Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Making Characters Come Alive

I love comments like one from a reviewer for The Good, The Bad and The Murderous, second book in my Sid Chance mystery series. She wrote:

"The character development is superb. Hard decisions are made by realistic characters. Are these really just characters in a book? They seemed so real to me. In my mind's eye, each character has a face, a body, a voice."

One of the criticisms I see often about novels is that too many characters are "wooden," hardly more than stick figures. Everybody in my stories who is more than a walk-on with only a few lines of dialogue gets some background to make them real to the reader. Here was my introduction to two minor characters who appear in only a couple of scenes:

He introduced the tall lawyer, who reminded Sid of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, as Brainerd Hersholt. The smaller man was Hardy Vandenberg. As Sid learned, Hersholt’s movie actor look wasn’t far off course. A Yale Law School graduate, he was a descendant of famed movie actor Jean Hersholt, who was honored annually by the Hersholt Humanitarian Award given at the Oscar ceremonies. A graduate of Duke Law School, Vandenberg was the son of an old friend of Arnie Bailey.

The Good, The Bad and The Murderous will be free in the Kindle Store today (Jan. 29), tomorrow and Thursday (Jan. 31) at amzn.to/14iOl1p
Secondary characters with important roles in the story get the full treatment, almost as much as lead characters. This can include family backgrounds, education, employment history, manner of speech, and various other characteristics. Sid Chance is well covered, of course, but I gave him a part-time helper who is as unique as any character I've created. Jasmine (Jaz) LeMieux is a wealthy businesswoman who enjoys assisting in particularly difficult investigations. Many readers say she's their favorite character.

Jaques LeMieux, a French Canadian, came to Nashville after the Korean War. Starting with a single truck stop, he built the business into a thriving nationwide chain of travel centers along the interstate highway system. He married an aristocratic Southern belle who disowned Jaz when the headstrong girl, a star basketball player, quit college in disgust and joined the Air Force. After completing a tour with the Security Police, she trained under a former Golden Gloves standout and became a champion woman boxer. Unable to make a living at the sport, she joined the Metro Nashville Police Department. After her mother died and her father was nearly killed in an accident, Jaz moved back home and helped get him healthy again. She became Jaques LeMieux' assistant and got an MBA degree. When he died, she took over as majority owner and chairman of the board.

Some authors paint detailed physical descriptions of their characters. I prefer to give enough for a general idea but leave it to the reader to create his or her own image. Sometimes it's done with a comparative comment like the detective who had a Clark Gable mustache. The main point is to provide enough background so the readers feel they know the character as a real person.

No comments: