Monday, February 12, 2007


One of the adages given to authors is "write what you know." That's an interesting concept for the mystery or crime fiction author. How many of us have committed the kinds of mayhem and skullduggery about which we write? Very few, I hope. On the other hand, all of us in this creating game--and the human race in general--have experienced the array of emotions and feelings that could have led us to do some dastardly deeds.

The three-legged stool that mysteries are set upon (and that I wrote about elsewhere here on the blog) are plot, character and setting. Plots are the story, of course, what happens and why. However, stories are only interesting if the characters are ones that readers find intriguing, appealing or else so loathsome that the reader wants to see the person get his or her comeuppance.

Consequently, the author has to consider carefully the nature and personalities of the story's main and secondary characters. Some advice that I was given has proven helpful in making sure that I stay true to my story's characters and their personalities. I write down each character's internal conflicts that drive him or her. Then I determine what are the likely external conflicts that would trigger an appropriate action or reaction.

This character list that has the internal and external conflicts identified is very useful as I write the narrative. For example, if a poor self-image and resulting feelings of jealousy are Susan's internal drivers--ones that trigger her to act irrationally, for example--then knowing that helps me to have Susan react appropriately. I can use her in settings and sutations to move the plot along and make the story more dynamic.

The character conflict list doesn't have to be elaborate, but it is fun to do and useful. And again, both the primary and secondary characters should be on it. It does save time later on because the characters are like buddies or acquaintences, where you can roll your eyes, and say, "Yeah, I know just how she's going to react in that situation."

I suppose the seven deadly sins could be a good starting place to start the laundry list of your characters' internal conflicts. You can always branch out, refine and move into the venal sins, I suppose . . .

Hope this might have been useful. If so, drop me a line and let me know.

Yours in mystery,


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