Developing the Fictional Mary Shirley


fictional_mary_shirleyThe real Mary Shirley turned thirteen in 1775. Her birth date is recorded in family records as February 17, 1762. Although birth years for Mary’s younger siblings vary across websites, Mary’s date remains consistent and undisputed. She was the firstborn child of Michael and Katherine Shirley. I chose the most reliable birth dates for the Shirley family at the time of my research in 2008.

Mary’s role as the eldest child gave her a greater burden to be responsible, dutiful, and at times authoritarian with her younger siblings. According to an article on Parents website, “How Birth Order Affects Your Child’s Personality and Behavior” by Jocelyn Voo, Mary would be like other “leader of the pack, firstborns,” who “often tend to be:”

• Reliable
• Conscientious
• Structured
• Cautious
• Controlling
• Achievers

Source Citation. Voo, J. “How Birth Order Affects Your Child’s Personality and Behavior”. Parents. Accessed 20 January 2017. 

Having raised three, close-in-age daughters, I can surmise Mary would sometimes resent the extra pressure to be perfect. However, she would expect it of herself. The achiever personality is usually self-reliant and determined to succeed at all costs. Being cautious would lend itself to being protective. The eldest child would most likely notice anything out of kilter with the parents or normal routine.

Mary’s real-life survival story when she was a young mother of eighteen, inspired me to delve into her teen years as the American Revolution exploded and changed normal life forever.

To flesh out Mary’s character arc, as well as her family members’, I created a worksheet with these main points:

• Name/s
• Role in Story
• Residence/Time period
• Appearance
• Mannerisms
• Personality/Type/Issues
• Beliefs that Drive
• Greatest Desire
• Inciting Incident
• External Conflicts
• Internal Conflicts
• Story Activation
• Story Resolution
• How Will Character Be Changed Forever?

Mary’s Character Arc for Defiance on Indian Creek
In Defiance on Indian Creek, book one in the Dangerous Loyalties series, fictional Mary struggles with her papa’s secretive behavior and the resulting threat to the safety of the family. She wants everything to return to normal and takes it upon herself to change Papa’s mind. Mary’s character arc reveals the struggles a firstborn would have like letting go of control, trusting Papa, and accepting change. When asked to deliver life-saving documents she deems traitorous, she has only one real choice—loyalty to Papa. As the story concludes, Mary is determined to trust Papa’s leadership. She desires to treat her siblings with more respect and help her family survive the dangerous trip to Kentucky territory in book two, Fleeing the Shadows.

If you’ve read these two books, I’d love feedback.

How did I do with character development?

What did you like/dislike?


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