Saturday, March 27, 2010

Every Character Has A Story To Tell

Characters Part III- Every Character Has A Story To Tell

It's always good to remember your characters have a past. What that past consists of is for the writer to decide. That past is important. It's what helps develop not only the character, but also the story line. Look at a character’s past as the weft to the plot’s warp. Together they create the fabric of the book.

I mentioned in an earlier post that all characters need to be dimensional, but I should also mention they need to be individuals. Too often we see a group of characters that share a similar feel. This tends to paint them into the background, or worse, it leaves them open to be mistaken for another, thus confusing the reader.

I believe characters should be a story unto themselves. Whether hero or villain, they should carry their past in the words and phrases they use within the story. There are subtleties of character that should be established early. The reader in solving the mystery can leverage these subtleties later. I enjoy reading a mystery and having something completely off the wall casually thrown in about one of the characters. It makes me think a bit more about the character, wondering at what point it will become relevant to the story, if at all. It also goes a long way to explain how and why characters interact the way they do.

A character’s background or personal traits can be very effective in planting clues along the way. It’s also a wonderful tool for misdirection. Done right, it will draw the reader into the scene you have set and keep them turning the pages.

My mysteries take place in London, but one of the main characters is an American, Lily Jean Corbitt. She provides a wonderful contrast to the other two characters– a reformed pickpocket and a stuffy archeologist. Lily has a different point of view on life and is not bashful about making it known to the others. She adds the spice where needed to a proper English mystery. I want readers to wonder as much about her as they do about the story itself. How did this American end up in London? What is her relationship with the others? Is this strictly business, or is there romance off in the distance? All this takes place in parallel with the story. Some answers become evident along the way, and others remain unanswered for the time being. There should be more to a mystery than just the mystery.

Writing a series affords a wonderful opportunity to develop endearing characters. Not only the main characters, but also the supporting cast as well. Keep the idea of the fabric in mind when you are creating them. A great story, like a strong fabric, is one that endures the wear of time.

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