I’ve been commenting on the fact that I’m packing and moving to another state. The process has surprisingly made me think about things that relate to writing mysteries.
I’ve run across things that I’d forgotten about. Things that make up my history; things that made me. I can look at something and remember where it came from and how it became a part of me. That is, how it’s effect on me created who I am. I guess I’m kind of talking in circles, but let me explain how it relates to mysteries.
When we create a storyline for a mystery, each part has to have some kind of history. What led the perpetrator to the point of committing a crime? What caused the victim to be in a certain place at a certain time? Was there a witness? Why was the witness there? What was everyone’s motivation?
All good questions. They deserve answers. Yes, sometimes situations are truly based on coincidence, but more often there’s an underlying story.
What about the protagonist? He or she needs a history, too. These characters don’t just pop up out of thin air. Nor do we.
If you want the characters in a story to be believable, they need a background, even if it forms over a number of stories.
Sandi (of the Sandi Webster Mysteries) was a teenager when her father made some disastrous decisions – and then he died. She went from being a happy-go-lucky teen to a proponent of doing the right thing overnight. She didn’t have time for friends or boyfriends and her life changed drastically. What got her through a rough situation? A new found maturity and a sense of humor. Years later, her life is turned around again when she opens an investigative firm and takes on a partner named Pete.
Chris and Pamela Cross (of the Bogey Man Mysteries) met by chance. Chris was a mailman and Pamela was a waitress, each wanting changes in their lives. Chris is a Humphrey Bogart lookalike, which has a huge bearing on where they go on their journey. Pamela was widowed young and has a son she’s raising by herself. They have histories that come together to create two amateur sleuths and an entirely new lifestyle.
There are a few things in my own history that have inspired stories, although those things have taken twists and turns and become something other than what real life handed me. Has anyone read Bubba’s Ghost? The story is based on something that happened to me, involving a drunken bum who harassed me and my young daughter. I’m talking about a total stranger, not someone who knew me. I happened to live in the wrong house at the wrong time, and I knew it would make a good story. The characters in the story are not me and my daughter, but fictional characters who handled things differently than I did.
History. Even a drunken bum needs a background, which I provided in the story, although it’s fiction.
Not all stories are based on true life situations, and yet our characters still need to have come from somewhere where things happened to shape them and their lives. Old Murders Never Die was one of those stories and it is complete fiction. The crimes in the story happened in the late 1800s and the victims’ stories were lost over time. Enter Sandi, who discovers an abandoned ghost town and a mystery that she can’t let go of without solving it. The town and the characters have an unexpected history.
Is there some small thing that’s happened to you in real life that would be fodder for a mystery? I’m not just directing this at writers, but also at readers. We each have a unique background. We have stories we can tell in a book or when we sit and talk to a friend. Some are funny – some are not. However, a story is a story and I, for one, love to hear them.
I especially enjoy the humorous stories. Then, again, I enjoy telling them and making people laugh. The other day one of the dogs… Never mind. I’ll save that for another post.
Until next time, clean out one of your cupboards and see if you find something that triggers a memory that helped turn you into who you are.
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