Another Character Introduction, part 1

black & white shot of a city street at night
flickr credit: c@rljones

A few weeks ago I introduced my main character, Justine Bernard, from my novel STOPPING BULLETS. Today I want to introduce one of the few people Justine might actually call a friend, a detective with NYPD, Quinn Duncan.

I got quite the surprise in writing this post. As important this secondary character is, it turned out I didn’t know him like I thought I did.

Character Description Number 1

First I wrote up these few sentences that I thought described him:

He’s an NYPD detective who deals with facts and evidence. Quinn Duncan has no patience for, well, most things. Just ask his brother, Cayden. Couldn’t ever keep that kid out of trouble. And yet Quinn finds himself too often in a similar position with his captain, when he’s gone off doing things his own way again.

But this description didn’t get to the heart of who Quinn was or even deal with his main problem in this story.

Character Description Number 2

I tried again, with a shift in focus.

Detective Quinn Duncan is just trying to do his job, find a murderer, and maybe catch the eye of the waitress at the diner, Justine. If he can manage to ignore the fact that he probably should arrest his brother, Cayden—for just about anything—and that his new partner just slows him down, he might be able to focus on his work.

But his case leads him to bigger fish than he expected, Justine disappears, and it may all be tied to the impossible thing he saw, with his own eyes, that Justine denies ever happened.

Quinn Duncan likes evidence and factsand Justine, despite the fact that he’s sure she’s lying to him. He even asks his brother to keep an eye on her for him. Maybe that’ll keep the kid out of trouble. He sure never could.

Well, that’s just awful. And too long. It’s still missing a good chunk of Quinn’s personality.

After a few more tries, I realized my problem: I didn’t know him. I couldn’t properly sum up this character because my grasp of him was incomplete. For all I knew about him, his family life, his past, I didn’t have a good idea of who he was.

A Lesson for All Writers

These interviews that you might conduct with your character are more than just neat games to decide what her favorite color is. If you ask the right questions, you can uncover who she is. And that leads to a more fully developed character on the page.

Detective Quinn Duncan’s latest case is odd, but it gives him an excuse to talk to the waitress, Justine, so he doesn’t complain. But then his ordered and logical world is turned upside down when, instead of being shot and killed one night, he witnesses the impossible.

After that, he’s sure of nothing. Justine disappears. His case reveals connections that shouldn’t exist. And those he trusts, and those he doesn’t, are showing their true colors.

There, that’s a bit better. I still think I have more to learn about this character. My next strategy is to begin writing “character journals.” I’m writing journal entries in the voice of the characters. It’s great for developing a unique voice for a character. If you’re having trouble getting a clear picture of who your characters are, you might want to try it.

Since this post in long enough already, I’ll save the character interview I “conducted” with Quinn Duncan for next week. It’s a great tool for every fiction writer!

How do you get to know your characters? Do you use specific tools to help you develop them or let them develop as you write?

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