I haven’t written about secondary characters in a long time, maybe never! Thankfully, Debra Purdy Kong, author of the exciting Casey Holland Mysteries series and webmaster for Mystery Deb, has some great ideas on them. In this article, she covers how to sketch them out (with an Excel spreadsheet), how to make them memorable, and how to keep them relevant.
I am so excited to host Debra here on WordDreams!
My Casey Holland mystery series is set at Casey’s workplace, Mainland Public Transport. This fictional bus company has about 100 employees which provides opportunities to introduce a wide range of characters. Casey is a transit security officer, who often rides the buses dealing with harassment and smaller types of crime that either turn into or merge with more serious crimes. The company’s security department has only five staff plus Casey’s supervisor, Stan. Her love interest, Lou, is a bus driver, and needless to say she works with many drivers through her job.
It’s always a challenge not to include too many characters in each book, and to make the ones I’ve introduced memorable. Every character serves a purpose in the stories. Stan, Lou, Casey’s teenage ward Summer, and her coworker Marie, are regulars. Lou introduces Casey’s more loving, vulnerable side. Stan assigns her different cases and offers either support or warnings, depending on the dilemma. Marie is the antagonist who pushes Casey’s buttons and forces her to view things in a different way, and Summer challenges Casey’s parenting skills and emotional well-being. She can be both an antagonist or a moral compass, depending on the situation.
Other work colleagues come and go, as does Casey’s best friend, Kendal. By the time I’d finished the third book, The Bleak New Moon, and had started to outline the fourth, I realized I needed a better way of keeping the characters and events straight than the scribbled notes I’d been relying on.
Using an Excel spreadsheet was the simplest way to do this. The top of each column names the book, time period, as well as Casey’s and Summer’s ages. Each row lists a plot summary, key themes, repeat characters, and so forth.
Every story introduces at least an one employee readers haven’t met before, but I also like to bring others back. While planning the next book, the question is which character should return and why? Again, this depends on the plot and subplots that unfold.
There are times when I kill off an MPT character right away, as I did in the second installment, Deadly Accusations, or I’ll have an employee quit the company. Others might play a pivotal role in one story, but won’t be seen again for three or four books.
In the sixth and latest installment, The Blade Man, I brought back bus driver Benny Lee. Benny’s an older driver readers meet on page one in the first book, The Opposite of Dark. He has a minor appearance there, but in book six Benny’s role becomes pivotal when he’s stabbed on the job one night. Coworkers’ fear and empathy for Benny is evident throughout the book and makes them aware that even a calm and experienced employee can be blindsided by violence. Solving the crime also motivates Casey to go above and beyond to protect those she deeply cares for.
After six books, I find myself referring to the Excel sheet more often and will depend on it for future decision making. One thing I do know is that I’ll never kill off favorite characters, although I just might retire one or two.
Debra Purdy Kong’s volunteer experiences, criminology diploma, and various jobs, inspired her to write mysteries set in BC’s Lower Mainland. Her employment as a campus security patrol and communications officer provide the background for her Casey Holland transit security novels.
Debra has published short stories in a variety of genres as well as personal essays, and articles for publications such as Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul, B.C. Parent Magazine, and The Vancouver Sun. She is a facilitator for the Creative Writing Program through Port Moody Recreation, and a long-time member of Crime Writers of Canada. More information about Debra and her books, can be found at www.debrapurdykong.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Book Blurb for The Blade Man:
Who is the Blade Man and why has this mysterious loner been attacking Mainland Public Transport bus drivers? And who is trying to burn MPT down? The company’s president suspects an inside job and orders security officer Casey Holland to launch an internal investigation or face termination.
Convinced that she’s being set up to fail, Casey feels the pressure. With her and Lou’s wedding only weeks away, Casey desperately needs answers, but anger at work and on the streets thwart her efforts. Nor do the police welcome her help.
More employees are attacked, and the president forces Casey to take deeper risks. But how much is too much? How far must she go before facing off with him and MPT’s enemies? Find out in this explosive sixth installment of Casey Holland transit mysteries.
The National Post – “Kong’s writing is no-nonsense at best . . . the end result is a mystery that fits the bill.”
The Hamilton Spectator – “A good read with urban grit and a spicy climax.”
Quill & Quire – “The novel’s short, punchy chapters whisk the story along to a thrilling climax, while the characters’ relationships and rivalries provided a strong emotional anchor.”
ON SALE FOR $.99 UNTIL JUNE 25TH! THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, Casey Holland Mystery #1
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1151714413
Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1495092401
Connect With Debra at:
WordPress blog: https://debrapurdykong.wordpress.com
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning