For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing prep work to try my hand at a novel. Although I don’t normally write either fiction or for an adult audience, this time I’m going to be writing a cozy mystery.
The first task has been to develop my main character – Clara Cunningham works in a small museum and sings in her church choir. I’ve put a lot of effort into making her unique but then I started to worry. Will my readers identify with her? After all, not everyone works in a museum, wears period clothing or sings in a church choir. How am I going to bridge the gap between Clara and my reader?
Thank goodness for my book club. This month’s book is The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. Ware has shown me how to forge a connection between the reader and the characters even though our circumstances differ greatly.
In The Lying Game, four teen girls meet at boarding school and play a game where successfully lying to someone outside of the group earns you points. They form a tight clique and then one girl’s father turns up dead. They think it is a drug overdose and for various reasons decide it will be best to hide the body. Fifteen years later, the bones are discovered. I don’t know about you, but I never helped three classmates hide a body. Nope. It never even came up in our little group of nerdy girls, but I still managed to identify with the characters.
Ware accomplishes this by giving the characters emotions and situations that are real to me because I’ve experienced them. Consider Isa, the POV character. She’s the mother of an infant and worries that she will lose her child if what they did as teens is discovered. Many of us who are mothers can identify with this powerful connection. Even if you don’t have this connection, she is outraged when she is accused of something she didn’t do. Ironic though it may seem coming from someone who helped hide a body, that’s a rage we’ve all felt and it helped draw the connection tighter.
Isa’s roommate at school was Fatima. Although it wasn’t the case in high school, she now wears a hijab and prays five times a day. Not Muslim, I can still identify with Fatima’s annoyance at her old friends when they all jump to the conclusion that becoming outwardly religious was forced on her by her husband. Any woman who has ever had to defend her mate to her friends will understand Fatima’s frustration.
Fear of losing a home. Fear of losing a career. Anxiety when wrestling with whether or not to betray a trust when either choice will harm someone. Layer by layer, familiar emotion by familiar emotion, Ware builds a bridge between the world of her women readers and the world of her women characters. Whether your book is a murder mystery, a thriller, or historical fiction, using character emotion can help readers connect with unusual or unfamiliar characters as these characters face challenges unique to their worlds and their situations.
To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey. Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 12th, 2018.