Monday, May 23, 2011

Moving Forward

Character development is one of the most important steps in writing a good book. If your characters are not well-rounded and believable your readers will not buy into the story you are trying to tell them. Your audience needs to feel as if there is a past and a future for the characters you are writing so that they are real to them and help them invest in the story.

When you are developing a character an author very often does know much more about them than what appears on the page. The trick is in writing it so that what has come before the reader is introduced to this man or woman is sitting there, waiting to be discovered as the storyline unfolds. You do this by showing how your character reacts to different situations and people as they go through the story. The drama of the story allows you to do this, to show who this person is. And hopefully your readers will come along the journey with you, interested in finding out just what it is that makes this character tick.

In addition to all the steps in character development there also needs to be forward movement with your characters, particularly in writing a series. As a character “ages” throughout a book or, even more so, in a series, you need to be able to see that there has been some growth or change of some kind. If your character(s) stay the same book after book they grow stagnant.

There are a lot of ways to do this. You can bring or remove characters from their world. Have them face various crises in their lives, personal and professional. One character that comes to mind as an example of this is Marcia Muller’s detective Sharon McCone series. Her character started out working for a small legal co-op. She briefly dated a police detective. The co-op grew, she gained an assistant and dated a radio DJ. She broke away from the co-op and went out on her own, met a new man on one of her cases and became involved with him. She learned how to fly and began hiring more people for her agency, and faced situations with her family and her own health.

In other words, Muller’s character has done anything and everything but remain inert. The first Sharon McCone book was published in 1977, and 28 books and all these years later this series is a fresh and vibrant and alive -- more so even --than when it began.

I’m writing the second in my cozy mystery series, and this is uppermost in my mind. I want my characters to live and breathe and, like real life, change, grow and move forward through their lives. As writers I hope we all do.

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