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Saturday, April 6, 2013

SD O’Donell – Five Tips for Developing Character in Thrillers

7:30 AM Posted by James Noel 1 comment

Five Tips for Developing Character in Thrillers

by SD O’Donnell

No matter how well written, background narrative stops a story’s momentum. For a slower paced story, that isn’t fatal. For a fast-paced thriller, too much can cause a reader to shut the book and never open it again.

It isn’t that mystery/thriller readers don’t care about character development. In fact, the better they know a character, the more they care about what happens to them. That adds tension and suspense. But too often that under-the-skin, behind-the-curtains information ends up being disclosed through a lengthy mental core dump. A person talks to a therapist or friend. Or reveals details through inner dialogue.

The challenge for mystery and thriller writers is to share the depth of their characters while keeping those pages turning. Here are five lessons I’ve learned about describing character while also advancing the story:

  1. Restrict backstory to what is needed at the time.Do you have a spot in your story with four paragraphs of backstory? Ask yourself how much is really essential at that point. Be honest. Maybe it’s important later. If so, put it in later, when it’s really needed. By supplying your backstory in short, pertinent bursts, you don’t stop the story flow.
  1. Trust the reader to infer, read between the lines.This was probably the hardest for me. I’m passionate about my characters and I want to make certain the reader knows and loves them (or hates them) as well as I do. So, I need to share, right? Not always. Readers will draw their own conclusions, based on their own experiences, if you let them. And the best part of letting them? They feel closer to the character because they’ve invested in them.
  2. Give them the salient point and leave it at that.At one spot in Deadly Memories, I turned a full page of background description about why my main character stopped working as detective into one sentence: “It amazed him how easy it was to give up the job when the time came.” I originally gave all the details as to why he thought it would be hard and why it turned out not to be. Do the readers need to know those details? Not really. The personal connection that I want them to feel about his quitting depends more on how much they’ve connected to him so far in the storytelling than the cut-and-dried specifics.
  3. Whenever possible, skip the conversational recap and write the scene.This might seem counter-intuitive. I’m advising you to turn one page of narrative into a three page scene for the purpose of keeping the story flowing? Yes. The difference is, when you’re telling the story, the reader is involved. When you’re writing description, they’re waiting to get back to the story. Three pages can be better than one, if the three pages fully engages the reader.
  1. Analyze the purpose of each chapter and scene. Then combine them when possible.Each scene and chapter should have a reason, a purpose that furthers the story or imparts information the reader needs. Take a close look at that purpose. Does it really need a full scene or chapter to get across? Maybe some of those purposes can be achieved together. If so, suddenly 25 pages can become only 15, without really giving up anything. How? Because 10 of those pages were spent in setting and action that only served the purpose of achieving your objective. With only one setting and group of actions, the same information is shared with less. That keeps those pages turning.

Yes, it hurts to take out material, especially if you’ve written it well. Most of us can rationalize keeping anything we’re attached to. But for the sake of your audience, if you’re writing a mystery or thriller, you need to stay focused on the goal: Keep the action moving forward and that keeps the pages turning.

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Murder / Thriller

Rating – PG13 (some foul language, a few short love scenes)

More details about the author & the book

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