Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Part III Suspense - Characterization

Suspense depends upon interesting characters who are outside the box. They must come alive with amazing mental abilities to undo puzzles, with courage and strength that are resources they might not know until they need them. In other words, the main hero of the story – the detective, the body guard, the police officer, the friend of a women in jeopardy—must use both brain and brawn to reach his goal usually to solve or stop a crime. The crime might be against him, someone he loves, someone who is paid to protect, or for the safety of the country or world.

The hero needs to be three-dimensional, have believable traits and abilities and a flaw or two that can cause him trouble. Readers want to relate to him and they want to see him grow as a person and reach deep inside to bring out strengths he didn’t even know he had.

The villain, according to Nancy Kress from Writers Digest, is a character who is motivated for selfish gain to knowingly seek to injure, kill or loot another person or group. Just as the hero must also have flaws, the villain must also have a redeeming quality or two to make him real. Even the worst villain loves his dog or is good to his mother. Make the villain one with skill and cunning. Don’t make the suspense easy to resolve.

The villain may be known to the reader or may be an unknown nemesis who is only known through the crime. The villain may have a name or only be a distorted voice on the telephone delivering threats. Either works depending on the story line.

When creating your cast of characters—the major characters who will have a point of view (POV) in the novel—need to be vivid, well-developed individuals who have realistic motivation for their goals. The male hero wants to protect his wife or a woman in jeopardy because he believes she is innocent. The female hero will give her life to protect her child. She will begin the lioness who will initiate battle against a being twice her size to save her young.

As you create these character, create a backstory for each of them. Know their successes and failures, their fears and hopes, their likes and dislikes. Know what is important to them and what they can overlook. Create people with phobias or fears that will initially affect them as they solve the crime or as they try to murder someone. Knowing who these characters are will help you create realistic tension and thus true emotion that will grab the readers.

When creating the true villain, the author will also create other suspects, known as red herrings which will be discussed in Part IV. These are people who have motive and opportunity to commit the crime, but who in time will be found to be innocent. This gives the hero many opportunities for tension and conflict when he spends time on a suspect only to learn that he was wrong.

The character’s description—his physical appearance—height, weight, build, as well as skin, hair and eye coloring—can add to the characterization. Don’t forget to use description from another character’s POV to allow the readers to visualize your POV characters.

Dialogue is more than words spoken. The author can use vocal style, tone, slang, speech patterns, and word selection or vocabulary to create a distinctive image of the characters. One character’s language might be slow and mumbled with pauses or hesitation. Another might be loquacious, higher pitched, fast paced. Another might speak with a deep tone, purposeful punch to emphasize meaning. And finally another may speak in a clipped tone, resonant voice, as a person who wants to get down to business.

Use variety in appearance, vocal style, word choice, with a backstory that provides strong motivation for this goals and flaws to enhance his conflicts. You will create memorable characters.

The next blog will deal with Red Herrings ---  those detours that can confuse the readers and the characters.

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