Wednesday, January 26, 2022

More on Character Background


I read with interest Rick’s post yesterday, “How much character background is too much?” As I see it, how much character background is tolerated depends on the type of book. As he pointed out, too much character background in thrillers can slow down the story. I’ll tolerate the personal stuff in a thriller, like family situation, as long as the personal stuff intersects with the main story. e.g. the a character’s family is threatened in some way because of their actions in trying to solve a crime.

Cozies are a different animal. Readers of these types of stories like to know about the personal life of the amateur sleuth. Still, you don’t want to go overboard. But, if you write a craft-based cozy like I do, you should have your sleuth doing the craft in some areas of the book. Ideally this would lead to a sleuthing opportunity or something to do with the crime.

I usually have three plot lines going through my books – a main crime, a secondary crime that may or may not be related to the main one, it could just be muddying the waters making it difficult to figure out what’s really going on, and a personal story line. The challenge and fun is figuring out how to make the personal story line intersect with the main crime.

I’m not a fan of a lot of description in stories, but I think there does have to be enough to get a feel for where you are, especially if it’s a location not everyone knows about. That goes for descriptions of clothing as well. I try to make those as brief as possible and to do it in some sort of action like “She put the piece of paper in the pocket of her jeans.” I’ve not stopped reading a book because of too much description, but I have hesitated to read a second book in the series.

It can be quite difficult at times to figure out how much is too much. That’s where a good editor comes in.


Anna said...

Sybil, I think your points about linking craft and clothing to advancement of the plot are spot on. Small doses about craft can provide a little rest from the exigencies of the plot, and moreover can be interesting in themselves and what they reveal about the crafter's personality: the choice of one color over another, the production of a beautiful tone while staying on pitch, how to salvage a piece when the knife or saw blade has cut too far....

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for commenting, Anna. Totally agree with you.

Rick Blechta said...

I think both of you make very good points.

The real trick, indeed, is to have a feel for how much is too much -- but that's a problem with almost everything in any book.

However in crime fiction too much can definitely provide an unexpected murder: the book!