Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Each character is unique

R.J. is off on holidays this week, so her good friend and popular cozy writer, Linda Wiken, who also goes by Erika Chase and Essie Lang, is testing her wits with this week’s question, which is a good one. Many thanks Linda.
Everything’s been done. And “they” say Shakespeare wrote every plot. How do you keep your stories new and original? What do you bring to them that makes them fresh?

 I’ve often heard it said that there’s no such thing as a new plot. But, there are new characters, new settings, and new dialogue. And I believe that elements such as these give the baseline plot a different colour, and a plot that belongs to that writer. 
All of our characters are creations of our own minds, no matter how we may borrow from real life (maddening bosses for the villains, dear friends for, well the dear friends’ roles). They have characteristics and traits that we choose in order to make each character stand apart from the others in the cast, and be instantly recognized by the reader. Motivation is unique to each character and that, too fills a writer’s thoughts from the beginning idea for a new book, right through to the typing of The End. 
What makes each character unique? That’s the starting point and from there, we get to know the character and discover such things that are easily described such as habits and gestures. Of course, the internal qualities advise how she reacts to a situation. 
For instance, the investigative reporter walking into a bistro will first look around to see who is there and could there be a possible story sitting at one of the tables. My character, J.J. Tanner, from the Dinner Club Mysteries, being a foodie, will focus on the counter where a variety of taste-tempting dishes are fetchingly displayed. The people part will come after that, and since she is a people person, an event planner, it will follow. 
 I also believe the key lies in placing our characters in new situations and throwing new challenges at them. It keeps them on their toes and can help an author add dimensions not only to those characters but also to the plots.  Take J.J. again, planning events for others by day, indulging her passion for cookbooks and food by night. She’s very different from the protagonist in my first series, Lizzie Turner of the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries (written as Erika Chase). Lizzie was a reading specialist whose personal preferences resided on the mystery bookshelves.
As for the setting, the town square of Shakespeare’s day is very different from what we find in our own cities these days. This can determine in which direction the plot will go. An easy example, riding a horse gives the hero more freedom to chase the bad guys than following in a car. Try it some time. And, I’m certain he never set a play Canada’s Caribbean, the beaches of Western Vancouver Island.
And dialogue…well, you only have to read one line of Shakespeare for your answer!
I’ll guarantee that the Bard did not cover every possible combination of characters, settings and dialogue. Which leaves plenty of scope for those of us who’ve followed. The challenge is more in keeping each of our own stories, particularly in a series, fresh and unique. 

Linda Wiken writes the Dinner Club Mysteries as herself, is writing the new Castle Bookstore Mysteries as Essie Lang, and has written the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries as Erika Chase.  She was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel and has also been short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada for Best Short Story. She is a former mystery bookstore owner and still loves reading all the mysteries she can get her hands on. She also loves singing in a choir, which is not always so pleasant for her Siamese cat, Keesha, who must endure hours of practice.
Her latest book, Marinating in Murder, is the latest and third book in the Dinner Club Mysteries. Writing as Essie Lang, the first in the Castle Bookstore Mysteries, Trouble on the Booksis coming out in March 2019.
 Find out more at lindawiken.com 


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7 Criminal Minds said...

Great insights, Linda!

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