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
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.