Importance of Character
Perry noted that crime stories, like most genres, have a formula. Her challenge is to let the audience figure out the mystery and not overwrite the details or and point out the obvious. Detecting has to work for the detective and the audience. The characters are at the core of the arc of the story. Readers must feel a change in the character as a result of A—Z. But remember, what happened before, the back story, is not as important as the character’s reactions to the present moment. Writers spend too much time detailing back story, descriptions or setting. Let the audience glean this information from the reactions of your characters. Do not forget the secondary characters either, Perry warned. The author should know their strengths and weaknesses, all the details of the character but only reveal details that are necessary to the flow of the plot. For a visual, Zackheim suggested cutting out pictures from a magazine. Perry said the characters should be identifiable by a few important details, mannerism, personality traits or faults: hair color, a clumsy person, and favorite foods, opinions. Keep it brief. Don’t focus on facial details; rather leave that for the reader. Use emotive phrases like “she walked like a body builder,” which will stick in the reader’s mind. “Remember,” Perry admonished. “You are writing for a story, not a police blotter!”
Anne Perry and Victoria Zackheim were on tour in April 2014 promoting their latest books. They spent over three hours mentoring writers at the California Writers Club, Apple Valley branch. Their focus was on how to approach writing projects. Zackheim is an experienced editor and an author specializing in memoir and personal essays. Anne Perry is recognized as one of the world’s top 100 masters of crime and her series of detective novels are set in historical fiction.