The Capricious Caper

It’s JJ today, reviewing the caper mystery, a sub-genre which can fall in the same category as a cozy.  There are differences, however.  Unlike a cozy, capers incorporate humor and cheek.  A caper can lean toward the whimsical or capricious, as well as the comedic/comical.  Main characters aren’t generally sophisticated or analytical and can lean toward blundering bunglers.

Capers also frequently incorporate more crimes than the typical murder found in the other categories—such as robberies and thefts, scams and hoaxes, and abductions.  Main characters, our lovely lawbreakers, generally commit the offences up front, so the reader’s aware from the get-go.  Moreover, these folks are often oddballs, yet manage to successfully pull off the, uh, caper.  As such, the emphasis isn’t so much on solving the mystery or mysteries, but on the crime or crimes.

The offenders are usually likable and get into hot water and crimes/deeds way over their heads.  They’ll argue and clash, but this will normally add to the comedy and capriciousness.  And given you’ll have a few folks engaged in the caper(s), you’ll likely want to have one of them serve as “the brains”, a team leader as it were.  Maybe the POV will come from this character?  It’s up to you as to how you wish to present your capering caper.

So, what should you consider when writing one?  The plot, of course.  Are the lawbreakers-to-be out to steal money or jewels?  If so, for selfish reasons or benevolent ones?  Are they out to commit more than one crime?  How many?  What is the purpose behind each one?  Committing a crime on a lark may not cut it with readers, but there might be justification for it being a lark . . . to prove something perhaps?  And, if there is more than one crime, how does each one tie into the other?

Give thought as to how each caper will be developed and carried out.  How will our “caperers” pull them off?  Who exactly are these people?  Give backgrounds.  Do some have questionable pasts?  Are they all shifty, or just a couple?  Do they have goals, dreams?  Are they in relationships?  What qualities might you provide so they are likable, witty or humorous, maybe even sympathetic?

Think about how to best build tension and conflict and humor in your story.  What could transpire during the course of the caper(s) that would make readers laugh?  Don’t forget your dialogue; in addition to it moving the story, it should contain both friction and wittiness now and again.

Besides humor, tone and mood are important to capers; as such, they can be more tricky to write.  But who doesn’t enjoy or relish a challenge?  Have fun!

An Amateur, but Never Amateurish

You’ve got me, Linda, posting today.  The Boss asked us to pick a couple of preferred mystery categories to review, so the first one I opted for: amateur sleuth.

Rey, JJ and I got the notion to become professional P.I.s—okay, my best friend, Rey did—after we’d done some amateur sleuthing at a haunted (yes, by a real ghost named Fred) Connecticut mansion.  We figured out who was responsible for many—many!—murders.  It proved dangerous, frightening, and exciting.

Perhaps you’re interested in writing an amateur sleuth mystery.  If so, allow me to share some key points.

Firstly, you may think an amateur sleuth mystery is the same as a cozy—and you’re right, sort of.  A cozy is almost always an amateur sleuth mystery, but an amateur sleuth mystery isn’t always a cozy.  Amateur sleuth stories can be comical/funny or lean toward the dark.  Cozies generally don’t, but both are commonly lighter; i.e. not overly gory when describing violence and murders and the like.

Amateur sleuth mysteries have the main character(s) digging for clues and answers; they’re curious, determined, and tenacious.  And we love following them as they endeavor to solve the crime; in fact, we love solving the crime with them as we attempt to ascertain who dun it.

The main character should be likable—smart and personable, too.  Yes, he/she may be an amateur sleuth, but he/she is far from amateurish.  A certain level of skill exists.  He/she doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist or a trophy-winning pro, just good at what he/she does.  Sure, he/she can make a mistake or two—we all do in real life—but don’t have the character bumbling and stumbling unless, perhaps, you’re incorporating a comic scene.  Stupidity doesn’t wear well on an amateur sleuth.

Incorporate a detailed background—town, city, monastery, island, mainland.  Make it come alive by offering well-crafted details about location (fictional or not).  Think of smells and sounds.  Let readers fully visualize the place(s).  And what sort of work environment does this mystery take place in?  A telecom company?  Radio station?  Publishing firm?  The [mystery] world is your oyster.

Ensure there’s a valid reason for your amateur sleuth(s) to become involved in the mystery; it could be personal and/or professional.  For example, maybe Mr. Smith wants to discover who killed the janitor, a kind friendly fellow, in his building.  Or maybe Ms. Browne wants to find out who bumped off her beloved aunt’s beau.  Make it valid; make it believable.

Action is a must.  You don’t need tons of it—dialogue and details/descriptions, when well presented, can carry the story—but regular or well-placed action will help move the plot along and keep readers interested.  Think: conflicts, tension, adventures, exploits, deeds.  Don’t forget danger; have your main character face a few perils!

Have enough clues.  Throw in red herrings.  Add twists and turns.  Keep your readers guessing.  Make certain there are enough suspects—that they all have possible motives, could have been in the vicinity at the time the crime was committed, or had the means (were able) to commit the crime.  You want to keep your readers guessing as to . . . yes . . . who dun it.

First person or third?  It’s your choice.  Write in the voice that you feel most comfortable with.

What about romance?  I believe some people enjoy a bit of l’amour in their books.  I do.  But if it doesn’t fit your main character—at least not in this current story—that’s okay.  Maybe he/she finds a sweetheart in the next one.

You may wish to consider having a partner or buddy assisting the main character.  They can bounce ideas off each other, discover clues, and help in dire moments.  A colleague can also prove comic relief; maybe the two interact like Laurel and Hardy?  There’s a distinct relationship and one you can develop/change throughout the series (if it’s your intention to write a few mysteries featuring the same folks).

When the culprit has been unveiled/captured, end the story in a timely manner.  Tie up loose ends . . . and exit effortlessly and easily . . . like I’m about to do.

That, my friends, is the amateur sleuth mystery in a proverbial nutshell.

Picking the Police Procedural …

… as your mystery of choice.

Hey-ho, it’s Rey.  I’ve got the first post of “must dos” re specific categories of mysteries: police procedurals.  My mother used to read them—Ed McBain, P.D. James, James Patterson, to name a few.  That woman never threw any books away.  We had stacks (!) in the basement.  I was never much of a reader but, once in a while, I’d grab a paperback on a rainy afternoon.  I have to admit, I kinda liked McBain’s books.

You’ll be happy to know that, although our boss gave me some insight/input, I did my own research as to what you need to incorporate in your story (pat on back to me).  So, basically, the police procedural is police crime drama, which looks at how a member of the police or legal force handles an investigation.  Evidence, warrants, forensics and legal procedures are must dos and are interwoven throughout the storyline.

Decide who your protagonist (main character) is and which agency/department he or she works for.  The FBI, DEA, or a local police station maybe?  Make sure to learn the rules/regulations specific to it.  They all have their own, so have the right facts for the right place (i.e. setting).  For example, what are gun regulations, laws, sentencing and penalties in your given location(s)?  Research should become be your best friend . . . and that research can extend to chatting with those in the legal profession.  Call the Media Relations department; they’ll point you in the right direction.  Inquire . . . inquire . . . inquire.  And if you’re in it for the long run, take some courses and/or attend a conference or two.

Incorporate the day-to-day duties of the office or agency.  This is paramount to a good police procedural.  You’ll be providing realistic details re ops and processes, and the like; keep them authentic and relative to the setting/location (crimes that occur in a cosmopolitan city may not occur in a rural farm-rich community).  The procedural isn’t a cozy where poetic license is permissible if not desired (where having Neddy Hickenbottom, the antique dealer, suspended from a cherub statue in a eighteenth-century hedge maze is better [more thrilling] than having Nat Browne, the pizza guy, found at the end of a cul-de-sac in suburbia).

Give your protagonist depth.  Don’t make him/her flat or one-dimensional.  There should be a past (history), likes and dislikes, personal and professional quests, habits, and training/education among other things.  The storyline is important, for sure, but readers do want to relate to your main character.  Make him or her likable or have redeemable traits (nothing wrong with someone being mean-spirited or pessimistic, as long as he/she develops and changes, my personal opinion).  There are rules to be followed and some can be broken, but for the most part, think “authenticity”.  The Boss may have used this before, but I think it’s perfect . . . character development is like painting a portrait.  Add layers and a variety of colors.

Something you might find in a procedural: different points of views.  This will enable readers to become acquainted with facts the protagonist might not know.  That’s fine.  Word of advice, though: don’t have too many POVs or you’re going to confound readers.

Given this is a police procedural, you’ll be more limited in what the crime/storyline entails.  Nevertheless, you can certainly still write a stellar and exciting story.  As with all mysteries, provide clues as your protagonist investigates the crime (readers love solving the mystery with the hero/heroine), but don’t be obvious.  Throw in a couple of red herrings, too.

WPflashing-light-animated-clipart-7Think about uniforms and routines, outlooks and processes.  Remember, in the real police world, reports and record-keeping is rampant; it’s not just about following a suspect or solving a crime.  Consider all the elements.

Sounds challenging?  I say it sounds more like fun.  Have at it, my friends.

Putting the Mystery in a Mystery

mystery:  secrecy  /  ambiguity  /  whodunnit  /  enigma  /  puzzle / conundrum / riddle / unsolved problem

The gals thought today’s post should review the mystery genre—specifically, how to write one.  Sounds good to me.

As you know, mysteries can fall under various categories: cozy, amateur sleuth, professional sleuth, private eye (like our trio, JJ, Rey and Linda), police procedural, noir, suspense, historical, mixed genres, literary, and caper, which is a crime story that leans towards comical (didn’t know that one had a category until recently, so there you go; you do learn something new every day).

Let’s stick to an overall review of penning a mystery, because each category has its own specific components and that would take up several pages.  But, hmm, that’s a thought; maybe we’ll feature each one separately over the next few weeks.  Ah, Rey’s giving two thumbs up.  <LOL>  I guess that’s what we’ll be doing.

You’ve decided to write one but aren’t sure what type?  Well, which mysteries do you enjoy reading?  Cozies?  Then go for that, something familiar.  Later, if you’re so inclined or are looking for a challenge, try something else.

Regardless of the type, you need a compelling story, one that yanks the reader right in.  Have a murder or three (or an enthralling crime/riddle to solve), also known as “plot”.  There should be conflict and tension, and action (but this doesn’t necessarily have to be of the racing-against-time or hit-over-the-head intensity).  Provide an interesting and preferably likable central character—the protagonist and person solving the mystery—and ensure your other characters have life.  They mustn’t be flat or wooden, or sound/seem the same.  I haven’t said this in a while, but variety is the spice of life . . . and stories.

Something else I’ve not stated in some time: show, don’t tell.  Weave the aforementioned conflict and tension between dialogue and activities/adventures.  Neither need be there continually, but certainly often enough to keep the reader on the edge of his/her seat, yearning to read on and discover what transpires!

Give thought to the crime.  If you’re stumped as to what the crime should be, search the internet for real-life ones and adopt/adapt one.  Imagine yours in every detail—how it was committed, what happened before and after, why it took place, and who did the dastardly deed.  Think about clues that the central character might stumble upon and follow.  Toss in a red herring or two.

WPgiphyGive thought as to why your character would be inclined to solve this mystery.  A professional reason perhaps?  He/she is a private investigator or detective, or works in some sort of legal or medical capacity, as examples.  An amateur sleuth may stumble upon a crime or murder and aspire to determine what transpired—but how did said amateur sleuth happen to be there?  Visiting a relative?  Attending a conference?  Moreover, might there be a personal reason the character wants to solve the mystery?  Add a few layers, but don’t stifle your character or reader (which translates into zzzzzz).

Who are your suspects?  You should have a few to keep your readers intrigued, guessing [detecting] along with the central character, and wanting to discover who the culprit is!  Try to surprise your reader, but don’t make the outcome outlandish or implausible.  On the flip side, don’t make your outcome too predictable or easily “reader solvable”.

Assemble your concept, characters, clues and suspects like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to create a complete picture.  Outline/chart how your protagonist [eventually] solves the mystifying crime.  Consider scenes and events.  And don’t forget your setting, either.  Make it come as alive as your character(s), dialogue, and actions.

Happy writing.

Have at It!

These days, it’s certainly not difficult to become unmotivated or uncommitted re writing/blogging.  When in lock-down, inspiration can seem limited and the routine . . . well, routine.  I know I’m finding it tough to stay focused or come up with ideas; I’d rather be a couch potato and suck back a big bag of salt-and-vinegar chips.  Fortunately, or unfortunately—that perspective thingy—work and mom-care obligations won’t allow for that.  So, what better a topic for today than staying inspired.  Let’s have at it!

These are suggestions you’ve undoubtedly heard/read before, but it never hurts to review.

Try to stick to your usual practice.  If you always write in the morning, keep at it.  Maybe you don’t do it as long, but you do it.  If you post twice a week, you continue, even if the content is but a few sentences.  Write what’s on your mind, what you’re feeling. Do a vid, post a pic.  Share.

Some say vary the routine so things don’t become mundane or stale.  If you’re someone who can stick to commitments, then yes, give it a try.  Myself?  If I don’t do something at a certain time—“I can do XYZ at three instead”—it’s pretty much a done deal that it won’t happen.  I am a creature of habit and must honor that.  But what works for me may not work for you.

This might be a perfect time to redesign your blog and organize files.  Nothing better ‘n neatness, I say.  After that, heck, what’s wrong with working on a closet or two?  Drawers?  Cupboards?  Have at them, too.

Take breaks—go for a jog or stroll, ride a bike, walk the dog, cat or hamster.  A change of scenery (other than the view of your laden dining-room table or desk) is always a good thing.  And, for the interim, remember your social distancing.

Consider goals.  What do you want to see happen or do a couple of months from now?  A year from now?  If you had goals before, are they still the same?  Do some soul-searching.  List those things you want to engage in and/or have happen.

What about taking an on-line course to enhance your writing and blogging skills?  Or maybe learning something new, something you’d never have considered before?  If I had the time, I’d go for learning Japanese (an aim of mine for some time).  The sky’s the limit.  You could even work on obtaining certification in some area.  An exciting possibility, isn’t it?

Most importantly perhaps, stay connected with your writing/blogging communities.  Get involved in virtual chats and emails.  Find writing and blogging buddies, if you haven’t already.  Tweet.  Visit FB, Instagram, and all the other social networking sites too numerous to list.  Fine out what other folks are doing and saying.  Hook up with others for inspiration and interaction.

And, if you’re going through a bit of a bad or non-inspired spell, step back . . . take a look at all you’ve done and accomplished.  You’ve worked hard.  You’ve stuck to it through thick and thin.  That’s awesome!

WP1mot123RFdotCOMNever give up.  Keep hope and faith strong.

Have at it—it’s all for you.  It’s all for us.  We are in this together.

Inept Editing . . . Inept Writing . . . ?

You say “poh-tay-toe”, I say “paw-tah-tow”.  Something like that.

I love editing as much as writing and, admittedly, I get so enthused that sometimes I edit more than I probably should—by adding words/phrases or rewriting something that [I believe] warrants reworking.  Some writers are thankful, others get their knickers in a knot (and sound like they’d love nothing better than smack you with them).

I always feel dismayed when editors receive criticism, but I can also appreciate where the resentment stems from: it’s a blow to that fragile thing known as ego.  In my early writing days, as I’ve shared in past, I wasn’t terribly good.  And the hackles would raise when constructive criticism—“advice”—came my way.  I laugh [hysterically] now, knowing how right those individuals were!  But it took years to come to that realization . . . which was only achieved through studying, learning, and applying . . . and adopting thicker skin.

Writing is something that requires work; for the majority of people, it doesn’t come “naturally”.  It’s a craft that must be fashioned.  And it’s sad when writers won’t make an effort to improve themselves—truly, no one is perfect.  That’s a fact.

In this era of e-book publishing, anyone can be a writer.  And as I’ve previously stated, this is a good thing, because the world of traditional publishing was [is] very limited.  Many good writers could only hope/dream/pray they’d be in the right place at the right time: i.e. having a publisher actually pick up their manuscript as opposed to it landing on the slush pile (ooh, those form rejection letters, how crushing they could be).

The point of this post?  To suggest that e-book writers take feedback—“advice”—from editors with a grain of salt.  This profession, like writing, is a labor of love.  We truly do what we do to assist [and support] writers in becoming better narrators/storytellers.  Authors, aspiring or otherwise, should lay aside the egos a little and understand that while they have great tales to tell, they may not yet have achieved the talented authoring—flair—of Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, or Helen DeWitt.

Inept = incompetent. 

But incompetence can evolve into competence. 

It’s all a question of acceptance, attitude, and application . . . and adopting that aforementioned thicker skin.  We’re in this together; let’s make it work together.

And What’s with the Comma?

Doing a lot of editing these days and coming across “and” followed or preceded by a comma . . . also a lot.  <LOL>  As such, it prompted me to revisit using this lovely little punctuation mark with “and”.

Given this post is grammar oriented (yes, I sense those eyes glazing over already), let’s take a quick gander at “and”.  A conjunction is a word often used to connect words, phrases, and clauses/sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause.  But it can also be used to add (three and five equals seven, er, eight) or demonstrate a result (Read the manual thoroughly, and you’ll be able to build that generator, no prob).  “And” can also serve as a noun (I told you to do that—no ifs, ands, or buts).

Let’s see.  Ah yes.  A coordinating conjunction can also refer to: in addition to (men and women); as a consequence (Gerald raced after the malevolent monster and tumbled off the cliff), and; subsequently or then (Joan texted Rodney her plans and drove over to his place).  You can check the internet for more in-depth details if you’re so inclined.  <wink, wink>

Be watchful of how you use commas after “and”.  Use it as a linking device:

♦  Larry had a mug of coffee and tuna sandwich.      ♦  She wrote a book about an angel and a saint.

But if you’re linking more than two phrases, put “and” in front of the last one.

♦  Larry had coffee, a tuna sandwich, and a chocolate-almond tart for lunch.      ♦  She wrote a book about an angel, demon, and deity.

When linking adjectives, the comma is optional.  Many people like to put a comma before “and” in a list.

♦  They felt weary, sweaty, and dirty.  /  They felt weary, sweaty and dirty.      ♦  Henry the hamster is cute, well behaved, and energetic.  /  Henry the hamster is cute, well behaved and energetic.

Be wary of using a comma before “and” when there are only two actions/details.

♦  Correct:  Martha and Jake like to jog and stretch.      ♦  Incorrect:  Marth and Jake like to jog, and stretch.

Here are two independent clauses; as such, add the comma before “and”.  An independent clause, by the by, is a sentence that could stand on its own.  But you already knew that.

♦  In May they’ll visit Japan, and in June they’ll travel to Australia.

Don’t use a comma before “and” when an independent clause is connected to a dependent clause (a phrase that can’t stand on its own).

♦  Taylor pulled the roast out of the oven, and watched Lee slice it.

The first clause, an independent one, can stand alone (as a sentence), but the second clause can’t.  It’s “dependent” on the first.

♦  Correct:  Taylor pulled the roast out of the oven and watched Lee slice it.

Eyes drooping?  A yawn pulling at those down-turned lips?  Okay, okay.  I’ll stop.  Just give thought to that comma.  It’s a wonderful, practical punctuation mark . . . useful for keeping information clear and enabling ease of reading.  However, used in overabundance (like anything), it can prove quite annoying [if not unprofessional].

Decide what your approach/style re the comma is and be consistent.

Here’s to the comma, and not making sentence structure errors.  <LOL>

WPcommaGIFImgur

The Sun always Rises

You have the three of us today.  Hey, it’s Rey!

No, this isn’t a post about Hemingway (Linda told me my title was similar to the title of one of his books).  If you’ve been following our FB (The Triple Threat Investigation Agency) page, you know we’ve spent the week pretty much on the lanai.  Oh, we’re doing some work—whatever’s doable—and drinking lots of iced tea, which I personally hate.  Linda’s been busy creating new blends (keeps her busy, she says).  The latest concoction—fusion, as my BFF calls it—is lavender-fennel.  With sprigs of dill, no less.  It’s . . . interesting (and let’s leave it at that).

Besides watching some mind-numbing TV—you know, I kinda wish I’d opted to become a game-show model (I like the clothes)—and over-grooming the kids, we’ve been reading a lot.  Me Nancy Drew, Linda philosophy and English lit stuff (can you spell y-a-w-n?), and JJ everything and anything in the news.  Who’d ever have guessed life could be put on lock-down hold?

Given the hope-related posts on FB all week, we thought we’d stay on a similar theme and each provide a current favorite quote—one that’s kinda inspiring us right now.

Linda:   I have to go with Helen Keller’s “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”  Clear and clever.  Never give into negativity or the dark side(s) of life.

JJ:   Winston Churchill said it succinctly well.  “The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”  Remaining optimistic, no matter what adversity faces us, is tantamount to overcoming [any and all] obstacles.

Me-Rey:   As a part-time actress, I have to go with Milton Berle.  “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”  We—you, me—have the ability to make things happen.  Don’t ever doubt that.

Continue to stay safe, be smart, and keep the faith.  The sun does always rise . . . sometimes with breathtaking results.

Take care, dear friends.

While we’re Chatting about Characters …

Just wanted to touch upon character “depth and development” a bit more today . . . give more of that proverbial food for thought.

WPchrac4When it comes to detailing our characters (villains included), we want to provide:

♥  enough facts and features to paint a vivid picture    ♥  layers to create complexity and intensity.

We don’t, however, want to offer so many details and components that we deliver an abstract depiction, one that lends itself to an unbelievable and/or non-“seeable” person.

Consider the factors most relevant to your characters, those that make them come to life for your readers.  Do we need to know every facial feature?  Of course not.  Just those that impart details that build on—add dimension to—the character/villain.

For example, let’s take a gander at types of:

eyes – monolid, hooded, almond-shaped, close-set …

♥  Ronald’s sad kelp-brown eyes scanned the reception area.

lips – thin, wide, full, bow-shaped …

♥  Her perpetually pouty lips drew into a tight line when she noticed the ever-irascible Detective Smith had entered the lobby.

noses – fleshy, turned-up, narrow, flat, Roman, bumpy …

♥  The intern’s ski-slope nose had an odd jagged scar running down the left side.

chins – double, pointed, long, fleshy, scarred, pimply …

♥  Unable to meet Jason’s intense crow-black eyes, the man spoke to his strong square chin.

eyebrows – S-shaped, thin, rounded, tattooed, hard-angled, soft-angled ….

♥  Roger eyed the professor’s thin plucked eyebrows and absently noted how they seemed eternally arched.

What about arms, legs, body shapes?  There are so many options available!

♥  thin, slender, slim, short, flabby, zaftig, curvaceous, shapely, voluptuous, colossal, fat, skeletal, tiny, large, vast, frail, fragile …

What about the clothes and jewelry characters/villains wear . . . or don’t wear?  Telling or not?

♥  Sam Evans III zipped up his Alexander McQueen satin bomber jacket and glanced at his Luminox titanium watch.  His arc-shaped lips pulled into a frown.

♥  Lenny looked at his Timex watch and a loud sigh pushed past flabby lips.  Anxiously, he adjusted the collar of his loud-print polyester shirt.

♥  She tossed the diamond-encrusted watch onto the corner of the handcrafted desk as her slender frame sank back into the plush contour chair.

If you have an overabundance of attractive or secretive characters, take it further.  Attractive in what way?  Pretty?  Handsome?  Comely?  Secretive in what way?  Reserved?  Reticent?  Cagey?  What differentiates them?

Having edited numerous manuscripts, it seems that characters are often taken for granted by the writer.  He/she knows what the they look like, but the readers don’t because the delivery is lacking.  Hence my “nudge” for more selective—appropriate—word choices.

WPchar2Get to know your thesaurus.  It offers a wealth of alternatives to the flat and mundane.  Consider those words the colors you can utilize to paint your characters alive.

Clumsy Characters = Chaos

Perhaps a little dramatic a heading, but the fact is that if characters are described/portrayed in a vague or awkwardly constructed fashion, the result will lend itself to chaos, also known as confusion.

What’s makes for vague or awkward characters?

Those that have:

minimal descriptions  ♣  they all have eyes and are either male or female, but there’s not much more to let us know what they look like

similar descriptions  ♣  all have dark eyes and are tall

identical speech patterns  ♣  they utilize the same jargon/slang or sound the same

alike reactions  ♣  their eyes open wide with confusion or fear (regardless whether they’re detectives, criminals, boys, girls, teachers or waitstaff)

stereotypical personalities/appearances/mannerisms  ♣  they read like characters found in countless dramas, novels, soap operas

little or no depth  ♣  come across as vapid or weak (there’s no backbone or spirit, not even a hint of personality).

If characters come across as dull or lackluster, readers won’t be inspired to continue reading.

Make your characters compelling, appealing.  There should be “something” about them—something that attracts us to them as readers (or “viewers”, as we do visualize the scenes).  Or repels us.  If you’re going to have a villain, make him or her chillingly evil or sad, or compassionate—but memorable.

Think of fictional persons who’ve captured our/your attention: Columbo  /  Steve McGarrett  /  Alex Delaware  /  Jack Torrance /  Macbeth  /  Hamlet  /  Elizabeth Benet  /  Jessica Fletcher  …

WPpaint1The writer in me always likens the creation of a character to the painting [completion] of a canvas.  The final picture should captivating, powerful. 

Generally, we like [love] characters who are trustworthy and supportive, keep promises and play fair, and have objectives [and missions] we can relate to or empathize with, among many other attributes.  Additional likable qualities: they love animals, are helpful, stand their ground, and fight for unfairness [without complaint].  And it never hurts if they’re really good-looking and fit, funny/witty, and [relatively] brave.  Think: personality.  What makes a character tick?  What makes him/her resonate?  Think of everyday folks who have that je ne sais quoi.

That said, don’t go overboard and make characters overly good or villains excessively bad.  We all have failings, but we all have virtues.

Give your central character(s)—the protagonist(s)—an intriguing skill/talent or pastime.  Maybe your hero/heroine is a detective with a remarkable track record.  He/she has many friends, can fight well (has fists like a prizefighter) but only engages in a skirmish when absolutely necessary.  He/she is attractive, tall, slim, and fit/toned.  But so are lots of detectives.  So provide dimension.  Perhaps he/she scuba dives on the weekends and volunteers at a homeless shelter two nights a week?  Perhaps he/she takes cooking classes?  What’s your character’s history and background?  What motivates him or her?  Paint that detailed/vivid picture!  Give that character something to make him/her, yes, stand out.

And don’t forget to give your protagonists the odd challenges.  Let them feel and express feelings.  Dilemmas and issues occur in real life that feed on/off emotions; the same should hold true for fictional characters.

More on character development in the future.  Happy painting!