CHARACTERS & COLLECTIBLES

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.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

This aspect of novel writing can be torturous as well as stimulating. Initially, I decide who will be the victim in my mystery and then by association, the suspects pop up. I give each one a secret that could be a motive for murder. Next it’s time to pull out my character development sheets and label each one with the name of a player. Okay, how do I turn these pages into people? First I look in my photo files. In SHEAR MURDER, #10 in my Bad Hair Day mystery series, Jill’s Uncle Eddy is a shifty attorney. So I look through the pictures for someone who looks like him. Nah, this guy is too young. Eddy is middle aged. Wait a minute. How is he related to Jill? I stop to devise Jill’s family tree. Now I know her grandparents had three children: Eddy, Sarah, and Luke. Cousin Kevin, another suspect, is the son of Luke, while Jill and her sister Torrie are offspring of Sarah’s. I may have to figure out their ages later, but for now, I know Eddy is middle-aged. Back to my files. Who looks like him?

Wait, this guy is perfect! He looks JUST LIKE UNCLE EDDY! And the woman in the photo with him is great for Eddy’s wife, Alexis. Oh, he’s married? Of course! And her manly features and his weasly looks tell a lot about them. i.e. Torrie and Jill call his wife “Auntie Al” behind her back because of her throaty voice, big-boned frame and square jaw. So now I go down my Character Development Tool. This is a shortened version:

Name: Eddy Rhodes

Career: attorney.

Physical Features: florid complexion like he’s been running, deep-set eyes under prominent brows, thundercloud gray hair, double chin, wide forehead.

Favorite Speech Phrases: “Oh, come on.”

Lifestyle Preferences: Big tipper, big mouth, big smile, big house

Dark Secret: Accepts kickbacks and bribes

Ruling Passion: wine connoisseur–wine cellar, wine tours, wine clubs

Dominant Trait: Balding, obnoxious loudmouth

Short-Term Goal: make more money

Long-Term Goal: retire in style

Concrete Symbol: chateau-like house

Motivation: Teased as a child for being overweight, Eddy has to best everyone to prove his worth. Middle or younger child.

Internal Conflict: Need for praise

External Conflict: Inflation prevents retirement and so does a son with ongoing health problems

Strengths: Generous, likes to contribute to charities…but always needs money.

Flaws: Greedy, drinks too much, cowardly in confrontations.

Realization leading to change: not applicable. This may occur during the course of the story but it’s more a tool for the main characters.

Now what about Falcon Oakwood, the bigwig developer in the story? Hey, this picture is perfect. It even shows his wife Leanne. But who’s that older lady in the photo? Why, it’s his mama! So that’s why Leanne is having an affair with [other suspect]. She craves her husbands’s attention but Falcon considers his mother over his wife.

The process repeats with the other characters, until I’m ready to meet them on the page.  All of this info may not make it into the story, but it gives me a springboard to begin writing.