This morning I wrote a scene in which my character thinks about his dead parents, and I had to stop and figure out whether I had mentioned in previous books what happened to them. It was real “duh” moment. My solution—to prevent readers from e-mailing me about “character mistakes”—is to go back and write a character development history. Then keep it updated as I go along. Read more →
Isn’t it odd that you can love and hate a character at the same time? Like House. I love it when he’s painfully honest with an idiot who needs a dose of reality. I hate it when he’s cruel to his boss and co-workers for no reason.
Then there’s Ari Gold from Entourage. He’s horrible to everyone except his favorite client (Vinnie Chase) and his own kids, but I still enjoy watching his character in action. I think it’s the Jeremy Piven factor. Read more →
I’m re-working the outline and first few chapter for my fourth Detective Jackson novel before I send them to an editor. Things were bothering me, so I went back to the basics and decided to share my 8-point checklist.
Plot. Is your plot logical? Do you have important scenes that would make a reader say “No one would ever do that”? Is your plot both linear and complex? Read more →
I’m reading a crime story with a fast-moving plot and terrific writing, but I may not finish it. What’s the problem? (Besides the fact that I’ve developed reading ADD.) The character, although well developed, is not someone I relate to, and the world she lives in is sleazy. I want to see how this story turns out, but every time I put the book down I feel like I need a shower.
I had this same problem with another book I read recently. In the middle of the story, the protagonist, supposedly a reformed criminal living a good life, participates in heinous crime. As a reader, I wanted him to get caught and go to jail. So I lost interest in the story. This happens for me with movies too. If there is not a single character who I find decent enough to root for, then I shut it off. I’m typically not someone who sees the world in black and white, but with crime stories, I want good guys and bad guys who are clearly discernable. (Elmore Leonard is the exception! And everyone can cheer for a likable jewel thief.)
Other readers in the book discussion said they didn’t have to like (or relate to) the protagonist to find a story compelling. I guess for me, good characterization means developing characters that readers care about, relate to, like, or respect in some way. But that definition may be narrower than the rest of the reading/writing world sees it. How do you define good characterization? Can it include protagonists who are unlikable or deeply flawed? Have you written a story with an unlikable protag, and what motivated you to do so?
How do you feel about writers who don’t describe their protagonists? How much description do you want to see?
I saw this question on a list serv today, and it hit home because I asked myself this same question yesterday. It occurred to me that there is almost no discussion of my protagonist’s physical appearance in my new novel. In the first Detective Wade Jackson mystery, readers get a brief description of Jackson from another main character early in the story. But in this installment, there is no opportunity for that. So anyone reading Secrets to Die For who did not read The Sex Club has no idea what Jackson looks like— except that he’s taller and heavier than a suspect who is coming at him.
I feel compelled to fix this. But there are limited options. He’s not a man who will look in a mirror and assess his appearance. I may be able to sneak in little bits of physical information here and there, but it will not amount to a full description early in the story.
As readers, how do you feel about this? Are you okay with coming up with your own visualization? What happens when you picture a character as blond, blue-eyed, and stocky, only to learn 100 pages into the story that he’s tall and dark? Is it disturbing, or do you just roll with the image?
As writers, how do you handle describing your protagonist if you don’t have another character who can do it for you?
I’ve been thinking about characters lately, mostly about how to make them more compelling. So I asked: Who are my favorite fictional police detectives? I came up with Lucas Davenport (John Sanford’s Prey series) and April Woo (Leslie Glass). I thought I might find commonalities that attract me as a reader. Instead, I discovered that they are very different.
Davenport seems to have no family, no parents or siblings that he is connected to in any way. April Woo has parents who are very present in her life. Davenport has a lot of money and doesn’t need to work. Woo has money problems (mostly because of her parents). Davenport knows how to play the political game to get what he wants out of the department. Woo is incapable of playing politics and lacks social skills in general.
So why do I like both these characters? Perhaps because they are both independent and unconcerned with what others think of them. They are also very good at their jobs. But I’m not satisfied yet, and I’m still thinking about this. So who are your favorite characters and why do you like them so much?