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Writing a crime novel - how I develop my characters

I am often asked what comes first, plot or character. For me it is the formation of the characters.  Before that though I will have an idea for the crime novel, which can spring from a location where a body is found (as is usual in the Andy Horton Marine Mysteries), an incident that occurs which can change someone's life, (this often features in the Art Marvik marine based crime novels and I've also used it in my thriller, In For The Kill), or an overheard conversation (which I've used in my crime novel In Cold Daylight.)

Pauline Rowson explaining character development at CrimeFest Once I have an idea for a victim or a main protagonist, I begin to create them and the other characters that will surround them.  In order to develop my characters I use a system of spider grams (or mind maps as they are sometimes called). I draw a circle and put each character in the centre of that circle and then throw out lines and ask a series of  ‘open’ questions, the who, what, where, why, how and when. By answering these questions the character/s begin to form.

For example, with regards to the victim:

Who is he/she?
How did he/she end up where they were found?
Why would someone want to kill him?
How was he killed?
When was he killed?
Does he/she have any family/friends/enemies?
How will they and others react?
Who killed him?  This is often the last question which is answered and I frequently don't know the answer until I am three quarters of the way through writing the novel. Sometimes not even until the end!

The following also applies to my main protagonists  - although I have my regular cast of characters in the DI Andy Horton series and the Art Marvik series and already know a great deal about them and their backgrounds. The sort of questions I would also ask about my characters - victims, protagonists and others are:

What is their background, family, education, experience, employment?
How old are they?
Where do they live?
What are their personalities and motivations?
What do they look/walk/talk like?
What has shaped them?
What are their biggest fears?
What are their cardinal qualities, strengths and weaknesses?

The answers to these questions will shape their action, their interaction with others, their dialogue and their decisions and will therefore help to drive the plot.  As I write I ask myself what will this character do in this situation, I shape and reshape them.  I put them in difficult or unusual situations, and as I do the story unfolds, the tension builds and so the plot begins to unfurl.

For me then, aside from the main idea for a story, it is the characters that matter, they come first and foremost. Without them there is no plot.

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JANUARY 23RD, 2017 @ 5:48:59 GMT

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