In 1770 Edward Nairne developed the first marketable rubber eraser.
In 1858 – Hyman Lipman of Philadelphia patented the pencil with an eraser at the end.
There’s a day for everything – some for reasons quite puzzling. But the eraser has received accolades from every writer from first grade student to Pulitzer Prize winner – because we all make mistakes – but each of us deserves a second chance!
What is it about a favorite mystery series that makes us wait breathlessly for the next edition? Is it puzzling plots that twist and turn until the final page, or spectacular settings that make us wish we were there? I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s truly the main characters, the ones that appear in every series that keep us mesmerized – turning the pages through the wee hours, book after book. Creating captivating characters doesn’t always come easy to authors, but it’s essential to writing successful cozy mystery books, or any type of fictional tale.
Some favorite characters are unique and complex, others simplistic but reliable and reassuring. But they have one thing in common. We long to spend time with them. How can an author create characters that invite readers to visit? I believe it’s time I take a refresher course on the topics of how to create a likeable mystery sleuth and captivating supporting characters – for personal reasons.
Mystery authors must create characters they themselves love
Nearly six years ago, I completed a full length manuscript and had plots planned for several more installments of a lighthearted mystery series involving historic discoveries and a hint at the supernatural. I ended up setting the script aside, at least temporarily. As the adage goes, the first book most authors complete is basically a learning experience. Perhaps some day I will tweak it into saleable shape, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.
In the meantime I’ve started several new stories with the intention of beginning a whole new series. But in each case, upon rereading what I believed to be my masterpiece first pages, I lost interest in the characters. In each story, the sleuth exhibited some of my own characteristics, a situation common to many fiction characters and their creators.
Creating characters readers will love is the obvious objective. But the author must love them too, in order to offer his or her best effort throughout the course of writing a full length manuscript plus revisions – let alone a long-running series, the goal of every aspiring cozy mystery author. A brief search hasn’t revealed any posts telling me how to create characters I will love forever, as an author. But I did discover this post on How to Start Loving Your Characters.
Evaluating character concepts via their reactions
The advice from the article’s author, goes thus:
Aaron’s message makes sense. It has inspired me to perform a new exercise with the intent to create characters I will love forever; people who will become a beloved part of my virtual family, as the characters that populate my favorite mystery series’ have. Hopefully an agent, publisher and a large group of loyal readers will love them too.
I do a lot of driving and often stories come to mind, prompted by people, places, the weather, various situations I encounter. I scribble the concepts or key lines I come up with on index cards I keep in the car, in the hope I will find enough free moments to finish them some day.
Allowing characters to develop without becoming a control freak
My newly inspired plan is a twist on that concept. Now, when main characters enter my mind, instead of focusing intensely on details of character personas and tending to write plots around them, I will use intuition to “channel” basic ideas for characters then quickly switch to envisioning plots that involve a wide variety of settings and happenings. Consider how the trial characters would react to each of the varied scenarios should offer the insight I need to determine whether I will enjoy spending long hours of writing time with them.
This technique should result in developing characters who will be comfortable in the types of settings I create. People who will respond in ways that are sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising, always appropriate to the style of my writing.
I’m in the car now, on errand day, with a long list of stops and several shopping lists. I’ve take a break, in a parking lot, to compose this post and grab a late breakfast. My interlude may bring a breakthrough. When I start up the car and head out to address my responsibilities, I will do my best to open my stream of consciousness and allow characters trying out for the plot of my cozy mystery series to flow through the scenes, expressing themselves without my usual restrictions. Then I’ll choose the ones I love to populate the mystery series I hope time permits me to compose before too long.
Who are your favorite cozy series characters? It’s hard to choose but Lucy Stone is at the top of my list, as are other “Maine characters”. There’s something about that state . . . and the entire New England Region . . . that makes it the perfect mystery setting.