The characters drive the plot. Characters must be real in the sense of
their motivations, behaviour, personalities which along with their
experiences, background and education drive their actions which in turn
affects the plot.
Marvik’s not sure what lies ahead for him until a former Royal Marine comrade, Shaun Strathen, enlists his help to find a missing computer scientist and a former girlfriend of Marvik’s goes missing after visiting him in his remote Isle of Wight cottage. Marvik finds himself attached to the UK's newly formed and covert National Intelligence Marine Squad (NIMS) led by Detective Chief Superintendent Crowder. Marvik's skills, background, experiences all dictate his actions but essentially, like DI Andy Horton he is engaged on investigations. In Marvik's case covert ones, and as he is not a police officer he can act outside the law.
there is my 1950s set detective series with Inspector Ryga. Again I
needed to understand what makes Ryga tick before I launched him on an
investigation. His character needed to be formed and understood. I
didn't want a hero in the traditional sense and I also needed to bring
in my trademark, or brand- the sea. I therefore chose to make Ryga an
ex-merchant seaman whose ship was raided by the Germans and he ended up
spending four years in a German prisoner-of-war camp. His experience at
sea, and as a prisoner-of-war, has made him unique in his approach to
solving coastal based crimes. He's observant, analytical and
reflective. He's witnessed compassion, cruelty, cowardice and heroism,
mental breakdown and despair. He’s made a promise to himself that
whatever happens after the war he’ll keep an open mind and never judge.
I use spider grams to create the characters involved in the novel.I draw a circle and put each character in the centre of that circle and then I throw out lines and ask a series of ‘open’ questions about each of them. For example if the victim I'll ask myself -who is he? How did he get where he is? Why would someone want to kill him? Who killed him? How was he killed? What’s his background, family, education, experience? What’s his occupation? How old is he? Where does he live? What’s his personality? What does he look like? What has shaped him? How are the victim’s family, friends and others going to react? How do they see this character?
At this stage I have hardly any answers to these
questions but they will come to me as I write the novel. In particular
once I start putting dialogue into their mouths and have them walking
around and interacting with people. I add to my notes and my
storyboard/plotline as the characters’ actions start to drive the plot.
So does that make me character driven? Confusing isn't it? Added to this
is the fact that I never outline the entire plot before writing the
novel because I have no idea what happened, who did it, how and why? And
I might find that as I write, DI Andy Horton or Art Marvik will
discover something about themselves, or their past, and make a decision
that will affect the plot and change its direction.
me the surprises, twists and turns spring from the characters'
motivations and as I write I find ideas occurring to me that I hadn’t
previously considered. I sometimes also discover that someone I
thought was going to be a minor character turns out to be much more
interesting while a major character can become boring and sometimes
unnecessary, if that happens then I cut him or her out.
As I write I
ask myself what will this character do in this situation. What will
he/she do next? I continually ask questions about each character and
answer them as the novel progresses. I shape and reshape. I put my
characters in difficult or unusual situations, and as I do the story
unfolds and the tension builds.
So answering the question what comes first character or plot? For me it is the character although at the same time I am toying with plot ideas.
And answering the question are my crime novels plot driven or character driven? I'll leave you to decide when reading them.