The mystery/suspense/thriller genre naturally lends itself to some very creepy characters. As my beta readers have told me recently, Stay of Execution is much darker than my first novel (and creepier).
A Guilty Mind was meant to be a psychological mystery and as such, it was very focused on one of the protagonists, George, all of his issues, and how they played into the conclusion. Stay of Execution still includes psychological elements, but also features some seriously disturbed characters. While writing this latest, my goal was to ramp up the suspense.
In June, I was fortunate to attend a great Writer’s Show put on by the James River Writers called “Psychoanalyzing Your Fiction”. Naturally, I was intrigued by this subject while in the midst of writing my “creepy” characters. Two recently published authors and a psychologist gave an audience filled with writers their insight into creating “authentic” and, let’s be honest, disturbed characters. One of my favorite parts of the night came from the moderator, Gigi Amateau. She told us that when she is struggling to find the voice of a character, she will interview them as herself and answer as the character. Are you curious? Here are her questions:
What do you want most in the world?
What’s stopping you from getting what you want most in the world?
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
I’m here for you, darling. How may I help you?
I love it! (For a full recap of that JRW Writing Show on psychoanalyzing your fiction, go here.)
As writers, we hear a lot about authenticity and I agree this is essential – particularly if you want your characters to be believable. Still, I also think it’s okay to stretch the boundaries a bit. It is fiction after all! I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for every action to be anticipated. Surprise is a key element in suspense as long as it’s not completely outrageous. The hero can do something unsavory and the bad guy can have some redeeming qualities. For me, authenticity is in the layers.
What do you think and how far do you go in psychoanalyzing your characters?