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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.
Georges Simenon

How to Write Crime Fiction - Tip Three: Creating Those Characters

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.

Head Bangers

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 Jones

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).

www.cunningcrimebooks.co.uk

Books

The Norwich Murders

Kelvin Jones

£7.32

There's a serial killer stalking the streets of Norwich and it's the job of DCI Price (known to his colleagues as 'Ketch,' }to unmask him. Although there's not much in the way of forensic evidence, Ketch believes that killer is a religious maniac. Plagued by alcoholism and melancholia. Ketch struggles to keep pace as the killer's body count slowly rises. A fast paced and atmospheric crime thriller set against the backdrop of an ancient city.

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The Janus

Kelvin Jones

£8.32

At a Romano-British hill fort in Kent a strange Celtic stone head is found. The ancient artefact soon has a terrifying effect on whoever it comes into contact with since it is the stone talisman of a Celtic warrior whose speciality was the severing of his opponents' heads in battle. The Janus also has the power to project terrifying dreams into the minds of the living. An atmospheric contemporary horror tale by the author of Twelve After Midnight and Carter's Occult Casebook. 'Then, at length, he would turn out the light and leave the room, his mind full of plans and stratagems. And behind him, in the darkness of the vault, the Janus would know that soon now it would rise like a phoenix from the ashes, bringing the dead back into the daylight, demanding the Blood Sacrifice...'

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A Grave For The Goddess

Kelvin Jones

£7.07

Norfolk based detective John Bottrell and his partner had been looking forward to a relaxing holiday with old friends in the quiet Cornish village of Saint Maddern. But when the vicar of Saint Maddern is found murdered in the church, there are few clues as to the identity of her assailant, much to the frustration of Bottrell and his ex colleague DCI Ray Sexton. As midsummer day approaches and the local pagans prepare for their 'Day of Harmonic Convergence,' more murders follow, and Bottrell is convinced that there are dark forces abroad in the community. A Cornish murder mystery with an occult twist from the author of Stone Dead and Witch Jar.

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Conan Doyle And The Spirits: The Spiritualist Career of Arthur Conan Doyle

Kelvin Jones

£8.56

An exhaustive and definitive study of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's career as a psychic investigator by Sherlock Holmes biographer Kelvin I. Jones.The author has been a prolific writer for a quarter of a century. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective. 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."

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The Complete Inspector Ketch: The Casebook Files Of A Norwich Detective

Kelvin Jones

£11.60

The complete edition of crime stories, featuring the lugubrious, alcoholic and long in the tooth East Anglian detective, DCI Ketch.The novel and sixteen short stories in this volume feature a dogged Norwich detective, 'Ketch', so named after his ancestor, Jack Ketch the hangman. Ketch (real name Huw Price) is an alcoholic, nearing retirement in the force. Seventeen atmospheric tales of murder and mayhem, set in and around the towns and villages of Norfolk, involving blackmail, revenge, lust and obsession. By the author of the Stone Dead Omnibus.

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Carter's Occult Casebook

Kelvin Jones

£7.94

A collection of full length ghost and horror stories featuring the Edwardian psychic sleuth Dr John Carter. In the tradition of the English writer M. R. James.

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Traditions And Hearthside Stories Of West Cornwall: Tales Of An Old Celt

Kelvin Jones

£10.96

William Bottrell, the most famous of all Cornish storytellers, once described himself as "an old Celt". This seems appropriate when one looks at his prolific output of "drolls", published privately between 1870 and 1880 for the benefit of the middle class readership of Penzance. The tales he collected came from the lips of the miners and the local people. A new edition of the Cornish folklore classic, with an introduction by Kelvin Jones

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Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues Of London

Kelvin Jones

£8.07

It is December 1888. The body of Queen Victoria's physician is discovered in a railway carriage on Paddington Station. Sherlock summons his brother Mycroft to the scene. Sherlock is convinced the crime bears no resemblance to the Ripper murders but when a letter arrives at Scotland Yard, ostensibly from the Ripper, claiming he is the author of the crime, Lestrade doubts Sherlock's wisdom. When the body of Sir James Fawcett, a leading expert on tropical diseases, is found at his home in Chelsea the day after, Sherlock realises that a challenging criminal mind is at work. This Sherlock Holmes novel, which follows the author's own chronology of the cases of Holmes, introduces readers to a number of real life Victorian celebrities, including Oscar Wilde. By the author of 'Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective.'

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Sherlock Holmes And The Cromer Hound: An Investigation

Kelvin Jones

£7.07

A fascinating investigation into the literary origins of Conan Doyle's horror classic. Kelvin Jones traces the story from its East Anglian roots to its final emergence as a West Country thriller. The story's geography, mythical dimension and folkloric allusions are also examined in depth. A must for Holmes fans.

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Witch Jar

Kelvin Jones

£7.73

When ex-metropolitan police detective and psychic John Bottrell returns to Cornwall to recuperate, having inherited a cottage from his mother-in-law on the remote Lizard peninsula of West Cornwall, he little realises that his analytical abilities will be tested to the full. On the very day of his arrival in the village of St Sampson, Bottrell's car collides with that of local incomer Melanie Pearson, with whom he strikes up an immediate rapport. When Melanie's daughter, Isobel, is found hanging from a tree in the mysterious Hob's Wood, her death is at first thought to be another suicide. But when Bottrell meets Ian Glenister, a former Metropolitan police colleague, assigned to investigate Isobel's death, he learns that foul play is suspected in the deaths of two other teenagers. Bottrell, a melancholy alcoholic, stalks the wild Cornish landscape in this psychological thriller which combines elements of the occult, new age overtones and traditional crime narrative. Witch Jar is the second in the series of novels featuring John Bottrell.

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Stone Dead

Kelvin Jones

£7.39

Ex-Met detective John Bottrell travels to Cornwall to escape the memory of his wife's tragic death but he little realises that he will soon be embroiled in a web of murder, witchcraft and the occult. When the naked body of a young woman is found on a footpath suspicion falls on her boyfriend. However, after Bottrell has applied his analytical skills to the activities of the local pagan community he is forced to revise his opinion. A dark tale of intrigue and obsession from the wilds of West Cornwall.

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Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Kelvin Jones

£10.14

A definitive and fascinating biography of the great detective. The book draws on the work of many Holmes scholars and provides an illuminating picture of Victorian crime and scandal. The definitive account of Holmes' illustrious life by an English Sherlockian.

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Flowers Of Evil

Kelvin Jones

£8.35

It's the long hot summer of 1976. Young D.C. John Bottrell arrives in Bristol to begin work on the Somerset and Avon's Special Investigations Unit under the watchful eye of his former colleague, DCI Ian Glenister. Bottrell is soon introduced to the unit's first case. The remains of a woman have been found in a disused ice house in the garden of a Redland mansion, the only clue to her identity being the expensive French mackintosh which she was wearing. Bottrell, a young detective with a passion for criminology, who also possesses psychic abilities, is tested to the limit in a case which involves passion, guile and obsession. An intriguing and puzzling murder mystery by the author of Stone Dead and Witch Jar.

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Death Of A Cunning Man

Kelvin Jones

£7.08

When the Reverend Lewis Trenchard takes a year's sabbatical from his post as Norfolk's Adviser In Spiritual Affairs, he little suspects that he will soon be immersed in a multiple murder mystery. Yet within days of his arrival it becomes obvious that the remote village of Thorsford in North Norfolk harbours a deadly murderer. The first victim, the wheelwright's daughter, is discovered by chance in a shallow grave on Thorsford Hill. When Trenchard's old colleague, Professor Charles Whitaker, embarks on a quest to unearth the ancient hill figures which for centuries have lain beneath the hill,Trenchard becomes convinced that human motives can be ascribed to all of the murders. But is there a link with the pagan past? And what is the meaning of the mysterious esoteric society of "The Horseman's Word"? A supernatural crime novel in the tradition of 'The Wicker Man.'

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Cornish Witchcraft

Kelvin Jones

£9.81

A thorough history of the craft, lore and lives of Cornish witches. Immensely researched, this is quite possibly the last word on the subject.

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Twelve After Midnight: Twelve Stories Of Terror And The Supernatural

Kelvin Jones

£12.81

A collection of 12 contemporary tales of horror and the supernatural by Kelvin Jones. The author's work and style in this genre has been compared to that of the legendary English ghost story writer, M R James by both Francis King, the novelist, and Ramsey Campbell, the renowned British fantasy writer. Often rooted in Celtic folklore, this diverse collection ranges from the perverse to the fantastic. Vintage horror from the writer of Carter's Occult Casebook.

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A Cromer Corpse

Kelvin Jones

£7.68

Melancholic ex cop John Bottrell is looking forward to a peaceful retirement when a man's body is fished out of the sea at Cromer, a pentagram carved into his groin. It's a ritual killing, which is more in Bottrell's line than the local police, so he's co-opted back to Norfolk to solve the case. Then there's another murder, this time a 13 year old girl - also with the mark of a pentagram. In a fast paced narrative, the reader is drawn into a web of modern paganism where nobody is quite who they seem to be but everyone has a motive for murder. Kelvin Jones recreates the essential eeriness of East Anglia during a heatwave and melds crime and horror, leading us into a world of magic, mystery and murder.

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The Criminological Sherlock Holmes

Kelvin Jones

£7.00

An A-Z guide to the forensics and criminological detail of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Provides a fascinating insight into the world of Victorian crime and methods of detection and includes a reprint of Holmes' monograph on the tracing footprints.

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Akenstone

Kelvin Jones

£10.45

Ben held the stone up to the window. It had a curious glint to it, a depth and solidity unlike any common pebble taken from the beach. The grey wether had been given to Ben by his grandfather. When Ben and his archaeologist father visit the Kentish village of Akenstone, neither realises the magical significance of the stone. But Akenstone is a village of ancient stones, ghosts and long hidden secrets. And Ben soon discovers that he alone must find the key to unlock the power of the stones. A thrilling fantasy novel by the author of Odin's Eye.

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