In the previous post, we discussed character development. As you figure out each person’s goals and secrets, you need to determine how that character relates to the others. Think of a spider web. The victim is in the center, and all of the other threads are the suspects. Or visualize it as a character wheel with spokes. Whichever model you choose, you’ll want to connect the characters to each other.
Here are examples from my WIP to show you how it’s done. The characters are involved in a bake-off contest held during the spring festival at a local farm. Tally Riggs, my hairstylist sleuth’s best friend, met Becky Forest at a local historical museum. She told Tally about the bake-off.
Becky, a scientist, is a cookbook author and curator of the museum. She studies plant remains of ancient peoples, including early Florida food practices. Every time Becky has a new cookbook out, she’s a guest on Chef Raquel Hayes’ TV show.
Raquel, a judge at the bake-off contest and a TV chef, did something in the past that could scandalize her. Francine Dodger recognizes her on TV and threatens to spill her secret.
Francine, a contestant at the bake-off, is a food magazine editor. While researching an article on the farm, she uncovers something that could ruin the owners’ reputation.
Zach Kinsdale, eldest brother of four siblings who run the family farm, hasn’t told his two brothers and sister Janet about this looming disaster. Janet is married to Tony, who runs an import-export business. He sells his imported olive oils to Zach for the farm’s marketplace. But Janet suspects something unethical about her husband’s business. She’s the one who organized the bake-off since her husband’s company is a festival sponsor. Tony,Janet’s husband, is worried about an exposé that Francine has mentioned. He’s also concerned about Tristan Marsh, pastry chef at The Royal Palate and a judge at the show. Tristan has been making inquiries that concern him. He’s not the only one. Alyce Greene, a blogger who supports the farm-to-table movement, has been troublesome as well.
Alyce is a contestant at the bake-off. She’s married to Jon, a food truck operator. Jon got a loan to start his business from Alyce’s brother, Steve Madison. Steve, an investment advisor, manages Tony’s accounts.
And so on. You get the idea. It helps when the puzzle pieces fit together as a whole, but this process may take a while. In the meantime, allow your subconscious to stew on these ideas until story magic happens. The connections will pop into your brain. It’s a joyful moment when this occurs. It always does; you have to maintain faith in the creative process.
Now you know as much about these people as I do. Next comes Writing the Mystery – Howdunit.
Do you lie awake at night worrying about future events or reviewing your to-do list? The other night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Too many thoughts and concerns flickered through my mind. When this happens, one technique I use is to grab a handy notepad and pen and scribble down every thought in my head. This might include a list of things I have to get done the next day or a list of my worries, whether realized or not. Writing them down seems to allay some of the anxiety.
Assigning these concerns to a set of worry dolls is another method I might employ. These are miniature Caribbean dolls that you lay out on your nightstand or put under your pillow. Then you assign each doll one of your worries. They fret all night while you can go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that someone else is doing the worrying for you.
I’d suggest a good book, but if it’s too good, you might want to keep reading. So choose a happy story that isn’t so engrossing that you can’t put it down. And if all else fails, there’s always a glass of wine to lull you into a state of tranquility.
What does this have to do with writing? When developing your main characters, you want to do the same thing. Imagine your character’s lifespace. Determine what is in her head at any given moment in time. Here is an early version for Marla Shore, my hairdresser sleuth. Never mind my minimal drawing skills.
What is YOUR main character thinking about right now? Why are these things on her mind? Which ones are the most important to her? How do they influence what she’s going to do next?
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Starting a new novel can either be an exhilarating prospect or a daunting one. No matter how many books you’ve written, this reaction still holds true. If you’re a pantser regarding plot, you might begin with a concept, a character, or a setting. You wing it from there with a general idea of where you want to go. But if you are a plotter like me, you need a roadmap. So how to begin?
Characters Come First
Get to know your main characters. Who are they? What do they want in life? Why do they want it? What stands in their path? Give them internal and external goals. Have them deal with an inner emotional struggle that inhibits them from moving forward. What caused this conflict? How does it relate to the main plot? Let’s say your heroine meets a firefighter that she really likes. But she has an insane fear of fires because her parents died in one when she was little. How can she have a relationship with a guy who’s life is always at risk? Meanwhile, the external plot involves an arsonist. For some reason, he’s targeted her. She has to rely on the hunky firefighter to keep her safe. And so on. But don’t leave the hero out, either. He should have his own reasons for not pursuing a commitment. As for the villain, give him a plausible motivation so the reader can understand his actions if not approve of them.
Determine the path of character growth so you know how things will end. How will your characters change by the end of the story? In this example, the heroine might have to overcome her fear of fires to rescue someone in a blaze—perhaps herself, or the hero who’s been disabled by the villain. She realizes her own inner strength will get her through any adversity. She’s a survivor. And so she can let down her barriers and give her heart to the man she has come to love.
It’s no different when you’re writing a series. In each book, your protagonist must change in some way or realize a truth about herself. Yet her emotional growth can involve a bigger arc that encompasses a number of books. Always solve the external conflict first in a story, and then wrap up the resolution with the insights your character has learned.
Build Your Setting
You’ve done your character development. Now where does your story take place? What is unique about this setting? How can you bring it to life for readers? This is where your world building takes place. Where does your character live? Why did she choose this place? What are its architectural and design elements? How is the setting a character in itself? Describe the sensory impressions you might note if you visited this area. How can you get its flavor across to readers? Why is this setting important to your plot?
Do Your Research
Make sure you get your facts straight about the locale and any issues involved in your story. This can be preliminary research until you begin your story. Then you’ll know what details to pursue. Is there an interesting news article that caught your fancy? Look up more information on the subject and figure out how it relates to your plot. Or perhaps your story is based on something you read or saw on television. You’ll know what avenues to explore. Just be sure you’re as authentic as possible. That goes for your protagonist’s career as well. Use metaphors and similes from her viewpoint. Get familiar with her work lingo and research her occupation.
Plot Your Story
If you like to use the storyboard method, grab a big poster and divide it into squares that represent your chapters. Brainstorm plot points and put them on sticky notes. Plaster these sticky notes around the poster approximate to their timing in the story. Or you can do a chapter by chapter outline instead. Either way, keep track of emotional as well as external plot points. Don’t worry if gaps show in your planning; they’ll fill in later if you lay the groundwork properly.
Keep in mind that each scene must have a purpose and hold tension. Each action is followed by a reaction and a decision. Start with a crisis or “call to action” for your character. Build the complications, layer in the secrets and suspense, determine the plot twists, and aim for an exciting resolution.
Many writers utilize the three act structure in their story plotting:
I. Inciting Incident and Introduction of Characters, Conflicts build to First Turning Point
II. Secrets, Subplots, and Complications, Rising Stakes, Second Turning Point
III: Black Moment for Sleuth, Villain Exposed, Resolution, Character Growth
Hook the Reader
How can you grab the reader at the start? Begin with action or dialogue and move the story swiftly forward. This is not the place for flashbacks or background information. Make sure your protagonist is likable to gain reader sympathy. Make the stakes personal. Consider that you only have the first few pages to make an impression. And just as importantly, end each chapter with a hook. You want to create a page-turner, so keep that tension ramped up.
Character development in fiction writing always mentions goals. These can be long term or short term and are usually practical in nature. But what about your protagonist’s youthful dreams? An article in a news magazine got me started on this topic. It randomly interviewed a bunch of women about their dreams in life. This inspired me to make a listing of my own to aid in character development
Start a political career
Have a big family
Travel throughout Europe
Enter a baking competition
Become an Olympic athlete
Study to be a ballerina
Perform on Broadway
Turn party planning into a career
Visit the Egyptian pyramids
Apply to be an astronaut
Run a marathon
Ride on the Orient Express
Learn computer programming
Adopt some rescue dogs
Join the Peace Corps
Sing in public
Live in Paris for a year
Hike the Appalachian Trail
Be on a reality show
Get hired as a personal chef
Work on a cruise ship
Learn to fly an airplane
Become a volunteer firefighter
Write a novel
Marla Shore, my heroine sleuth, carries around travel brochures of Tahiti in her purse. She may never get there, but at least she has been on a Caribbean cruise.
What hidden dreams does your main character have?
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Somewhere in the middle of my current WIP, I froze with hesitation. It seemed as though I could finish the book within the next fifty pages, and I had one hundred pages to go. Where would I find enough material?
I staved off a full-blown panic attack by realizing this same fear struck me with every book. And each time, I made my word count without a problem. So how do I slug through to the end? And what if you get stuck? How can you take the plot in a new direction?
Raise the body count. This is especially easy in a murder mystery. Just throw in another dead body. Who is dead and why? Who could have done it? How does this deepen the primary mystery? Could two different killers be involved? What if this victim was your prime suspect? Who does that leave?
Have an important character go missing.
If a character disappears mid-point in your story, that’s going to disrupt everyone’s plans and theories. Is this person in jeopardy, or are they guilty of perpetrating the crime? Did perhaps one bad guy betray another and do him in? Or is this act meant to manipulate a good person into obeying the kidnapper’s demands? How do people feel about this missing person? Was he loved or despised? How far will the hero go to get him back?
Create a new character who shows up unexpectedly.
What is this person’s role in the mystery? How does his appearance change the hero’s theories? Who was keeping this character’s pending arrival a secret? Is it someone who was presumed dead or who has been missing for years? What tipped this person off that it was time to appear? This would be the time for that secret baby to come to light or the past husband no one knew about or a former girlfriend with a grudge. Or it’s someone who’s heard about the case and wants to cash in somehow. Could they be a fraud? How does his arrival affect the other characters?
Build on secrets and motives already present.
If you’ve laid the proper groundwork for your story, your characters have enough secrets, motives and hidden depths you can explore as you move the story along. Write down each loose end as you review the high points and make sure you go down each trail until that thread is tied.
You’ll usually find you have enough material if you just keep writing. Snippets of suspicions your characters mention can be plumped out until laid to rest. So give your people enough layers that peeling the onion takes the entire book. Except just when you thought you knew it all, throw in another twist like one of the points above.
What are your tips for getting through the muddled middle?
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Once I’ve devised the crime scene, the victim, and the cause involved, I turn to my list of suspects. Here is where I delve more deeply into their psyches. This means working on character development sheets for each person as necessary. Doing this allows me to determine their secrets and goals before I start writing. Any one of these items may change as I write the story, so I don’t hold fast to them, but the descriptions help start me on my way. I might also look for pictures online at the royalty free sites or cut out photos of celebrities or models from magazines of people who fit the character.
If the story contains a romance, I’ll do a conflict chart as well to show how the hero and heroine are at odds with each other in their goals and motivations. It’s not until I have an idea of each person in my mind that I can write the synopsis. This provides a road map for my story. As for research, I’ll do whatever is necessary along the way.
Here is a sample of a character development chart from my current WIP.
CAREER: Val is an artist who paints scenes of natural Florida. A history buff, she’s especially interested in Florida’s early development. She sponsors Friends of Old Florida annual ball. She’ll go to garage sales on weekends seeking photos and journals of life in early Florida.
PHYSICAL FEATURES: 59 years old, works out in gym on weekends.
FAVORITE SPEECH PHRASES: “You said it.”
LIFESTYLE: Val lives in the family mansion in east Fort Lauderdale. She’s used to having her staff do mundane tasks and isn’t a pragmatic person. She can see the overall picture but not the details. In this regard, she relies too much on others.
DARK SECRET: Lesbian.
RULING PASSION: Painting
DOMINANT TRAIT: Idealistic Dreamer.
Short-Term: To make sure she’s funding the right objectives. Long-Term: To leave a legacy through her paintings. Concrete Symbol: An appointment to the Florida Historical Commission.
Val comes from old money through her mother’s side, who made their fortune in Florida’s East Coast Railroad in the 1890’s. She got her interest in history from her father, a naturalist who’d enthralled her with tales of Florida pirates, Indians, and Spanish explorers. Her ancestry might even include a pirate who’d ploughed the high seas by the Florida Keys. But when her sister dies from breast cancer, she rethinks her focus. The past won’t mean anything without the future, and we’d better do something about pollution, contaminants and toxic waste. She considers switching her funding to an environmental group. Val is divorced, having married a gold-digger who soured her on marriage. Or at least that’s her excuse for not remarrying. She dotes on her sister’s kids and has left them a generous bequest in her will.
Internal: She’s highly regarded in Friends of Old Florida and hesitates to leave them in the lurch. She is a past recipient of their Lifetime Achievement Award. But perhaps this other organization needs her more now. External: She has some concerns about her trust fund that she inherited from her mother. One of the trustees is also on the Board of FOLF, and that’s how she became involved in the organization. Her investments seem solid but her dividends don’t seem to add up.
She’s confided her uncertainty to her friend, Lora. She knows Lora’s secret, having once made a pass at her. Becoming suspicious of Lora’s frequent trips, she hired an investigator and discovered what Lora did on those excursions. Lora begged her to keep silent and threatened to expose Val in return. The two became polite antagonists, working together but keeping their distance otherwise.
STRENGTHS: Val is good at public relations and working a room at parties to gain donors for her cause.
FLAWS: She doesn’t care to scrutinize things too closely.
REALIZATION LEADING TO CHANGE: Maybe the past isn’t as meaningful as the future. We have to take steps to protect our environment now or there won’t be anything left to preserve.
Now here is a sample of a Romantic Conflict Chart from Warrior Prince. Nira is a makeup artist destined to be one of the legendary six women who will defeat the demon, Loki and his minions, the Trolleks. Zohar is Crown Prince of the Star Empire and leader of the Drift Lords. Keep in mind that even if you’re writing in another genre, your characters in a romantic subplot would benefit from this analysis.
Nira: Attacked by Trolleks
Zohar: Rift opens between dimensions
GOALS Long Term Nira: Financial security; Discover her identity
Zohar: A loving family; Accept his Destiny
Short Term Nira: Get a job so she can research her birth parents and pursue a graduate degree.
Zohar: Locate the Trollek jamming device, shut down the rift and banish the enemy.
DRIVING FORCE Nira: To discover her identity. Job security so she doesn’t have to struggle like her mother. Fears abandonment because her parents deserted her.
Zohar: Fears losing his heart to a Trollek woman like his father and going insane. Feels he must correct his sire’s mistakes.
PERSONAL WEAKNESS/STRENGTH Nira: Fiercely independent. Resilient in face of adversity.
Zohar: Sensitive to criticism. High moral standards.
RELATIONSHIP OBSTACLE Nira: Fears abandonment so doesn’t want to depend on a man.
Zohar: Fears intimacy so doesn’t want to get close to a woman.
BLACK MOMENT Nira: She lets herself get taken by a Trollek in order to save him. He thinks she’s turned to the dark side.
Zohar: He leaves for his home world to deal political instability. She thinks he’s left her.
CHARACTER GROWTH Nira: Wishing for adventure can become a curse rather a blessing. Embrace who you are rather than who you want to be. Lesson: Be careful what you wish for.
Zohar: He doesn’t have to make up for his father’s sins. He will be a kind, strong leader. Lesson: You have to accept yourself before you can lead others.
Another way of getting to know your characters is to interview them. This is especially important in a mystery. Often I’ll interview the killer to learn why he committed the crime. Or interview your sleuth to determine what her concerns are at the start of your story. I’ll use the chart as indicated in my Writing the Cozy Mystery booklet to point out the interrelationships among the characters.
Anyway, these are the tools that work for me. What other means do you deploy to get to know your fictional people?
“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~Phyllis Smallman, Sleuthfest 2014
It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we can write are actually inspired by true events in our sunshine state. Join us in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes with our first Blog Hop sponsored by Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Read on, click the links below to read another member’s view of crazy Florida, comment, share your favorite stories, and enter the contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite.
Florida has its share of wacky characters. Every Sunday, I buy a newspaper and read through it with a pair of scissors in hand. Inevitably, there’s some article about an interesting resident or an issue that intrigues me. I cut out these articles and file them. Whenever I’m searching for a secret to give a suspect, I’ll glance through these clippings. That’s how I found a cool character who was a funeral director by day and a Samoan fire knife dancer at night. I tracked down the guy, interviewed him at his funeral home and based a character on him in Hair Raiser.
There’s no lack of strange people living in Florida. Criminals move down for the good weather same as other citizens. But most of the interesting characters in the news appear less in the spotlight. It might be a housewife running a prostitution ring, a non-profit administrator embezzling money, or a local teacher found with child porn files on his computer. These are secrets worth considering, because they’ll make the characters in my books seems suspicious. And Florida does have its share of wackos where truth is stranger than fiction.
Another character I used in a book was inspired by a reader at a talk I gave. She’d owned a clothing boutique and mentioned a guy who came in and wanted to try on women’s clothes. This idea was perfect for Murder by Manicure who now has a transvestite in the story. So you never know where inspiration will strike.
For Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day mysteries, neighborhood communities played a role in story development. Who hasn’t had trouble with their homeowners’ association? Marla’s husband has a disagreement with their HOA president who is later found dead. Our state’s Native American heritage comes into play in this story with a suspect who is a tribal shaman.
Florida has a rich history, a diverse ecosystem, and a hotbed of issues. All we have to do is read the newspaper for ideas. Thus I’ve dealt with citrus canker, illegal immigrant labor, exotic bird smuggling, child drowning prevention, melanoma detection, and a host of other matters that affect Floridians. Although these issues can be serious, my stories contain humor, a satisfying ending, and a lesson learned. And what have I learned? We never lack for material in sunny South Florida.
Nancy J. Cohen has written over twenty romance and mystery novels. She wishes she could style hair like her hairdresser sleuth, Marla Shore, but can usually be found reading instead.
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When Characters Stop Being Literal and Become Real J.H. Bogran
On the dedication page of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling dedicates the book to her daughter, proclaiming Harry is her ink-and-paper twin. In just one sentence, Mrs. Rowling demonstrates how real the characters are for her.
Every writer worth his salt knows that only when we believe and treat our character as real people, they will become so to the readers. Why? I could bet it is because our perception of the character seeps into them while we type them.
I don’t pretend to preach to the converted, what I’d like to share today is the way I develop my characters, not that I think it is the one and only way to go about it.
After I decide the story I want to tell, I spend time developing a list of characters that I think are required to tell the story. The list includes the lead, lead’s love interest if any, the antagonist, and the secondary characters. I don’t waste time on the character with bit parts; I trust they will show up when I need them for a particular scene. Yeah, it’s kind of “if I build it, they will come.”
Two books that have helped me with characters and how to write them are Angela Ackerman/Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus, and the other one is Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress.
The main characters get special attention, of course. I prepare a worksheet where I list name, description, personality, profession and extras. The first four are pretty self-explanatory. Extras can be tiny little things like if he/she smokes, or notes the appalling story of how they became the person they are at the start of my book.
For the physical description I cheat a little bit, if it can be called like that. I use people I’ve met, sometimes movie or TV actors, but someone to anchor me to what they look like and keep me from changing hair or eye colors between chapters. Their personality starts relatively empty as I’d like to leave room for the characters to grow. Of course, that character worksheet keeps getting revised while I’m writing the story.
The secondary characters are not as developed, but I keep a close watch on them as sometimes they come back with surprises, or they make appearances in other stories. For example, the doctor who treated my lead female character suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder in the story Love Me Two Times, turns out to have a younger brother. In the opening chapter of my new novel Firefall, Doctor James Martin is performing an intervention on his younger brother Sebastian, who is the lead character in that novel.
One tip I learned during a ThrillerFest class on craft imparted by Robert Dugoni was to give each character a unique trait. It can be anything from always chewing gum to a limp. The idea is that the trait would be big enough to make them appear better than two-dimensional.
The making of my character is far from a refined technique, but it works for me, so I’m sticking with it. They become real to me because I can picture them in my head.
I’m curious to know how others do it, so please leave a comment if you can. Thanks.
About J. H. Bográn
J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers, where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.
After losing his wife and son in an air crash, former NYC firefighter Sebastian Martin is spiraling downward into alcoholic oblivion. Then his brother sets him up with a last-chance job investigating insurance fraud, but his first case takes a deadly turn as he crosses path with an international ring of car thieves. Sebastian ends up strapped to a chair facing torture at the hands of a former KGB trainee who enjoys playing with fire on his victims to get answers.
Nancy asked me to share some writing tips with you, and I thought I would focus on one aspect that every writer encounters – how to keep people apart. In a mystery, you start with a few key people: The heroine or hero, the murderer, victim one, maybe victim two.
In my cozy mystery series, Temptation in Florence, I have both—a heroine called Carlina, and Inspector Stefano Garini who’s the hero.
As I’m switching viewpoints between both of them, I think it’s fairly easy to get those people clear in your mind. At the beginning, I characterize them in turn by judging them through the eyes of the other. Here’s the moment when Carlina meets Garini for the first time:
Carlina dropped onto the sofa and looked at the Commissario who took a seat in the battered armchair to her left. His face was lean and thin, and his nose reminded her of a hawk. No, the resemblance with a hawk came from the eyes. They were light and hard and gave her the impression he could spot a detail at a distance of several kilometers. He didn’t look like someone who would understand a silly mistake or two.
Garini in turn discusses her with his assistant Piedro. I’ve made Piedro a bit slow, so much so that he only has to say one sentence, and you pretty much realize that this is the dumb assistant even if you have forgotten his name in the meantime.
“What was her name? Carlina?” Piedro asked.
“No. Caroline Ashley.”
Piedro frowned. “Everybody called her Carlina.”
“A nickname.” For an instant, Stefano saw Carlina’s pale face again. The freckles had made her look younger than she was. Her eyes reminded him of a cat, slanted and intelligent.
Piedro shrugged off the name. “She acted real nervous.”
“Yes, I noticed that too.”
So far, so good. You’re unlikely to forget the victim and the hero(s). However, as an author, you need to populate the scene with plenty of other people milling about in order to create enough red herrings.
Carlina is part of a huge family, and many of the members live in the same house which is split up into individual apartments. On the ground floor, to the right, we have her grandfather Nico, who was murdered. On the left is the apartment of her grandfather’s identical twin. His name is Teodoro Alfredo Mantoni. He’s the most senior man in the house, the patriarch of the family, so I made sure that everybody calls him Uncle Teo, instead of just Teo, and whenever he enters the scene, I mention something that immediately refers to his age – his rheumy eyes, the age spots on his skin, his white hair.
Each of the twins has seven kids, all adults with their own families now. I created this huge family on purpose, to have enough room for further novels. However, I do not introduce all of them in the first novel, to avoiding confusing my readers (and myself!).
Uncle Teo is married to Aunt Maria, who is not only exceedingly fat, but who likes to eat garlic in huge quantities. As soon as she makes an entry, everybody runs to the window or speaks through the nose.
On the next floor, we have on one side Benedetta, who is one of Nico’s younger daughters. Her two teenage kids (seventeen and nineteen) live with her. Her husband died some years ago.
At this point, I feared the eyes of the reader would already glaze over, so I gave each of the appearing persons one special trait. Whenever they appear, I repeat this trait to help my readers stay oriented. Benedetta is always using bright red lipstick. She’s calm and pretty normal in this exuberant family. Her kids both have bright red hair. The younger is Ernesto, the elder Annalisa. Annalisa is very much focused on herself, besides being a true beauty. Ernesto loves to play computer games. I assumed that if I mentioned the red hair throughout the novel as a sort of signal, my readers would immediately be able to place both Ernesto and Annalisa.
Across the landing is their elder sister Emma’s apartment. She’s getting married to Lucio in the first novel. Emma knows exactly what she wants, and she has fantastic legs. Lucio is extremely jealous and traditional, so I made sure to refer to this whenever they appear.
Another floor up, we have Fabbiola. She is Carlina’s mother, and her strand of henna-colored hair is the most typical thing about her. She also has a little habit of carrying around a cushion whenever she leaves the house, so she’s clearly a bit batty, but in a nice sort of way. Whenever Fabbiola appears, the cushion appears, too, and I think this is too eccentric to be forgotten easily.
Carlina is fiercely loyal to her family, and this loyalty is her biggest problem, not only when it comes to finding the murderer but also in her relationship with Garini, who has no large family at all and is the quintessential lonely wolf.
Besides these typical traits I keep mentioning throughout the novel, I gave the characters very different names, some long, some short, and I made sure I did not have them start with the same letter. (I slipped up on Ernesto and Emma, but it’s too late to change that now!). There’s nothing more confusing than a whole family that’s called Lea, Lou, and Liz.
I don’t have any animals in my novels so far, but if they appear, I will give them animal names, like Woof for a dog or Purr for a cat. This might not be very creative, but I once read a novel where the dog was called Sarah, and it threw me time and again. “Sarah followed him into the house.” All through the chapter, I kept wondering ‘Who was Sarah again?’ – until she finally started to bark.
In addition to the traits I keep repeating, I’ll remind the reader of each character’s relationship to Carlina as soon as possible in the course of a natural conversation. Here’s an example:
“Where’s father?” Carlina’s mother sidled along the pew closer to her daughter. Her long blue skirt twisted around her legs, and she pulled it free with an impatient tug.
“Ssshhh.” Carlina placed a finger on her lips and pointed at the altar where Emma and Lucio stood in front of the priest.
Fabbiola stood on tiptoe and brought her mouth to her daughter’s ear. “Why were you so late?”
In this short paragraph, I have mentioned the words mother, daughter, and Fabbiola’s name, so even the most casual reader should be able to place Fabbiola now.
If someone doesn’t make an entry very often, I often use a blunt question from a comparative outsider to help get everybody oriented. Here’s an example from book number two, Charmer’s Death:
Benedetta continued. “We met her in town because she was still at Giulietta’s.”
“Who is Giulietta?” Garini frowned.
“Giulietta is a cousin once removed,” Caroline replied. “She’s also a hairdresser.”
Sometimes, when writing, it feels as if you’re overdoing it. After all, this is your world, and you know these characters intimately. But your readers may be distracted. They may have been interrupted when reading the book the last time, and you don’t want them to be confused as to who’s talking and what on earth the character is doing there.
I hope this little explanation helps a little and would love to hear your thoughts!
Delayed Death (Temptation in Florence) by Beate Boeker
What do you do when you find your grandfather dead half an hour before your cousin’s wedding? You hide him in his bed and tell everyone he didn’t feel like coming.
Delayed Death is an entertaining mystery set in Florence, Italy. When Carlina finds her grandfather dead on the day of her cousin’s wedding, she decides to hide the corpse until after the ceremony. However, her grandfather was poisoned, and she becomes the attractive Inspector’s prime suspect. On top of that, she has to manage her boisterous family and her luxurious lingerie store called Temptation, a juggling act that creates many hilarious situations. BUY HERE: http://amzn.to/VMeCUz
<><><> Beate Boeker is a traditionally published author since 2008. She now offers many full-length novels and short stories online. Several of her titles were shortlisted for the Golden Quill Contest, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the ‘Best Indie Books of 2012’ contest.
Beate is a marketing manager by day with a degree in International Business Administration, and her daily experience in marketing continuously provides her with a wide range of fodder for her novels, be it hilarious or cynical. While ‘Boeker’ means ‘books’ in a German dialect, her first name Beate can be translated as ‘Happy’ . . . and with a name that reads ‘Happy Books’, what else could she do but write novels with a happy end?
While thumbing through a recent mail-order catalog, I began to wonder what items my heroine might select. This gave me the intriguing idea of assigning a collection to each protagonist. You can learn a lot about your hero or heroine from the knickknacks found in his or her house. Perhaps your heroine presents a tough exterior but indulges herself by wearing lacy lingerie. Or your hero, who seems a sensitive type, harbors an assortment of evil-looking knives in his drawer. This one might work especially well in a mystery.
What are some of the items your protagonist might collect? How about porcelain figurines, i.e. cats, dogs, birds, or children? Letter openers, music boxes, sports memorabilia, clocks, models of airplanes or cars? For works of art, does he prefer expensive paintings or framed posters? Sculptures or tacky souvenirs? What about religious ornaments, decorative plates, bead jewelry, antique coins, or crystal paperweights? How about porcelain thimbles portraying kittens, castles or cottages? Fantasy figures like angels, wizards, and unicorns? Or maybe icons from a popular TV show.
What books and magazines does he read? Are they strewn about the cocktail table for show, or are they askew on an unmade bed? Are the pages ragged, corners folded in, or is an elegant bookmark used for a book in pristine condition? Don’t forget the office, too. What do they have on display on their desk?
For inspiration, check out those unsolicited catalogs you get in the mail or browse the Web. Look through the magazine section in your local bookstore. You’ll see magazines for all sorts of hobbies. Ads can give you other ideas.
Next time you’re in someone else’s house, be nosy and snoop out their shelves.
Think about why your hero or heroine collects a particular item. Does it express a hidden desire, reveal a facet of his/her personality, expose a touching sentiment? Even owning nothing of a personal nature can make a statement in itself. Have fun delving into the intricacies of your people’s hobbies and describe the precious tchotchkes through their eyes. Adding these details will give an added dimension to your writing and more depth to your characters.