How my characters spend time over the holidays

Last week on Twitter, mystery reader JayeL wrote:

Then she named some authors including me, and said: “Challenge issued.”

Well, if it’s a challenge…

This was fun — short fiction, 140 characters at a time. It also says something about how readers perceive characters, and how writers structure suspense novels.

Readers love vivid characters. Especially series characters, who come back time after time to face new challenges and adventures. But when those characters feature in crime fiction — mystery, suspense, thrillers — the challenges they face involve mayhem, danger, and death. The characters must face those challenges, or it’s not a crime novel.

Readers have asked me why the pace in my novels is fast. Why must the characters race to solve mysteries under time pressure? Why can’t they enjoy a leisurely lunch, or spend a week on the beach, or take a painting class?

Because that’s not even a story.

Here’s a secret. My characters all live full, rounded lives. They throw New Year’s Eve parties and deliver Meals on Wheels and spend long weekends reading Sue Grafton and binge watching The Sopranos. But the portion of their lives that makes it to my thrillers involves danger and daring.

A couple of years ago, a forensic psychiatrist wrote a journal article about how that specialty is portrayed in popular fiction. I was thrilled that she included Jo Beckett. And I was amused that she noted, somewhat skeptically, that in all the Beckett novels, Jo solves the case. Of course she does. The only cases I write about in the Beckett novels are the ones Jo solves. The cases her colleagues solve aren’t part of the story.

But just for the holidays, I’ll let you imagine Evan Delaney, Jesse Blackburn, Jo Beckett, and Gabe Quintana chilling on the beach in Santa Barbara. Ho ho ho and Happy New Year.

5 responses to “How my characters spend time over the holidays

  1. Great idea! I like the holiday version. But, as you say, it isn’t story. I wouldn’t return to those characters time and again if their lives were so prosaic and mundane. That’s MY life. Why would I read about someone else leading that life? Give me danger, intrigue, and a ticking clock! Awesome!

  2. Happy to oblige. Thanks!

  3. Great. I’d join them if I were on that side of the continent.

    Here’s to a happy and peaceful 2016. Full of books.

  4. Hear, hear. Happy New Year!

  5. What fun, but I’m with you Meg, without the mayhem, it isn’t a crime. Thanks for sharing.

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