Sunday, July 28, 2013

Keeping Track of My Characters

Readers often ask how a writer keeps track of all the characters in any given book. A lot depends on the type of book you are writing but when a series seems to be unfolding keeping track of everyone can be a problem. When I wrote Depraved Heart, I not only made a list but I even wound up writing mini-biographies of each character. I may not have included what kind of a car a character drove, what their sign was, or their favorite food, but it was important that I know this. Same thing for the Whiskey Bottle in the Wall stories—I had to make a detailed list. Today I sat down with The Crazy Old Lady Omnibus and began a list of characters. I'm not sure when, how, or why I will write a fourth book in the series, but I want to be prepared.

I have been voraciously reading Dennis Lehane's Kenz/Gennaro books for the past few weeks. They are great stories and, because all of them are set in and around Boston, I am seeing some overlap with my Crazy Old Lady stories. Patrick Kenzie is from Dorchester and my Joe Quinn is a Southie so they have a lot in common. I like Patrick a lot. I sort of wish I hadn't seen the movie of Gone, Baby Gone because, even though Casey Affleck might be a talented actor, he is most definitely not the Patrick Kenzie in my head. And the actor who played Bubba Ragowski was way off. Of course, I'm terrible at casting but in my mind Bubba is Clete Purcell from the James Lee Burke DaveRobicheaux mysteries.

It was also reassuring that Lehane isn't afraid of rough talk and graphic violence in his writing. My violence isn't terribly graphic—no torture and body parts being ripped away—but Joe Quinn is, as I said, a Southie and he talks like a Southie. A few readers don't like that but I had to be true to my character. If I cheat by cleaning a character up they lose their vitality and there is nothing more deadly to good writing than a lifeless character.

I've been following with rapt interest the trial of Whitey Bulger. It is so fascinating—these guys are genuine psychopaths and in many cases seem like they stepped right out of one of Lehane's novels. I have also been reading about the Isabella Stewart Gardener Heist. I think both stories have material worth considering for whatever I write next. One of the things I learned writing The Whiskey Bottle in theWall is that stories that are close to the truth are pretty fascinating.

So, for the time being, I am researching, reading, sketching profiles, making lists and trusting that eventually all of this will shape itself into a good story. I know my characters are chomping at the bit to get to work.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. It’s actually “champing at the bit” but we get your point. So…

    Where’s the new book already? :-)

    ReplyDelete

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