If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Creating Characters



There are so many parts to writing a story, especially if you want to do it well.  The more I do this, the more things I find that I have to keep straight.  Plot and pacing.  Dialogue and descriptions to help move your story along.  And then there are the characters, without whom none of the rest would work. 

Memorable characters take a lot of work, or so it seems to me, especially if you're working on a continuing series.  It would be bad to write that your protagonist has green eyes in the first story and then they show up with brown ones in the second.  Hopefully authors don't make THAT big a gaffe with their main characters, but how much detail should you go into when it comes to your secondary and tertiary characters?  You know, not the best friend of the protagonist, but another friend.  Or maybe the spouse or sibling(s) of the not-best-friend?

How many defense points do I give my characters?
I've heard some authors create character sheets for all of their characters; I even took a class where we were given a blank form to start with. So I began working on the backstory for any notable character in my book.  For the characters that I expect will be in every book in the series, I've even gone so far as to look into their astrological signs and try to incorporate some of those personality traits into my characters' psyches.

I've also got character write ups for the people that are a level behind my main players.  For example, the parents of the villain in this first book will be showing up at least once more, especially since my villain will be the Moriarty to my protagonist's Holmes.  So I feel it's necessary to know a bit more about them, for in knowing their parenting styles, it might help me to know my villain better.

I've even written up small histories for people that are featured in this first book, but might not show up again until further down the road.  Their roles are critical enough in this one that I needed to know what motivated them to react the ways they did, and something about them might be useful in future books.  I don't know if they'll even show up again, but at least I'll be prepared for it if they do.

First time I ever heard a character address
his/her backstory
But what about the characters that are the equivalent of walk-on roles in a TV show or movie?  Should I create a backstory on them, no matter how brief?  There are a couple people whose names only get mentioned once or twice in my current WIP.  They don't even get a speaking role in the story, so I haven't felt the need to give them a history, but maybe I should.  Since I'm at the beginning of this series, I don't know what role some of these tertiary or lower characters will play, if any, so should I spend time on delving into their make-up or not?

What's your take on that, WWK readers?  How much backstory do you give your characters that aren’t written for the spotlight?  Do you write up just one or two sentences?  Do you fill out the whole character study?  I know each author is different, but I'm interested to hear the consensus, if there is one.

12 comments:

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I keep track of characteristics I’ve given a character, but I don’t spend a lot of time on anyone’s backstory unless they have a sufficiently large role.

I don’t need to know why the unnamed desk sergeant at headquarters is snarly the one time the reader meets him, however if he’s snarly the first time, I want to make sure he’s either snarly the second or some character comments on his change of personality if he’s now Mr. Sunshine.

As for massive backstory on people who may get larger roles in the future. I wait until they need it. Given my editing style some characters end up on the cutting room floor and never see the printed page. Why waste time on their backstory?

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

The answer to your question to me depends on their role in the story. Creating backstory for a one-off character isn't worth the effort, and if you provide too much description of the character, it tips the reader that the character may be of more importance than he is, misleading them. But, if the character is named and has dialogue then at least a physical description should be developed, mannerisms and how they react. If they play a role, then a backstory of their relationship to more important characters must be developed to give readers a frame of reference.

Secondary characters need only enough backstory that your story necessitates. Leaving their history blank maybe useful if you write a sequel. In the next plot, you may need to invent their backstory to relate to it.

Warren Bull said...

Backstory can help the author give the character depth.I know a number of writers who develop backstory for major characters they don't use in their stories.

Gloria Alden said...

I create backstories only for my main characters or my murderers. But I do create character sketches of all my characters except the one time walk ons. Therefore, Howie Turner, who runs Portage Falls hardware store with his father, has a description and some details about him, but no in depth back story - yet. Since he's a resident of my little town, he may have a more important part in the future. The same can be said of Ollie Osborne, the funeral director. Like Warren wrote, backstory can help give a character depth.

Alyx Morgan said...

So Jim, how do you keep track of whether the desk sergeant was surly the first time we meet him? Do you keep a record of that somewhere, or do you just have it in your head? I'm actually curious, because I'm not sure I'd be able to remember all the characteristic traits about my secondary or tertiary characters. Though, maybe I have too many characters.

Alyx Morgan said...

Thanks, EB, for that suggestion. I like the idea of waiting until a secondary character shows up to create his/her backstory. I just need to keep their persona as vague as possible when they first show up.

Alyx Morgan said...

That's what I've heard, too, Warren. I can see the argument that a fully-created history on a character can help make them jump off the page.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Alyx,

Yes, if I have a snippet of description, I include that in a spreadsheet of characters.

~ Jim

Alyx Morgan said...

You may have hit on the difference, Gloria: main characters need a backstory, while secondary characters simply need a sketch or outline. Thanks for offering that up.

Alyx Morgan said...

Great. Thanks, Jim.

Kara Cerise said...

I fill out lengthy character studies for my main characters (everything from greatest vulnerability to eye color) and make quick character sketches for secondary characters. I also have a short goal, motivation, conflict template I sometimes use for both primary and secondary characters. I don’t create a backstory for one time characters or even name them although I might give them a descriptive title like “pizza guy”.

Alyx Morgan said...

Oooh, I like the sounds of your template, Kara. Would you be willing to share that with me? If so, please email me offline.