I’m in the early stages of drafting the fourth book in the Adam Kaminski mystery series, mysteries that take you places. Right now, I’m developing characters – one of my favorite parts of writing.
My main characters I already know, of course: Philadelphia detective Adam Kaminski, his partner, members of his family. These recurring characters grow and develop in each book in the series, a different kind of challenge for an author. Today, I’m working on new characters. Thanks to the theme of my books – each book embroils Adam Kaminski in a murder investigation in a different city – I also get to develop new characters for each story.
The first new character I create is the victim. For me, the victim defines the story. I have to ask myself, who has to die? How? Most importantly: why? What’s the motive? Which of course leads me to the killer. And thus the plot.
So I create the characters, the victim, the killer, the other people involved in the story. I figure out their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, what their childhoods were like, their favorite ways to enjoy themselves, their fondest memories, their feelings about their parents, the way they dress, the way they imagine themselves. Once I know these things, the physical description follows naturally – it comes from the character. A person who is insecure might be nervous, jumpy, twitchy. Another character is tall, upright, unbending, sure of himself.
I write using the program Scrivener. I know that for writers Scrivener tends to be a love it or hate it kind of tool. I love it. Scrivener provides templates for character sketches, which makes it easy to keep all this information organized.
Another of Scrivener’s many features is that it lets you include an image on the screen as you write. So as I’m developing characters, I search the web looking for photos of people who have the attributes I’m looking for in my characters. I never use a photo of someone I know – the physical appearance might be correct, but I would risk writing up that person’s personality instead of the character I’m trying to create.
The character I have not yet been able to find a perfect image for is Adam Kaminski. I have such a strong feeling for who he is and what he looks like, I’ve rejected every photo I’ve found. For him, I write without an image – a problem I had to overcome to create a facebook ad. I know that in ads, photos of people work much better than photos of things. So a picture of a man who might be Adam Kaminski is more likely to be successful than a photo of the book cover. All well and good, but the challenge I faced trying to find a picture I could live with! (Do you know how hard it is these days to find an image of a young man without a beard?).
I ended up with an image I like, at least in part because the young man is looking down, so you can’t see his face straight on. It still leaves a little mystery, a little bit of his appearance left to the imagination. For that’s where my characters really come to life: in the imagination of my readers.