Developing Characters – Meet Jack Fowler: #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of  writers share their thoughts and experiences.  I encourage you to check out their posts by clicking on the icon at the bottom.

Developing interesting and intriguing characters is one of the primary challenges for any writer of fiction.  Unlike non-fiction subjects, these characters exist only in the writer’s mind. It’s up to the author to bring them to life and make them believable.

All writers get asked how they go about selecting and creating characters. For me, each of my novels revolves around one or two protagonists.  The way these characters are developed and how the reader learns about them are as important as who they are and the roles they play in the story.

In real life, the way you learn about people is through observation. How an individual looks and acts, how he/she relates to others, and his/her interests and values are all things you primarily see and learn, and are not always told to you.  This should also be the case with fictional characters.

Let’s take a look at Jack Fowler, the lead character in the murder mystery I’m currently writing, BUTCHER ROAD.

Butcher Road - Jack Fowler

The novel opens with Jack out for an evening walk when his nose directs him to a decaying corpse in an abandoned house.  In that scene, the foul odor reminds Jack of his military experience, having returned from Afghanistan two years prior.  He has a brief flashback before shaking it off and reengaging in the present.  During the same scene, he interacts with police officer, Al Walker.  Their banter portrays Jack as a no-nonsense guy, unafraid to challenge authority and get involved.

In just a few pages, the reader is introduced to Jack Fowler.  Very little backstory is used during this introduction, and these pages establish a base for Jack’s character going forward.

One other trick that helps me be consistent with character development is to build a profile of my main characters.  I refer to this profile from time to time as these characters appear and evolve throughout the novel.  If this does nothing else, it prevents characters changing hair color from chapter to chapter.   Below is Jack Fowler’s profile:

  • Physical Description
    • Tall, athletic, dark hair, blue eyes, conservative/basic attire
  • Values & Interests
    • Family, career, relationships, community, outdoor activities
  • Personality:
    • No-nonsense, unafraid, patriotic, caring, dry humor, takes responsibility
  • Other traits
    • Successfully fighting PTSD symptoms

Every suspense novel interjects tension and conflict into the life of its protagonists. It is this tension and conflict that make the characters interesting and compelling. How they engage, resolve or fall victim to conflict should also be consistent and fit their profile.

The sources of Jack Fowler’s tension in BUTCHER ROAD are many.  He faces a struggle to overcome PTSD symptoms.  Fellow police officers are resentful of his fast rise in the department.  A new relationship with Angela Jones, a Charlotte detective, has him balancing his personal and professional life.  Most importantly, Jack becomes entangled in a serial murder case where he and Detective Jones become the targets of the killer.

So that’s Jack Fowler.  If you’d like to assess how I did introducing Jack, you can read the first chapter of BUTCHER ROAD by clicking HERE.  I’d appreciate your comments.

Butcher Road - 3D-Book-Template (309x400)

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please check out what other writers participating in this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop have to say by clicking HERE.

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Sex, Violence & Profanity in Novels

A recent review of my latest novel, At the River’s Edge, caught my attention. The reviewer appreciated reading a murder mystery that wasn’t laced with profanity and sexual content. Similar comments have been made by other readers.

To be clear, I wrote this book for adults, and it does contain earthy language and moderate violence. After all, it is a murder mystery, but it doesn’t contain explicit sex scenes, and the violence is within the context of the story.

FB - ATRE (960x460) - Copy

I believe you can build tension and suspense in a mystery without gory violence or profane language. I only need to reference Rod Serling and his TV series, The Twilight Zone, to make my point. For younger readers, Google him or take a look at a YouTube clip of one of the episodes from the 1950s and 1960s.

I’ve never overused violence or profane language in any of my novels. Early on, however, I mistakenly believed those who told me sex sells, and I attempted a couple of lust-filled scenes in my first two books, Corrupt Connection and Better Late Than Ever.

A romance novelist who reviewed the second book said the sex scenes read like the author was not committed to what he was describing. She was right. I couldn’t force myself to write the oft-used, salacious words describing what the lovemaking partners were doing to each other.  While readers expect this content in romance novels, I don’t think it flows naturally in a murder mystery or crime novel.

You will not find a focus on lust in John Grisham’s suspense-filled novels. In fact, he once mentioned his early attempts at integrating sex scenes into his thrillers made his wife laugh.  To this date, he avoids politics and lust.  I can’t think of a better role model or advice for writers of suspense.

My current novels contain elements of romance, including At the River’s Edge, but now the door closes and reopens a few pages later. What happens in between is up to your imagination.

Learn more about At the River’s Edge by Clicking Here.