CWA Dagger nominee Leigh Russell who writes the Geraldine Steel crime series has the third novel in series ‘Dead End’ out now in Paper as well Ebook.
Leigh sent Shots Ezine her thoughts on writing ‘minor characters’ which may be of interest to aspiring writers -
THOUGHTS ON MINOR CHARACTERS
Crime writers deliberately lead their detectives – and readers – off on red herrings, to distract them from solving a case. I wonder how many authors find themselves led off task by minor characters who catch their creator’s attention, sometimes out of all proportion to their role in the book. I have to admit I’m a sucker for weird characters… (in case my husband read this I hasten to add that I’m talking about my fictional characters here!)
As a writer of psychological thrillers, I’m fascinated by people. While my carefully planned plots are described as “clever” (Marcel Berlins, writing in The Times) and I’ve been praised for “a natural ability to build a solid plot” (American Library Association) and many more in a similar vein, I confess to allowing my characters to develop as I go along.
It has to be believable that my minor characters would carry out the actions they need to perform in order to fulfil their part in the plot but with my interest in character it’s perhaps not surprising that minor characters sometimes grow on the page and take on a life of their own. So there’s a tension between character and plot that can be a real challenge to resolve.
I’ve always thought that creating minor characters has parallels with writing short stories, a snapshot of a life encapsulated in a few words that continues in the imagination beyond the pages of the book.
Where do they come from, these characters who appear out of nowhere? None of my characters is consciously based on a real person; they are composites of a myriad of characteristics, traits and eccentricities, theories and possibilities, churning in my subconscious. It seems to me that writers are similar to visual artists, interested in observing life.
I store details in my mind wherever I go. It might be a man who walks with a lunging gait, legs moving from the hips, or a woman with chiselled cheekbones above a double chin. One day these small details might appear in one of my books, helping to bring a minor character to life.
My debut thriller, Cut Short, grew out of the sudden image of a killer who somehow arrived in my head fully formed. I wrote somewhere that he crawled off my pen onto the page…
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