The Characters Keep Expanding by Karen Shughart

It’s fascinating to me how, with each successive book in my Edmund DeCleryk mystery series, the number of characters keeps expanding. With the first book there were a handful as I introduced the investigators and their families and friends, but the number grew as I included  the murder victim, witnesses and those involved as suspects or  who helped with the investigation.  While each book can be read as a standalone, because this is a series there are not only recurring characters- the support cast, so to speak- but new ones added as part of each new plot.  

For the first three books I was able to keep track of those characters without having to write their names on a chart, although occasionally I browsed through previous manuscripts when I couldn’t remember a minor character’s name. Now I’m in the process of writing book four, Murder at Chimney Bluffs, and keeping track of all the names has become much more challenging. So, to make things easier, I’ve created a list that includes old and new that I keep by the side of my computer to refer to when necessary. The list is so long that I now have two columns, divided into main and supportive characters, their friends and family, those involved in the historical backstory, or who are suspects or otherwise related to the crime or the killer.

Photo by Helena Lopes on

I’m asked if I construct an outline for my books and stick to a plot I create at the outset, but I don’t.  Instead I typically go where the story takes me. Like a train picking up cargo along the way, I add characters, or discard those who appeared in previous books if they’re not relevant to the current one. If appropriate, I’ll bring them back as the series continues.

 A former board member of the historical society and museum who retired and moved to Canada; his son; Annie’s predecessor who moved to England with her husband; a CIA agent who worked with Ed when both were Navy SEALS;  Ed’s close group of male friends from childhood ; Annie’s chums who comprise her support group; most have had at least cameo roles in all the books.

A new and influential member of Annie’s board of directors will appear for the first time in book four, and I expect he will also be a recurring character. Astonishing how the number has grown from book one to book four. At last count, I’m close to 50, some major and many minor.  As I think about it, what’s happened is that I’ve been building a community, and in the end, that’s what cozies do.

Karen Shughart is the author of the Edmund DeCleryk cozy mystery series, published by Cozy Cat Press. Her books are available in multiple formats at retail outlets and online. Read a recent interview about her writing with AllAuthor:

6 thoughts on “The Characters Keep Expanding by Karen Shughart

  1. I can so identify with the character issues! I have multiple series and I switch back and forth between two of them, and as well as checking up on the names, I even have to go back and read the last novel in that series to remember the correct tone and what all the characters were doing. Sometimes I wonder why I did this to myself!


    1. Keeps us young, and relatively sane, doesn’t it? We have to be to keep track of so much!


  2. I really enjoyed reading this. I’m writing the 6th book in my Holly & Ivy Cozy Mystery series and I’ve brought back characters I loved from books one and three. I agree completely that we cozy writers are building a community. After all, the community of characters we create are the reason our readers return to read book after book in a series.


  3. It is amazing how we add more and more characters in series. I do the same thing. After I finish each book, I add the names of the characters that were involved in the murder and if they stay or die and then the local people who might show up in another book. I have five pages for my Gabriel Hawke books and three pages for my Spotted Pony Casino books. Good post!


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