[Originally published in the February issue of The Heartline Herald, the newsletter of the New Jersey chapter of the Romance Writers of America.]
Recently, I sat down with four best-selling authors and asked for advice on creating characters that will go on forever. My own character, Dr. Maggie Walsh, has starred in three Talk Radio Mysteries, but naturally I want her to have a very long life! Denise Swanson (the Scumble River series), Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand series), Avery Aames (the Cheese Shop Mysteries) and Krista Davis (the Domestic Diva Mysteries) shared their secrets and gave me some intriguing answers.
Q: How do you keep your characters fresh and interesting?
Carolyn: Dead by Midnight, the 21st in my Death on Demand series, will be published in April. Are Annie and Max Darling still fresh? I hope so. If readers find them lively, the answer may lie in my relationship with Annie and Max. Some years ago my daughter drew my husband aside and said quietly, "Daddy, I'm worried about Mother. I'm afraid she thinks those people are real." He looked at her in surprise and said, "But they are."
Krista: The motivations of the murderers and the other characters drive the books. Sophie usually gets involved to help someone, which isn't a driving force, it's more of a reaction. The other characters are the catalysts for the plots! It's interesting to come up with new characters whose lives drive them to murder.
Q: Does your main character change and evolve over the course of the series?
Denise: Definitely! It's extremely important for the protagonist to grow and learn from his or her experiences. In the first book of my Scumble River series, my sleuth, Skye, is forced to move home after losing her job, maxing out her credit cards, and being jilted. Her original plan is to slip into town, save some money, get a decent job reference and leave Scumble River as soon as possible. I'm now on book #13, Murder of a Bookstore Babe, and she's learned to appreciate the town and her family, while still not always being happy with them.
Krista: Yes. Sophie doesn't have a major breakthrough or a great epiphany, but she does evolve, particularly in her relationships with other people.
Q: Do her core values remain the same?
Krista: Absolutely! Sophie is a very well-grounded person. She has her insecurities, like we all do, but her core values are quite strong and don't shift.
Avery: Absolutely. First and foremost, Charlotte is about family and friends. When her cousin and his twin girls need a roof over their heads, she takes them in. When her grandmother is accused of murder, she comes to her defense. When others think her friend is involved in a murder plot, she surges forward to get to the truth. When another friend writes a play that many think is offbeat, she stands by her side.
Denise: It is essential that the character's core values remain the same so that, although that character has grown and evolved, he or she is still the same person the reader originally met and liked.
Carolyn: That is at the crux of the mystery novel. The protagonists want to live in a good and decent world and always strive to do the right thing.
To be continued...
Mary Kennedy is a psychologist in private practice and the award-winning author of The Talk Radio Mysteries. Her latest release is Stay Tuned for Murder.