Characters Coming to Life

Brian Thiem blogging this week. It’s a month away from the release of Shallow Grave, the third book in the Detective Matt Sinclair series, and I’m shifting into book-promotion mode. Don’t worry, I’m not the kind of guy who will bombard the world with a dozen tweets and FB postings every day begging you to Buy My Book.

Besides, I’m working on a new project that’s beginning to take over my writing life. It started with an idea: Mitch, a retired homicide detective moves to a retirement community on a coastal South Carolina island and—okay, you guess it—someone is murdered. Charlie, a tough, sexy (I’m a sucker for tough, sexy women) detective in the sheriff’s department that polices the beachfront community, is assigned the case.Riverbend-Dock

I spent months creating a storyline and the setting, a fictional island that has some similarities to Hilton Head and the active adult community in which I live. Then I started writing what many writers call the shitty first draft. That’s when my characters started talking to me.

I was taking a shower after a day of pounding out my thousand words, a bike ride, and a trip to the gym when Mitch told me how he met Billy, a huge mountain of a man who is Charlie’s boss in the sheriff’s office.

Mitch had met Billy Green twenty-five years ago when he was vacationing on Spartina Island with his wife and kids for their first time. After an exhausting day of keeping up with a two and four-year-old on the beach, Mitch and his wife were browsing through the shops on the way back to their rental unit, when all of a sudden their four-year-old daughter disappeared. One moment she was there and the next she was gone. Mitch and his wife franticly searched the tee-shirt shop they were in, the stores next to it, and the walkways throughout the shopping plaza in an ever-increasing radius. They asked everyone they encountered if they’d seen a little girl in a pink swimsuit. No one had.

After a half-hour of fruitless searching, Mitch headed to a payphone to call 9-1-1. On the far side of the shopping plaza, he saw Rachel’s tiny head above the crowd. Even though she was a few hundred feet away, Mitch swore he heard her squeal in joy as her tiny finger pointed toward him. Mitch and his wife pushed through the throng of people to see Rachel perched upon the shoulders of a huge black man dressed in a deputy sheriff’s uniform.

The deputy hoisted Rachel off his shoulders into Mitch’s arms and said, “I was down the road at the snack bar drinking me a sweet tea, when I feel this tug on my pant leg and see this little creature lookin up at me. I crouch down to her level, and she says, ‘My daddy told me if I ever need help to find a police officer. I lost my mommy and daddy. Can you help me find them? My daddy’s a policeman too.’ My name’s Deputy Billy Green,” the deputy said to Mitch. “What’s yours, Mister Policeman?”

A few days later, I went to bed after revising a scene for the umpteenth time where Mitch and Charlie meet over Mitch’s dead neighbor. I had decided to write this book in alternating points of view—a chapter in the perspective of Charlie, followed by one in Mitch’s perspective. After living inside only Matt Sinclair’s head in my writing for a few years, it was taking an adjustment to get into the heads of two new characters.shallow-grave-cover-2016-07-19

When I woke up in the morning, I realized Charlie had been speaking to me as I slept. She told me that she was the assigned homicide detective, not the old retired guy, so she should be the one to tell the story of what took place at the murder scene. I made coffee, took Annie outside for her morning pee and poop, and sat down at my computer and rewrote the scene. Charlie was right; she was the better one to tell that part of the story.

This project is still in its infancy, and I don’t yet know exactly where it’s going or where it will end up, but when my characters begin speaking to me to get their story out, I know I’m on the right track.

6 thoughts on “Characters Coming to Life

  1. Brian, I am looking forward to reading Shallow Grave. Your new book sounds like that one will be on my reading list also.

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  2. I was once told by a very successful author that a good murder mystery should be told in first person and that “beloved” characters should never be killed off. Ha! My book breaks those rules by alternating POVs and the unfortunate murder of a “beloved” character. I hate rules—don’t you? Thanks for this additional encouragement! Nice to know your brain works in your sleep, too. I love when mine does!

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    1. Most of the older classic murder mysteries were told in the first person. There are advantages to it, but also limitations. I’m sure you’ve found that 3rd person is more common today, and multiple points of view (if done right) can add another interesting perspective to the story.

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  3. Looking forward to Shallow Grave and your new project as well. Glad to see you’re becoming a southerner in terms of residency as well as setting for your books.

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