Today’s topic is about whether I start with the characters or the story line when I began to write Perfidy. I also want to cover some details about whether Perfidy is character driven or plot driven and how I developed my characters.
First of all, when I came up with the idea for Perfidy, the real-life stories of two missing women caught my eye—Stacy Peterson and Lisa Stebic. With a first novel, I really didn’t know who my characters would be and I certainly didn’t know them personally yet. So, it seems the story line is what gave me the jump-start. The fact that Stacy’s husband was a cop inspired me to involve the police department in-depth.
As a side note, I do want to say that I am in full support of the families of Stacy and Lisa and hope that they can find them one day to bring closure to their heart breaking stories. That is why I do not mention their husbands by name, especially Stacy’s husband. I feel he has made a spectacle of himself with no real concern for what has happened to her. Now that I’ve vented, let’s focus on characters.
To get to know my characters, I started large index cards one for each of my recurring characters. On the index cards, I started out with their names and a description of each—age in Perfidy, hair color and style, eye color, height, weight, etc. this gave me a real visual as I developed their personalities. I also listed some background on each—how many siblings, parents and their occupations, where they grew up, etc. Back-story is a great tool in developing the character’s personality. All of us are a product of our backgrounds and so are our characters. As my recurring characters go through life changing events, I add those events to the cards. I certainly don’t want to get to book five and say that Erica’s mother advised her on something; when I’ve already indicated in book two that her mother is deceased.
Next, I listed all of my characters in a spreadsheet. I used one worksheet for major characters and one worksheet for minor characters. This included names, short physical description and where they fit in the story. Listing them helped me to keep track of names so I didn’t use the same one twice and to keep track of how I spelled each name. This was also a great way to keep track of minor characters. I can always reference the first lists to make sure I don’t repeat names or characters in subsequent books in the series. If Jack dies in book three, he’d better not show up again in book six.
Tracking your characters and making sure recurring characters change according to their experiences is very important, especially in a series. Whether it’s a repetition or a mistake as I noted in the previous paragraphs or a place that doesn’t exist in a real life city, fans will notice these things and they will tell you about it.
I have found that in subsequent novels in the series, that it is more comfortable working with my characters. I know them well now and I have my favorites. I feel my stories are character driven rather than plot driven. As they are crime novels, it doesn’t take much to find a crime story to write. Just turn on the nightly news or check the internet. But to take those stories and make them real, I need great characters. They must be people the reader can love or hate, empathize with or not, cheer for or boo. That is why I invest so much time in making sure I know them as intimately as I know myself. This is why I chose to write my series with a new protagonist in each novel.
Using a different protagonist in each book gives me the freedom to give my reader an intimate look at all of the recurring characters. In Perfidy, the protagonist is Mandy Stevenson. She is the daughter of Captain Robert Stevenson, the head of the Homicide and Robbery Division. He assigns Brent Freeman and Erica Barnes to assist the missing person detectives in finding his wife. Erica Barnes is the protagonist in the second book of the series, Inconspicuous. You met her in Perfidy, but you get to know a lot more about her in the second book. You will also see the other police officers who were introduced in Perfidy. My hope is that this will not only keep the series fresh for the reader, but for me as the author.
As I wrap it up for today, I invite you to make comments on this blog or to go to my Contact Page and ask any questions or make comments on the content. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the question, “Now that you are published, do you find it easier to tell people you have to write when they want to visit or ask you to do something?” That one will be brief, but will lead into a discussion of social media.
Until next time.