Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 13, 2009

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

This aspect of novel writing can be torturous as well as stimulating. Initially, I decide who will be the victim in my mystery and then by association, the suspects pop up. I give each one a secret that could be a motive for murder. Next it’s time to pull out my character development sheets and label each one with the name of a player. Okay, how do I turn these pages into people? First I look in my photo files. In SHEAR MURDER, #10 in my Bad Hair Day mystery series, Jill’s Uncle Eddy is a shifty attorney. So I look through the pictures for someone who looks like him. Nah, this guy is too young. Eddy is middle aged. Wait a minute. How is he related to Jill? I stop to devise Jill’s family tree. Now I know her grandparents had three children: Eddy, Sarah, and Luke. Cousin Kevin, another suspect, is the son of Luke, while Jill and her sister Torrie are offspring of Sarah’s. I may have to figure out their ages later, but for now, I know Eddy is middle-aged. Back to my files. Who looks like him?

Wait, this guy is perfect! He looks JUST LIKE UNCLE EDDY! And the woman in the photo with him is great for Eddy’s wife, Alexis. Oh, he’s married? Of course! And her manly features and his weasly looks tell a lot about them. i.e. Torrie and Jill call his wife “Auntie Al” behind her back because of her throaty voice, big-boned frame and square jaw. So now I go down my Character Development Tool. This is a shortened version:

Name: Eddy Rhodes

Career: attorney.

Physical Features: florid complexion like he’s been running, deep-set eyes under prominent brows, thundercloud gray hair, double chin, wide forehead.

Favorite Speech Phrases: “Oh, come on.”

Lifestyle Preferences: Big tipper, big mouth, big smile, big house

Dark Secret: Accepts kickbacks and bribes

Ruling Passion: wine connoisseur–wine cellar, wine tours, wine clubs

Dominant Trait: Balding, obnoxious loudmouth

Short-Term Goal: make more money

Long-Term Goal: retire in style

Concrete Symbol: chateau-like house

Motivation: Teased as a child for being overweight, Eddy has to best everyone to prove his worth. Middle or younger child.

Internal Conflict: Need for praise

External Conflict: Inflation prevents retirement and so does a son with ongoing health problems

Strengths: Generous, likes to contribute to charities…but always needs money.

Flaws: Greedy, drinks too much, cowardly in confrontations.

Realization leading to change: not applicable. This may occur during the course of the story but it’s more a tool for the main characters.

Now what about Falcon Oakwood, the bigwig developer in the story? Hey, this picture is perfect. It even shows his wife Leanne. But who’s that older lady in the photo? Why, it’s his mama! So that’s why Leanne is having an affair with [other suspect]. She craves her husbands’s attention but Falcon considers his mother over his wife.

The process repeats with the other characters, until I’m ready to meet them on the page.  All of this info may not make it into the story, but it gives me a springboard to begin writing.

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6 Responses to “CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT”

  1. You are nothing if not thorough! This provides an excellent guide for a character driven story.

  2. Cynthia Thomason said

    Great tips, Nancy. Love the new blog site.

  3. Great new site – I’ve made the switch on my blog roll at my blog as well. I figure I do about 1/4 the discovery before I start writing. I’ve never had a ‘real’ picture (although Blake in What’s in a Name? was definitely modeled on Duncan MacLeod from the Highlander TV series). By the end of a manuscript, I could probably fill out a chart like yours, but not before I start. I add stuff as I need it. Inherently lazy, I guess.

  4. Thanks all for visiting. I cut out celebrity photos from TV Guide, Entertainment Weekely, and VIVE Magazine. Sometimes ads can be inspiring too. What I look for are interesting characters. I keep them in a file and after I determine who my suspects or heroes are, I’ll look for a photo that matches my concept.

  5. Suzanne Rossi said

    I keep a photo file, too. A couple of times a year, I go online looking for celebrities I can model my characters after. I also buy those hair-styling magazines. And of course, comb the newspaper for anyone with interesting features. It helps if an author can visualize.

  6. Hairstylist Magazines…I should have thought of that!

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