. I’d like to say great minds…but there’s mine included in that so I’m not so sure. LOL

    I started out not using visuals, but after a number of books I found that visuals are getting to be more and more important to help me keep my own characters organized. I’ve even started a file of pictures I find interesting that might someday be a character.

    Having a character’s picture is like a visual affirmation of your story, isn’t it?

  19. I like how your stories are character driven. The H/H relationship is the best part of a book for me. It’s easy to let the plot overtake that relationship.

  20. I loved this blog! Thanks for sharing this with us, Cheryl. THE PREACHER’S DAUGHTER sounds wonderful. I would love to be entered!

  21. Hi, Cheryl,
    I always enjoy reading about how authors and their
    books come together. The Preacher’s Daughter seems
    like a book I would really enjoy. Please enter my name in the contest.

    Pat Cochran

  22. I was really surprised when I found out that most authors use visuals for their books. I always figured they had it all in their heads! Maybe because that’s what I prefer – when I’m reading a story I like to imagine things on my own. But I always enjoy hearing any background on the stories authors write. Thanks.

  23. Oh and I can’t wait to hear who wins the Spring Round Up Contest – someone very lucky 🙂

  24. I have three fat binders full of men, women, kids and couples, *lizzie. Whenever I find a face that interests me, I add it to the collection.

    Thank you, Sherri!

    Andrea, you’re in the fish bowl–well your name is anyway.

    Hi, Pat! I’ve added your name!

    Thanks for stopping by, Jeanne. I can’t leave much of anything up to my head alone to remember for me, unfortunately. My desk is covered with reminders and sticky notes.

  25. Cheryl, I love hearing about how authors come up with their stories–thanks for letting us peek behind the curtain for this one! Plus it sounds like a wonderful read 🙂

  26. I, too, loved the way your described your writing and coming up with the characters. I thought The Preacher’s Daughter was a great book and now I’ll think I’ll go back and re-read it, now that I know some of the story behind the story.

  27. Great post, Cheryl!! It’s so fascinating to hear how other authors come up with their stories and develop their characters. Benjamin is my favoirte kind of hero 🙂

  28. Pam’s reply made me grin. I’m another total by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer. There are days—like today—I wish I used some graphs or charts to keep me and my characters on a defined course 😉 Of course, if I tried to get organized, there’d surely be a rip in the space-time continuum *ggg*

    Back to the wild…

  29. I too am very excited about the contest! I can’t wait to see who wins!!!

    Thanks for sharing about how you come up with your characters and I love the pictures you used for your visuals! I hope to read this book very soon!

  30. Good Evening Cheryl

    This book sounds so great, I will have to go back and pick up the other books that starts his story.

  31. It’s interesting to hear how writers craft their works. I have an artist friend who collects pictures to help give her ideas of what to paint. I sometimes picture certain actors as heroes in my stories, it helps with the visuals. The Preacher’s Daughter is in my TBR pile, I might read it after the Jim Butcher I pick up tomorrow.

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