Last week, I shared an article about what makes a bestseller. The authors did research and believe that no matter the genre, tapping into the human condition–dealing with two themes we struggle with–(more gets to be too much)–helps readers relate to our stories. They also thought that showing characters react with each other, maybe sitting over a cup of coffee and talking, makes them more real.
A friend of mine came for lunch on Thursday, and we yakked even more writing. We talked about some of our favorite books before we started to write. It surprised us how much writing styles have changed from then to now. We both were drawn to books with lots of details and description. Sometimes, we read the first chapter and still had no idea where the story was going. A lot of those books were told by a narrator or an omniscient author, putting distance between the writer and the reader. Today, people like faster paced stories that are more immediate. We like internal dialogue. We want to live inside our protagonist’s skin, to feel what she feels.
When I first tried to write mysteries, I patterned them after my favorites, written by Agatha Christie. I got many a rejection letter that said, “Love your writing, but not what we’re looking for.” Cozies were out of style. But now that I think back, there was more to it than that. I was using a writer’s style that wasn’t current. How well did we know Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot? They were both clever and fun to follow, and I loved trying to solve the elaborate puzzles Christie laid out, but her characters’ lives remained vague. It wasn’t until I read Nancy Pickard and Carolyn Hart that it occurred to me that the detective’s life should be as interesing and demanding as whatever mystery she was trying to solve. The authors gave their characters jobs they cared about, romances that hit highs and lows. They made their characters have bad hair days. Made them feel real.
One of my favorite series to write, and the series I got the most feedback on–was my Babet and Prosper urban fantasy novellas. Babet felt real. So did Prosper and his partner Hatchet. So did their supernatural friends. Eventually, I want to try my hand at another mystery, but this time, I want my characters to feel as real as Babet and Prosper. I want their personal stories to matter just as much as whatever crime they have to solve. I’m not holding my breath that I’ll end up with a bestseller, but I think it will make my story stronger. I can’t wait to give it a try.