Tag: characters


Becoming a Woman of Mystery

My question to my fellow Missdemeanors–if you had the opportunity for a do-over, if you could walk away from your current life and reinvent yourself, where would you go and who would you be?

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I Knew That: The Mystery of the Mind

I learned two things this week. Two things I knew but seem to have forgotten. Both are important to my work as a writer. I may have to get a tattoo as a permanent reminder. First: It’s the Characters, Stupid. Duh, of course I know this. I’m a reader and a writer so why was I surprised when that thought occurred to me after I finished reading the latest two books in a historical mystery series of around fifteen books that I’ve loved for years.  Thinking about the series, I suddenly clearly saw the skeleton of the books, the bones on which the author has hung the flesh of every story in the series. And, for the first time, I found the books repetitive and boring. I noticed the research dumps, such as detailed descriptions of historical places incidental to the story and the lists of every item of clothing every man or woman was wearing. I also noted the similar verbiage used from book to book to describe recurring characters. Was I seeing it because I read the books back-to-back? Or had the author gotten careless, and it was more obvious? I don’t know. Now I know how hard […]

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Writing characters that matter

Cover of When No One is Watching

Some characters make a lasting impression. Whether writing or reading we want characters that are memorable. But in a good way, an authentic way. Perhaps even a character we can learn from. I recently came across a character that stood out from the very beginning.

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Holding Out for the Ordinary

Holding Out for a Hero They say you should never meet your heroes. Late last night (early this morning, TBH), I finished writing a paper about the heroification of George Washington. I examined biographies written about him over the past two centuries. Historiographical (the history of writing history) trends come and go but depictions of George Washington have remained remarkably stable since the eighteenth century. He’s always portrayed as a Great Man, Hero of the Nation, Father of His Country. Even biographers who claimed to want to humanize him ended up deifying him. Washington was turned into an imposing figure with about as much depth as the thickness of the paper on which the glowing words about him were printed. The Trouble with Paragons In the process of becoming heroified, George Washington became, well, dull. Flawless is boring. Let’s be real, no one likes a goody-goody. Admires from afar (but secretly resents), perhaps. But “likes,” in the sense of “is intrigued by”? Nah, not so much. We talk a lot these days about finding characters relatable. What we mean is, we find them interesting. Think about it? Do you really “relate” to the serial killer in the book you just […]

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That Time I Threw a Book At the Wall

I don’t generally throw books against the wall, but when I read Tana French’s book the first time, I was so aggravated by the ending that I tossed it. The story was engrossing. The characters richly detailed. The book won an Edgar when it was published, in 2007. But the ending drove me crazy because it left something important unresolved. I actually thought I’d got a misprinted book that had lost the last twenty pages.

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Quirky Characters

What is it about Kinsey Millhone? I didn’t realize how much I miss Kinsey Millhone until I saw the ad for dusting slippers on Facebook. Kinsey, the beloved protagonist in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series, lived in a garage apartment and was known to dust her way up the stairs with her socks on. Sometimes, it’s the little things about a character that make you love them. Like when they cut their hair with manicure scissors, another of Kinsey’s quirks. The New York Times even took note of Kinsey’s odd love of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. While I do not share Kinsey’s taste in sandwiches, I adored her and her peculiar habits. I once had a chance to chat with Sue Grafton, whose annual addition to the series I still miss every year.  Kinsey had a little black dress made of a mystery fabric that didn’t wrinkle which she pulled out of her purse when the jeans she standardly wore didn’t fit the occasion. Grafton lamented that she had been unable to find such a dress in real life. I have read and enjoyed every one of Sue Grafton’s books, but what I remember most about them are the […]

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Last of the Summer Wine: Why Character Counts

Last of the Summer Wine, the television series about three Yorkshire lads who got old but never grew up aired from 1973 to 2010, an amazing 294 episodes, making it the longest-running scripted sitcom in Britain and the world. That’s impressive.

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What I Love About Writing Fiction, Part 2: Creating Interesting Characters

What we remember best about the books we’ve read is usually not the plot or the setting, as wonderful as these can be. We remember characters. Some of them walk into our hearts and never leave us. I recently finished reading the New York Times Bestseller We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet for my book club. The novel is set in the south of England (a favorite setting), during and after World War 2 (a favorite time frame). The story begins when a young woman, Ellen Parr, finds an abandoned child, little Pamela, asleep on a bus. The theme is courage and love—the fierce love of a woman’s heart for a child. The plot, spanning decades, is beautifully laid out, but what will stick with me forever is Ellen herself—a believable, relatable, flawed, lovable human being. Some fictional characters achieve immortality—Miss Havisham (Great Expectations), Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice), Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird), Sherlock Holmes (The Complete Sherlock Holmes), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), Lisbeth Salander (The Millennium Trilogy), Celie (The Color Purple), Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), Peter Pan (Peter Pan), Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind), Mole (The Wind In The Willows), Armand Gamache (The […]

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