Every once in awhile I come up with a fun, fascinating character and I go searching for the right story in which to place that character. Then again, and more often than not, I have a plot — a specific mystery idea — and begin creating characters to bring that story to life. Ultimately, the characters will determine the structure and direction of the plot anyway. So, maybe the chicken and the egg is kind of irrelevant.
Since I write about amateur sleuths with no to very little investigative experience, their motivation and approach are very different from, say, a law enforcer or a hired P.I. The amateur sleuth must rely on unique character traits, and fall back on previous experiences that are in no way related to the murder investigation but are surprisingly useful. It’s almost as if she’s lived a lifetime of yesterdays of unique experiences that prepared her for the day when she’d have to seek out the truth in an odd and suspicious murder.
Whatever the murder, the sleuth I eventually develop must be a living, breathing personality who is capable of solving the murder and keeping the reader engaged for 300 pages. There’s a lot that goes into creating a fully-developed character but here’s where I start:
- Where was your character born and raised?
- Who were the parents?
- What was the character’s childhood like?
- What members of a family does the character have?
- What kind of student was the character?
- What special skills or knowledge does the character possess?
- What hobbies did or does the character have?
- What are some of the traits of the character – emotional, mental and physical?
- Does the character have any quirky personality traits?
- What kind of job or profession is the character occupied with, past and present?
- And finally, what are some of the character’s past and present relationships?