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How to write a crime novel – Developing Characters

Pauline Rowson has been hailed as "redefining the genre of police drama” by setting it against the atmospheric backdrop of the ever changing sea. Her cops are tough yet fallible.

Undercurrent - DI Andy Horton MysteryThe DI Andy Horton series of crime novels has everything: compelling crimes, complex past history, a tough work environment, romantic entanglements and political intrigue played out against the dramatic and powerfully evocative British marine landscape of Portsmouth and the Solent.

Pauline Rowson discusses how she creates her characters

Creating a likeable, interesting and complex main character, one the reader can have empathy with, one they want to trust, feel his/her pain and disappointments, root for throughout the story is the key to creating a riveting read and a successful crime series. 

But it's not just the main character it's also the supporting cast, the villains and the walk-on parts who all need characteristics that are believable even if they are eccentric. The cast must be real to the writer and therefore real to the reader.

Pauline Rowson at CrimefestI develop my characters using spider grams.  I draw a circle and put each character in the centre of that circle and then I throw out lines and ask a series of ‘open’ questions about each of them.  For example, if I have the victim in the circle then I’d ask questions such as who is he? How did he get where he is?  Why would someone want to kill him?  Who killed him? How was he killed? What’s his background, family, education, experience? What’s his occupation? How old is he? Where does he live? What’s his personality? What does he look like?  What has shaped him? How are the victim’s family, friends and others going to react?  How do they see this character?  What’s my main character (in my case my detective, DI Andy Horton) going to do next?

I draw up character profiles for each of the main and secondary characters, some might be sketchier than others.  But that doesn’t matter because it isn’t until I start putting dialogue into their mouths and have them walking around and interacting with people that they come alive.  Until then they are just notes on a piece of paper. But those notes can be added to as my characters start to take shape through my writing.

The characters’ actions drive the plot. The surprises, twists and turns all spring from the characters' motivations and as I write I find ideas occurring to me that I hadn’t previously considered. I sometimes discover that someone I thought was going to be a minor character turns out to be much more interesting when I write his part, and a major character becomes boring and sometimes unnecessary, if that happens then I cut him out. 

As I write I continually ask myself questions. What will this character do in this situation?  What will he/she do next?  I throw out more lines around that spider gram.  I shape and reshape the characters. I put them in difficult or unusual situations, and as I do so the story  unfolds and the tension builds.

Death Surge - DI Andy Horton Police ProceduralDeath Surge, the tenth in the DI Andy Horton series in now published in hardcover and as an e book.

 "A crisply written, cleverly plotted procedural with a nice twist, Rowson’s latest also continues the intriguing saga of Andy’s search for the mother who disappeared in mysterious circumstances when he was a child." Booklist.

Death Lies Beneath - A DI Andy Horton Crime NovelDeath Lies Beneath, the eighth in the DI Andy Horton series will be published in paperback on 27 February 2014.

"A fast paced excellent mystery, with an interesting diverse set of characters, and an intriguing hook at the end that has me eagerly awaiting the next instalment in this series.Highly recommended." Mystery People

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JANUARY 21ST, 2014 @ 11:33:54 UTC


RE: How to write a crime novel – Developing Characters

Hi Pauline,
I like the concept of a circle. I agree that things change as the story moves forward.
Richard Brawer


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