By Gerry Schmitt
Of all the ingredients that go into writing a novel, I think character may be the most critical. An engaging plot and dynamic storyline are absolutely critical, too, since your main purpose is to entertain readers. But job one is to create a main character – your protagonist – that readers will either love, root for, or identify with. After all, great characters not only make us think, feel, and see things differently, they help up fall in love with the story.
If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, which is my specialty, it’s even an advantage to have a character that’s somewhat flawed, that reveals a touch of human frailty. And as your story progresses, your main character never has to evolve into a perfect human being, they just have to possess a good moral compass. You want your main character to be angry, outraged, or upset enough to take up the cause of going after the antagonist/killer and solving the mystery. Your character’s desire for final justice can be a powerful engine that drives the entire story.
When I begin writing a novel, I develop a loose outline on a large sheet of paper. I jot out notes for my first grab-my-reader-by-the-throat scene as well as a bang-up conclusion for my final chapter. And then I start adding secondary characters. I create scenes where my protagonist begins to rub elbows with various other characters, any number of which could be suspects as well as the antagonist/killer himself. These scenes also give me prime opportunities to sprinkle in clues along the way, as well as a few red herrings. When my paper outline starts to feel fairly gelled, I transfer it to my computer and tighten it up. Sometimes I even take that initial outline to around eighty pages. Then, I go back to chapter one and start writing. I judiciously put in character names and descriptions. But I never do a lot of back story on my characters. It’s always better to let their personalities be revealed by their actions. And sometimes, as you’re typing along, those pesky characters will begin to come alive and you end up with a little bit of magic on your page!
Gerry Schmitt is the author of Shadow Girl, an Afton Tangler Thriller, and Little Girl Gone, the first book in the series. Writing under her pen name Laura Childs, she is the New York Times bestselling author of more than forty mysteries that include the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbooking Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Her books have also been on the USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists. Gerry is the former CEO of her own marketing firm, has won dozens of TV and radio awards, and written and produced two reality TV shows. Social Media: Author Website www.laurachilds.com Facebook laurachildsauthor