Thursday, January 27, 2011

Credible Crime Characters

A story about every-day people doing ordinary things in usual ways in regular places does not make good fiction. In order to captivate my readers, I generally make at least one of the following extraordinary: my characters, plots, settings, or action.

My upcoming novella, SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT,* pits a very ordinary housewife against a bizarre and challenging situation. However, because I am a people-watcher and have psychiatric training, it’s usually my characters that get endowed with ‘extraordinariness’. As wonderful as I feel my characters are, I must employ special writing techniques to ensure my readers fall for these bizarre characters, bond with them, sympathize and empathize with them, and ultimately care about what happens to them.

Making that job easier is the fact that in real life, human behavior is notoriously unpredictable, inexplicable, and at times, unbelievable. Even to the professionals who study the human psyche, the connection between mind, emotion, behavior, and circumstance is tenuous at best. Human motives are often hidden, generally ill-understood, and seemingly irrational.

Despite that reality, readers need to understand characters and find them believable in order to enjoy their stories. Credible characters are more important to certain genres, such as Crime Fiction. Many read crime novels to challenge their intellect, to match wits with the authors, and to solve the crime or guess the ending before they reach the last page—enjoyable goals that can be unattainable if the story is not written with an air of realism.

Following are a few techniques I’ve found useful to create credible crime characters.

Manipulate the character’s age. For example, the ultra-intelligent, very short, extremely rich, and extraordinarily beautiful heroine of my soon-to-be released e-novel THE TRAZ is only 13 years old. Because of Katrina’s tender age, her life remains exceptionally challenging despite her superior talents —this vulnerability improves her likeability and believability. Additionally, because she is a child, readers feel disinclined to judge her harshly or to question her extraordinary talents.

To further ‘humanize’ her, I surround Katrina with ordinary people—forcing her to interact with characters whose attitudes, abilities, and actions are familiar to my readers.

Although I used youth to increase Katrina’s believability, an equally effective way to create a bond between extraordinary characters and readers is to endow a character (either the main character or a secondary character) with old age and wisdom. Katrina’s grandparents serve this role in THE TRAZ. Because readers find it difficult to argue with the wisdom of elders, they will generally accept as credible the edicts or pronunciations that come from the crone, the ancient wizard, or the tribal elder.

Wise secondary characters often disappear as the story winds up, thus preventing main characters (and readers) from questioning their edicts. As a reader, I’m prone to believe that magic exists (at least for the duration of the novel) if the wise wizard says it does. Ancient texts, dream demons, and traditional or religious lore are some other powerful and respected things that writers often call on to enforce believability. Assigning characters esteemed professions sometimes works well, too.

And finally, writers often encourage readers to bond with their strange characters by having those characters question their unnatural and/or extraordinary abilities. We are all familiar with the heroine who doubts she really can read minds, the man who trembles on the cliff edge, afraid he can’t really fly, or the hero who thinks he’s gone insane when he finds himself living in medieval times.

For a further discussion on research and credibility, I invite you to visit

*SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT will be released by traditional publisher, WolfSinger Publications, in both ebook and print formats in August 2011.

THE TRAZ will be released as a self-published ebook in Spring 2011.

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