Characters Welcome is pleased to bring you Julia Kogan from Erica Miner’s Murder in the Pit. Julia is first introduced by her best friend and colleague, Sidney, before author Erica Miner talks about bringing her main character to life.
I first met Julia when she was auditioning for the violin position in the Met Opera Orchestra. She was young, wide-eyed, and totally hot. It was all I could do not to hit on her. Well, actually, I did; but she put me in my place early on. “Sid,” she said, “I adore you. But only as a colleague.” She was all business: her top priorities were her career, and her eagerness to prove her worth to our conductor, Abel.
It wasn’t long before Julia realized, as we in the orchestra all did, that we were just the hired help. The true stars of this adrenaline-charged world were the Domingos and Pavarottis. Still, she maintained her starry-eyed idealism. And as a jaded veteran, I did everything I could to make her understand the harsh realities of working in the world’s most prestigious opera house.
On Julia’s debut performance night, I bumped into her at the security guard’s station at the stage door. It really burned her that, even after the change in safety measures caused by the 9-11 attacks, I was still able to pass through the barrier without showing my ID.
“How come he gets in with a wave but not me?” she asked the guard.
I just flashed her a hurried smile and said, “Stick with me, kid, you might get in with a wave, too. Someday.”
Julia rolled her eyes at me, turned back to the guard and said, “Is that fair?”
But by then I had already dashed through the gate and disappeared down the stairs leading to the orchestra level. She later told me she had felt like a modern-day Alice chasing after the White Rabbit as she scurried to catch up with me.
I remember when Julia confided her excitement to me the first time she saw the colossal opera star PlacidoDomingo in person.
“He smiled at me, I’m sure of it,” Julia said to me.
“Those Latin types can smell a young, inexperienced chick a mile away,” I told her.
She bristled. “What makes you think I’m inexperienced?”
“Just a hunch,” I said, trying to keep my smile from looking too obvious.
The above is written from the point of view of protagonist Julia’s best friend and colleague, Sidney, in my mystery novel Murder In The Pit. It illustrates one of my key techniques in creating a story and its characters: to write back stories for all of your main characters. I tried to make all of the characters in this story unique; and frankly, it wasn’t that difficult. With such a distinctive environment as the Metropolitan Opera as my background, quirky personalities were numerous, and I had a blast combining characteristics from all of them to create fascinating individuals. In the end, the Met itself was a character in the book because of the authenticity I brought to it from my own experiences.
Which brings me to another key piece of advice for writers: Write what you know. I was a violinist at the Met for 21 years. I not only “met” Julia, I was Julia. But I did need to keep in mind the advice of one of my writing teachers: Try to keep some distance from a character based on yourself. Assuming you know yourself well, it’s fine to be semi-autobiographical; but if you make your character a carbon copy of yourself, it’s tough to maintain the kind of objectivity you will need to make your story believable.
In my writing lectures and seminars, whether for fiction or screenwriting, I usually like to start a debate over this question: Which is more important, character or structure? The answer to this conundrum is notstraightforward. Both aspects are of tremendous importance in writing a story that will appeal to readers. In some ways the success of the story, especially in the mystery genre, is dependent on a tight structure, every plot point seamlessly integrated with every other plot point. The jigsaw puzzle can’t fit together if even one piece is missing or in the wrong place. That said, if the reader doesn’t care about the story’s characters and what happens to them, the reader or audience will not want to stay with the story, no matter how clever or well-structured. So the bottom line is that both character and structure are hugely important, and the writer should always keep both in mind during the process of developing a story and bringing it to fruition.
To set the stage for the criminal act that propels Murder In The Pit into motion, I tried to combine character traits with a hint of the disaster to come:
On her way to the women’s locker room, Julia passed Abel’s dressing room, where the Maestro Trudeau – Do Not Disturbsign was posted on the door. She didn’t know what was going on behind it; but even with the door closed, she could easily tell the raised voices were mine, and Abel’s.
“You son of a bitch!” I yelled at him.
“For God’s sake, Sidney, keep it down.”
“You said you’d leave her out of it!”
Abel lowered his voice. “I had no choice.”
“Over my dead body.” I said. “If I find out you’ve done something stupid, I’ll … I’ll write a whole new finale to your opening night!”
“The trouble with you, Sidney, is you think you’re too damned important,” he said with contempt. “No one is indispensable around here. Now get the hell out of my dressing room. We’ve got a show to do.”
Well, I was so burned I stormed out of the dressing room, slammed the door, and ran right into Julia. “How long have you been there?” I demanded.
“You know I get concerned when you and Abel — ”
“Who are you, my mother?”
“What’s going on, Sid? Why were you going at it again? Can’t you two just call a truce already? Please?”
Julia tried to charm me with a smile. I wasn’t having it, but I couldn’t stay mad at her. “Look, kid, it’s what parents do,” I said.
Then we made our peace. In the end, the show must always go on.
My first encounter with the art of writing was at age seven, when I was placed in an afterschool program for creative writing. I don’t remember what I wrote, but as a result of that experience I developed a passion for the process of creating characters and plots and expressing it all with the written word. Most of all, I foundthat I loved telling stories.
I still do.
Murder in the Pit
When first violinist Julia Kogan makes her debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, she does not anticipate becoming involved in a murder before the performance is over…