By Jordan Dane
So, my friend Jordan demanded that I turn over my blog for this post. In fact, she pointed to a picture of my dog and, with a sly grin, said, “You do the math, Sparky.” Fine. Anyway, she’s an outstanding writer with a sharp sense of humor. If you haven’t done it yet, check out book 1 in her Ryker Townsend series, The Last Victim. I just bought it, so look for my review soon. Over to you, Jordan.
Horror makes me giddy. There, I said it. I’m not into overly descriptive gore, but the titillating anticipation of what is about to happen makes me tingle. I like the bizarro world of Dean Koontz when he tiptoes through scary notions and the paranormal. I watched the seductive Penny Dreadful on Showtime with equal parts abhorrence and glee, yet I’ve never seen the movie Jaws, by choice. I don’t want to have nightmares about turning into shark poop, but I put my readers in a front row seat to darkness in my crime fiction books, without shoving them off a cliff.
In The Last Victim, my FBI profiler’s secret is a gift and a curse. Ryker Townsend sees through the eyes of the dead. The last images imprinted on the retinas of the dearly departing become macabre puzzle pieces for him to decipher. These creepy flashes come to him as he sleeps. Hence, the tag line – When he sleeps, the hunt begins. Ryker is an open vessel for the dead, and they reach out to him, sometimes beyond his nightmares in broad daylight, until he’s unsure which side of reality he should be on.
Ryker’s Basic Framework
In crafting Ryker Townsend, I wanted to look beyond his gift of communicating with the dead to solve heinous crimes. I formed him from two characters I love—Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. Ryker has an eidetic memory. His mind is like a computer that spits out facts without a filter. He’s socially awkward and highly intelligent, but not exactly macho.
As an author, I have firsthand knowledge of the perils of an unfiltered brain. Writers need to “hear” the voices in our heads, but it can get us in trouble at social occasions. This I know.
Ryker’s Added Layers
I wanted Ryker to have more layers to his personality and his past. I needed to heap on the right baggage to make his job more challenging. Being an odd child, he had a special bond with his mother who embraced his psychic gift. His father didn’t always understand it and Ryker’s sister Sarah became jealous of the extra attention from mom.
Ryker’s gift is at the center of all his strengths and his weaknesses to show how he lives with a trait most people would fear. When something happens to his dear mother, it creates a wedge between Ryker and his sister—and of course, it’s my duty as an author to torture him.
I couldn’t write about Ryker without delving into his personal life and heaping emotional heft into his Samsonite. It’s what makes him real. I force him to confront his personal demons while he’s up to his neck in bloody murder.
The Last Victim (Novel 1)
In book 1 of Ryker’s story, his life is laid bare. He’s in the middle of a hunt for a baffling serial killer who has eluded him. When a gory crime scene puts him in Seattle, home to his estranged sister (and her family that he’s never met), his life becomes an onion with layers to peel away.
He’s kept his psychic gift a secret from everyone and withdrawn into himself. His only outlet is his work, but he’s afraid of losing respect within the ranks of the FBI—and he risks his cases being overturned by the courts if it became clear how he investigates. He hasn’t told anyone about his nightmares, not even the trusted team who work for him.
After he realizes that the killer has targeted him personally, he must use his gift to hunt on his own terms—alone. Ryker learns what it’s like to become a victim and he’s forced to deal with his past, a theme that will become his journey through any story I write about him.
Following the novel that established him, I wrote novellas that allowed me to examine his life in different ways. A common theme for me is spirituality and how investigators deal with the violence they see. How does it change them?
Redemption for Avery (Novella 2)
In novella 2, Ryker deals with the aftermath of becoming a victim and nearly losing his life. He’s confided in a special woman, and the relationship carries more risk and complications. Because this story deals with a brother who lost his younger sister to a serial killer when he was only fifteen, Ryker and his notions of family are put through an emotional wringer.
In the Eyes of the Dead (Novella 3)
In novella 3, I wanted him to struggle with lingering PTSD from book 1 in a case involving Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and superstition. He’s forced to confront his own beliefs on the afterlife. I had to examine the things that truly get my heart pumping—my own mortality—and the things I sometimes wonder when I can’t sleep after the death of someone I love.
The Darkness Within Him (Novella 4)
In story 4, Ryker must recreate a horrific moment in a young runaway’s life, the night his mother murdered his sister and tried to kill him. Imagine someone like Ryker—who had a close relationship with his mother—how would his feelings of failure with his own family affect him? He’s forced to confront the guilt he has for the way his mother died.
Fiona’s Salvation (Novella 5)
In story 5, the reader sees his compassion for the dead, no matter who they were in life. He feels a profound duty to them in a grander scheme as if he has a role to play in death. He protects Fiona as she deals with her haunting demons, something he knows about.
Ryker’s Journey Is My Challenge
Each character Ryker encounters becomes a mirror for him to see into his dark corners—and his journey becomes my own voyage of self-discovery. My characters explore where I sometimes don’t want to venture, but I push to discover things about me through them. They are my teachers. The old adage to “write what you know” never worked for me. I believe you should write what you fear and dig deep for the truth to breathe life into your pages.
For Writers. How do you tackle adding layers to your characters to make them memorable?
For Readers. What novels have remained with you long after you closed the book? What made the story and the character(s) memorable?
The Last Victim
Redemption for Avery
In the Eyes of the Dead
The Darkness within Him
Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel No One Heard Her Scream as Best Books of 2008. Dane is multi-published in crime fiction thrillers, has books in over seven countries, and has written young-adult novels for Harlequin Teen. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. www.jordandane.com
Sheri MacIntyre says
Okay, I’m typing this and then going to buy THE LAST VICTIM. I’ve read your blurbs about it on the Killzone, but this look at Ryker makes me NEED to have it now. LOL.
I’m currently working on the first in a paranormal series, and have no tips to offer. I’m still deep in the mud. I’m balancing the need to keep moving forward (I’m a serial non-finisher) with the urge to go back and layer in more detail and character development as the writing leads me to new discoveries/realizations.
When I know major changes are needed it’s hard to keep pressing on…such a dilemma for me. LOL.
Thanks for this in-depth look at how you created Ryker. Very helpful for me.
And thanks To Steve for hosting!
Steven Ramirez says
Glad you enjoyed the post, Sheri. It was fun having Jordan stop by.
You’re an excellent host, Steven. Thanks for the opportunity.
Hey Sheri – I know YOU. Steven will be on TKZ as my guest for Thurs. A really fun post. Be sure to play along with us.
My advice for building a “first world” is to paint a broad canvas that allows you to plant seeds for future development, even if you don’t use them now. No narrow definitions. Be bold. For example, if you want an international setting in the future, give your character(s) a job that will get them there. Or if you have your story set in a small town, are there enough people and stories built into your world that will sustain future plots?
You do the same for your character(s), by giving them an intriguing backstory, but hinting at mysteries in their lives that you can develop later. You don’t even have to know about what those are now. I like painting myself into corners and “discovering” things in the next book as the character or the world continues and I get to know it/them better. Be patient with yourself…and be fearless.
In my book THE WRONG SIDE OF DEAD, it was a continuation of Evil Without A Face where I introduced Seth Harper, a weird character with no answers, only mysteries & questions. He wasn’t the main character so I could afford to cast him in shadows. At the end of EVIL, something happens to him. I didn’t even know what happened or who this guy was. I had to invent him in WRONG. I torture myself and my characters because it’s fun. You’d be surprised how your brain will help you work things out.
You can always layer in complexities, but don’t do it because you’re worried or having doubts about whether it’s enough. Your story is fluid and can always be layered as you have the need. Keep moving forward as you develop what you have. I have a rolling edits process where I keep moving ahead with my daily word count, but edit the last chapter or so as I continue to move on. It keeps my head in the book while I’m still making progress.
Thanks for posting your comment, Sheri. See you on Thurs.
Sheri MacIntyre says
Thanks Jordan. Much appreciated! I especially like “be fearless”. I know I need more of that. See you Thurs!
Sue Coletta says
I loved ALL the Ryker Townsend books. He’s one of my favorite characters, and I loved learning about how he came to be. Fantastic guest post, Jordan!
Sue Coletta says
Totally spaced answering your question. Sorry. My all-time favorite villain is Hannibal Lecter, who was based on a combination of real-world serial killers (and so was Buffalo Bill). I do the same in my work, but I add someone for my killer to love in order to show their soft side. Because I’m a huge fan of Thomas Harris, my goal has always been to create a multi-faceted serial killer who readers could fall in love with, even though he could be ruthless. It’s what drives me to peel back layer after layer and show their humanity.
I always wanted to find a character like Dexter. You have it (sort of) in Shawnee in that she’s got a dual life. So I can see how you’re thinking about this. You’ve created a layered and complex character that you can evolve. Torture her with conflicts that test her spine. You’ll find many ways to do this, plus keep up her snark.
HIgh praise coming from the creator of Shawnee. I’ve also loved how she’s reflected through her love, Levaughn. I like how in Blessed Mayhem he has solo scenes and great development with her. You’re really building onto a great world, Sue. Keep up the good work.
One thing I didn’t plan well was Ryker having Lucinda from book 1. I typically like my heroes to be free agents and not tied down with a specific relationship, but I’ve been surprised at how they have grown together in a mature way and how he loves her. Lucinda was initially there to be his witty banter push back, but after he shared his secret with her (because he HAD to), she has surprised me with how much she supports him and how much he needs her. For now, I’m making it work and finding new ways to add depth in his life, like I think you’re doing with Levaughn.
Sue Coletta says
I love the relationship between Ryker and Lucinda, and watching them grow as a couple. You always make me fear for her safety!!! Even from page one, no one is ever truly safe in the world of crime fiction, especially in your books. Love that!!!
Thank you for the kind words, Jordan. xoxo They mean more to me than you know.
You have reason to fear for her safety. You never know…
You know I love you, right?
Steven Ramirez says
Good point, Jordan. I love it when my characters surprise me.
I have a feeling you are a guy in touch with your inner child. That’s a fun trait to have when you’re a writer.