I am pleased to take part in Marlene Bateman's Blog Tour as she presents A Crooked House and some tips on Characterization!
Every author wants to capture their reader’s interest and one of the best ways to do this is by using effective, efficient characterization. Your story will only succeed if the people in it fascinate, anger, please, tickle, or otherwise affect the reader. You have to have believable, interesting characters. Readers want to become involved with the characters they read about.
To make your readers feel something for your character, you must make your character a specific person—you must strike a chord you know to be universal; such as fear, love, revenge, ambition, insecurity, etc. Work to give your readers someone they can identify with. To do this, you’ll want to pick out useful characteristics from the following list. Pick out a few things—not everything:
1. Vocabulary. Does she use a lot of long words? Professional jargon? Use certain words often?
2. Style of speech. Does she speak with authority, or sound tentative? Does he control others?
3. Tone. What does his voice sound like? Is it melodious? Harsh?
4. Diction. Does he speak clearly or mumble? Have an accent?
5. Clothing. Is he rich or poor and shows it by the clothes he wears? Careless about appearance? Have poor taste? Look comfortable?
6. Jewelry. Does he wear an expensive watch? Have diamonds or other gems? Wear a
cross? School ring?
7. Grooming. Does she wear too much makeup? Does he glow with good health? Are her nails bitten down?
8. General appearance. Does he slump or sit up straight? Smile a lot? Gesture often?
Have a pimple?
In addition to the above list, there are some other things you should keep in mind when writing about your character:
Avoid stereotypes. Don’t have a girl that is too pretty, a man too handsome, villains too completely evil, politicians too corrupt. People should have good points and bad. If you mention something when characterizing, make sure you choose wisely. If you mention an empty whiskey bottle in the drawer, the reader is going to wonder if the person is a drunk. Don’t include something just for the sake of listing things. Make sure the item has something to do with the person or don’t include it.
Make sure characters are credible. Don’t have a mousy person rush into a burning building to save someone. Remember that characters must act credibly, and not just before the author needs them to act a certain way. Credible characters act out of their own nature, not the author’s plot needs.
Know your character. Before you start writing, sit down and write a 3-5 page biography for each main character. It’s essential for the writer to know where his character was born, what his goals are, what his fears are, how he feels about his mother, his father, etc. It’s extra work, but will actually save time and allow you to create real flesh and blood characters.
Remember motivation. If Kevin is determined to solve a bank robbery, he must have a good reason, other than he’d like to solve a mystery. Likewise, if he is going to put his life in danger, he’d better have a good reason for doing so. Maybe he’s trying to prove to himself or someone else that he is brave, smart, etc. Or maybe someone he loves was hurt badly when the bank was robbed. Maybe he acted like a coward when he was there as the bank was being robbed and needs to redeem himself. Maybe in his past he made a fool of himself and wants to show he has changed. Make sure Kevin gains something by solving the crime. Get into the skin of every character and ask yourself what the character is feeling, right now. Is he scared? Happy? Nervous? Think of how this particular character would act, then write.
Give your characters a life outside the confines of the story. Many characters seem to have no history, no future and nothing on their minds except the business of the story. You must create characters who seem to have a full life, who go places and do things even when we are not reading about them. This is done with a few well-placed details. When your character goes to a movie, you could write; “It reminded him of a movie he had seen two years ago when he and Janet were going steady.” If a man pulls a jack knife out of his pocket, you could say, “It was a gift from his cousin.”
All of these things show your character was alive two years ago, going to movies, having girlfriends, and that he has a cousin and family. It has nothing to do with the story, but a lot to do with your character and everything to do with his life.
Blurb for Crooked House:
Someone is trying to kill Liz Johnson and it’s up to quirky private investigator, Erica Coleman, to find out who. Erica is no stranger to murder and mystery, which is why her best friend’s daughter, Megan, turns to her when unaccountable and potentially fatal “accidents” threaten her roommate’s life.
Once Erica arrives at the ramshackle old mansion known as Crooked House, matters go from disturbing to deadly as it becomes clear someone is trying to kill Liz. As Erica begins to unearth secrets, she discovers a twisted web of love, money, greed, and deception. Although the police and friends sometimes find Erica’s OCD annoying, its those very traits that help her sift through evidence and see clues that others miss. Erica must draw upon her all her investigative prowess to keep Liz safe and unmask the killer before he can accomplish his deadly objective.
With a dash of romance and surprising twists, this thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. As with all Erica Coleman mysteries, ten delicious recipes are included.
Excerpt from Crooked House:
Erica’s heart turned over when she heard the quaver in her young friend’s voice on the
Then Megan asked, “Can you come?”
“Of course.” Erica’s reply was automatic. She would do anything she could to help.
Although she often received emotionally-laden phone calls in her job as a private investigator, there was a difference when the call came from the teen-aged daughter of her best friend. The very fact that Megan—who was usually so calm and composed—sounded frightened out of her wits, put Erica on high alert.
“I think someone’s trying to kill my roommate, Liz,” Megan said.
“What makes you think that?” Erica asked. “Has someone threatened her?”
“No, but Liz has had a couple of serious accidents lately—at least she says they’re
accidents, but either one of them could have killed her.”
Erica made an effort to reel in her skepticism. “Tell me about them.”
“First, someone tampered with her car. The brakes went out and Liz ended up driving
across someone’s yard and hitting a tree. Fortunately, she was okay. The second one happened downtown. Liz was on the sidewalk waiting for the bus when someone shoved her. She fell into the road. A truck was coming and if a guy hadn’t pulled her back, Liz could have been killed.”
Still, they could have been accidents, Erica thought, at least until the third one occurred—this time at Crooked House.
Marlene Bateman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan. Her hobbies include gardening, camping, reading, and enjoying her four cats and three dogs. Marlene’s first novel was the best-selling Light on Fire Island. Her next novel was Motive for Murder—the first in a mystery series that features Erica Coleman, a quirky private eye with OCD. The next book in that line, (they do not have to be read in order) is A Death in the Family.
Marlene has also written a number of LDS non-fiction books under the name Marlene Bateman Sullivan. Those books include: Gaze Into Heaven; Near-death Experiences in Early Church History, which is a fascinating collection of over 50 documented near-death experiences from the lives of early latter-day Saints, Heroes of Faith, and Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines. Marlene also wrote three books about documented accounts in early LDS church history when a person either saw or heard an angel; Visit’s From Beyond the Veil, And There Were Angels Among Them, and By the Ministering of Angels.