How to Write Crime Fiction - Tip Three: Creating Those Characters
by Kelvin Jones
It's not only a question of the artist looking into himself but also of his looking into others with the experience he has of himself . He writes with sympathy because he feels that the other man is like him.
Although you may prefer a quiet place where you can sit with your notebook and writing pad, you can mull over your story while you walk to the shops or catch up on household chores. Do, though, slip a notebook into your pocket because it's maddening to have a brain-wave while you are out but no clue what it was once you reach home. My best ideas often come to me when I am walking! I keep referring to your `story', using the word as a blanket term to encompass plot and theme as well, but it also has a narrower sense in novel-making. It may only mean a chronological sequence of events.
The Importance of Characters to your Story
An accomplished writer can perform miracles with a weak story, but how do you invent a good one? I believe the essence is to have your characters in an interesting situation, and through the course of the narrative to move them into other interesting and challenging situations. Ultimately, a good story is one which engages the reader's attention and keeps it to the end.<.p>
A good crime story is an eventful one. There's a murder and characters are caught up in its aftermath, which may mean an investigation by police or an amateur sleuth; there are dramatic scenes and an eventual unravelling of the mystery, called a denouement, during which truths are revealed to the reader and, frequently, also to characters in the tale. A good suspense story may be quieter: less activity, perhaps, but a character the reader cares for is under threat. Your narrative may also have a subplot perhaps to do with your central character of the detective. In my most recent novel, for example, the detective's partner is killed in a road accident.
Stories don't have to be narrated in a straightforward manner because mystery, conflict or tension may be gained by not starting at the beginning of the time sequence. Such decisions aren't necessary until you reach the stage of turning your story into a plot, but you should bear in mind that you will face them. If you suspect your current story is lacking — although you know who does what to whom, and where and when and why and how; and you have a strong character or two at the heart of these events — the likelihood is that it will be transformed when you light upon the best way of relating it.
Your Crime Fiction Character Types
As the writer considers what characters are needed for working out the plot, ideas of the sort of people required begin to form in the mind.
The theme will have suggested one or two, perhaps more, main characters, but at this early stage, they are little more than types. The development of the plot indicates what other characters are needed - again, by type: the jealous woman; the overbearing father; the Other Woman; the possessive mother; the sweet young innocent girl, the idle son; the macho man; the weakling.
All these types are recognisable, but the human personality is far too complex to be pushed into any category and expected to stay there.
Sources of Characters
The question most frequently asked of writers is: `Where do the characters come from?' It is followed up by: `Do you put real people into your books?'
The answer is rarely a straightforward `A is drawn from Mrs Z; B is a portrait of Mr Y.' Only in the roman a clef are the characters deliberately — often maliciously - taken from life and intended to be recognised.
Fictional characters are usually composites: mixtures of physical and psychological attributes which the creative imagination suggests.
Question: Who exactly is the main character, and how will he be involved with the crime?
Creating Character Names
The apparently simple task of naming the characters is a minefield. Names go in and out of fashion. A glance at infant school registers will show the current favourites; those of a sixth form will show yesterday's choice; a trip round a cemetery will yield a harvest of the changing fashions of past decades.
Names convey a lot to readers, who will have preconceived ideas of the type of name associated with types of character. Old-fashioned names such as Albert, Millicent, Cedric or Nellie suggest older characters, who may range from the stuffy to the disreputable, and, on the whole, are unsympathetic. Modern names such as Craig, Shawn, Tracy or Sharon give an impression of youth and adventure, which is sympathetic.
Care has to be taken over the following points: no two characters' names should begin with the same letter of the alphabet; and names which sound like each other when read aloud should not be used.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of the same letter or the same sound. If the mistake is not corrected, confusion will arise in the reader's mind.
Care has to be taken, also, over the name given to the murderer. It is quite possible to give away the identity of the villain from the start by the use of an unsympathetic name.
Exploring the Character
Characters do not appear in a novel like newborn babes - without a past. For each one, a background has to be created.
The point of this is to get to know the character `in the round'. A good deal of the information may not appear in the text. It is part of the substructure of the novel essential to the writer, who must have a fundamental understanding of the characters if they are to take on life for the readers.
Coming later on this year from Cunning Crime Books: Head Bangers, the new DCI Ketch novel about murder in the East Anglian Fenlands.
An Inspector Ketch Crime Thriller
by Kelvin I Jones
Mangled heads have been turning up all over Norfolk and the remote fenland inhabitants of Korpusty are scared. Five murders in ten weeks, all committed with a hammer, and still nobody has a clue who the psychotic killer is.
Retired former DCI Ketch is an aged and dogged detective with a fondness for sex. He doesn't know it yet but he is the only one who can stop the violent killer.
He enlists the help of his former sidekick, DCI Tim Mackenzie.
Can Mackenzie help Ketch overcome his addictions and find the answers before the manipulative killer and his deadly hammer strike again?
Kelvin I. Jones has been a prolific UK crime and supernatural fantasy writer for over a quarter of a century. Born in Kent in 1948, he is equally at home writing poetry, plays and novels. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes and the only definitive study of Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective (see R De Waal's Universal Sherlock Holmes, online edition, 2000). Ed Hoch, the renowned American crime writer, has said of his Sherlockian work: “Kelvin I Jones reveals a sensibility and knowledge of 19th Century literature that extends far beyond the world of Sherlock Holmes.' He is the author of the Stone Dead series, featuring the intrepid Cornish detective, John Bottrell, and the Inspector Ketch stories, which are set in Norfolk.
Recent publications: Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues of London, Sherlock Holmes: The Baskerville Papers, A Dogged Detective (DCI Ketch), A Grave For The Goddess (John Bottrell).