During the month of May, several authors have been invited to help kick off my mystery-trivia book tour by writing about setting, plot, or character. Today my guest is mystery writer, Peg Cochran. Read what Peg has to say about the importance of character in a novel. Welcome, Peg.
The Importance of Character
I’m thrilled to be guest blogging
today! Thanks so much for having
me. I had a choice of plot or
character as a topic…it’s kind of the writer’s version of the “chicken or the
egg.” Which comes first?
me, it’s character with a smidge of plot thrown in. The old “what if?” question that writers tease themselves
with is the plot part. Then you
have to figure what if this happens to…and that’s where character comes in.
I wrote Confession Is Murder I started with the somewhat juvenile idea
that it would be really funny to have a character walk into a church and say
“Holy shit!” Which is, of course,
the first line in the book. But
who would say that? Obviously
Lucille Mazzarella (“that’s like mozzarella but with an ‘a’.”) Who was Lucille? She came to me completely formed. I knew Lucille from the get
go. I knew what she would say, how
she would speak, what she would do.
She was middle-aged, like me, struggling to lose a few pounds (I plead the
Fifth on that one), devoted to her family and still madly in love with her
husband after many years of marriage.
not all characters arrive fully formed on the page. Some I have to dig for, and some never really make that leap
to reality that Lucille did. I
know a lot of writers favor the “character sheet” which you fill in with date
of birth, hair and eye color, favorite flavor of ice cream etc. I’ve done that with mixed results. You might end up with a 28 year old
female who likes root beer floats, parts her hair on the left and had an older
brother who liked to tease her.
It’s a start, for sure, but it’s not the whole story.
favorite method of getting to know a character is free writing. Just put your fingers on the keys, get
into your character’s head, and have them “talk” to you. Ask them questions and then have them
answer in their own “voice.” You’d
be amazed at what you uncover! The
key is to keep writing, don’t sweat it, just listen to your character and see
what comes out your fingers as you keep them moving on the keys. People are complex, they don’t often
make sense—this will lead to a more realistic character than if you sat down
with a form and spent hours carefully filling in the blanks.
great book are about characters.
Can you remember the plot to Gone with the Wind
than that the South lost and Rhett Butler—another great character—says damn in
the end?) No, you remember
Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett. I can
remember the opening line “Scarlett O’Hara was not really beautiful but men
seldom realized that when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” Do you remember Holden Caulfield from Catcher
in the Rye
? Do you remember
what happens? What would To Kill
a Mocking Bird
be without Scout?
Or the 18 or 19 Evanovich books without Stephanie Plum and Grandma
Mazur? A Christmas Carol
I rest my case! In my humble
opinion, if you give your readers a colorful, memorable character, they will
forgive you any and all plot holes!
And your book will stay in their mind a lot, lot longer.
Peg Cochran is the author of Confession Is Murder,
first in the Patron Saint Mystery Series (available for Kindle and soon for all
ebook platforms), Allergic to Death, first in the Gourmet De-Lite series
coming in August from Berkley Prime Crime and Murder Unmentionable,
first in the Sweet Nothings series, debuting in September under the pen name
Post a comment on my blog by June 1 and your name will be entered in a drawing for one of my trivia books. Three names will be drawn, one for each book.