Consider Nell Murphy, One of My Original Characters
Who is Nell Murphy?
For Mettle, I needed a character who would be bullied. In contrast to the wealthy and overly pretty Kitty and Mink—and the troublemaking Dez—I wanted a mousey character. Nell fills the bill perfectly.
Where Did Nell Murphy Come From?
Because I’ve been on the receiving end of bullying myself, writing those scenes was easy. And, frankly, they mainly came from real life. But it’s not just what happens to her. It’s also how she reacts to it. Since Nell has few resources at her disposal, she retreats even more into herself.
The Past is Prologue — Backstory for Nell Murphy
Born after the turn of the 21st century, Nell is fourteen during the entire run of Mettle. She never knows who her father is. Her mother, Julia, overdoses on opioids when Nell is only six. As a result of this harsh childhood, her Gran (Sally Murphy) is raising her.
But her family is far from wealthy. Gran scrimps to get Nell good food and keep a roof over their heads. When the book starts, Gran is having trouble paying the heating bills.
Shy, quiet, and introverted, Nell wants to be anywhere but wherever she is. Feeling undue pressure, she cuts herself.
Like many tweens, she’s mouthy at times, and mumbles at others. Sometimes, she’s responsible. But other times, she slacks off. Just like any other kid of her age.
Nell is small and slight. I see her with straight, stringy mousey brown hair and large eyes. She’s pale, too. Often, she wants to disappear. If I had to describe her with one word, I would say she’s scrawny.
Like all of the other characters in Mettle, Nell’s primary motivation is to survive. And she realizes cutting won’t help anything, so she stops voluntarily. It’s one of the more mature things she does throughout the book.
In this scene, Nell and Dez (a classmate) are trying to survive with fellow Bostonians Elise, Noah, Mei-Lin, Craig, and Olga. To save fuel and conserve their own human energy, the idea is to combine households. Even though they were classmates, Dez and Nell barely knew each other before. The others didn’t know her at all. Before, Elise was working as a medical examiner and was acquainted with Mei-Lin, another doctor at the local hospital. Olga, a Russian immigrant, is the caregiver for Noah’s mother, who has Alzheimer’s.
“Would you both live in the Carter Street house?” Elise asked, point blank. “If you don’t want to, it’s okay. But Nell, you’re right. Combining households will save us fuel.”
“I guess so.” Nell looked down. “It’ll be weird not being around Gran’s things.”
“I could live in the Carter Street house,” Dez said. “I won’t really miss anything back home. My old man saw to that. Anything I really owned or liked can’t be used except the skateboard. The rest is all computers, stuff like that. I had my own TV. That’s a waste now.”
“Bring some of your grandmother’s stuff over if you want to, Nell,” Mei-Lin suggested. “Or your mother’s.”
“I just have one thing from my mom.”
“What that?” asked Olga.
“The burgundy down jacket.”
“She’s kept you warm, then,” Noah said.
“That’s about all she ever did.”
“You don’t have to give us the gory details if you don’t want to,” Craig said.
“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind. My mother OD’d when I was six.”
“Opioids, right?” Elise asked. Nell nodded. “I probably did her autopsy.”
“I don’t know. But it wouldn’t shock me.” Elise squeezed the girl’s hand.
Nell is very young, so she doesn’t really have much in the way of relationships. Certainly, there’s nothing sexual. She’s probably ace. I’ve mulled that idea over a few times and it’s … possible. But even I’m not 100% sure.
Nell’s grandmother is the only family she’s got. Gran is mother, father, and tutor to Nell. Because there’s no one else, they are close. But this doesn’t mean Nell is a good little obedient girl. While she tends to keep quiet about things, she’s still not a perfect little angel, to be reared effortlessly.
For a few days, Eleanor has the wherewithal to become a more active member of the group. Nell latches onto her immediately, as Gran has gone out of town and there’s no way to know when or even if she’ll ever be back. Eleanor and Nell read together, and it gets Nell excited about learning in a way she never was before.
While Nell and Noah don’t have a lot of scenes together, she comes to love everyone in the group. With the Bravermans, she even takes on their name as a second middle name. In that way, she honors both Noah and his mother.
Although they don’t get off on the right foot, Nell comes to appreciate and truly respect Craig. As everything else goes to pot around them, she develops what is not really a crush. It’s more like hero worship. Because Craig offers stability and reassurance when everything else feels hopeless.
Conflict and Turning Point
Like for the other characters in Mettle, the turning point centers around things finally becoming so dire that it seems inevitable that none of them will make it. Nell is the first to really get close to the point of no return. But she’s also the first to recover, and the first to start to piece together what’s really going on.
When I had trouble coming up with the name of a side, throwaway character in Time Addicts, I named her Nell. Although that character is Nell Shaw.
Are There Any Future Plans for Nell Murphy?
I don’t really have any future plans for her, but she’s a character I could see myself revisiting.
Nell Murphy: Takeaways
Don’t count her out. Nell may be small, but she’s mighty all the same. I see my seventh grade self in her.Character Review — Nell Murphy #amwriting Click To Tweet