Novel Writing 101: Character Development

Mark Mynheir

Mark Mynheir

Writing was the last thing Mark Mynheir wanted to do as he grew up.

Being dyslexic, “From my earliest memories, the written word was my enemy,” he said. “I struggled through school kicking and screaming, hating every moment of it. My frustration grew because I couldn’t do what everyone else could do so easily. I read slowly, stumbling through even the easiest assignments. And when it came to writing, it just wasn’t going to happen.”

He enlisted in the Marine’s immediately after high school, then became a police officer in Florida. He served as a road patrolman for many years, worked on S.W.A.T., in undercover narcotics and spent the majority of his career in violent crimes and homicide. Today, he works in a small detective agency.

The Corruptible by Mark MynheirHe never dreamed that he would one day be a popular crime novelist and writing coach. “Although my first book wasn’t published, I learned a lot through the process and applied that knowledge to my first published novel—Rolling Thunder. I’ve been writing professionally ever since.”

His most recent published novel is The Corruptible, the final book in his Ray Quinn Mystery series. He’s currently working with another author to launch another series. Look for more on this exciting endeavor soon.

In his spare time, Mark teaches at writer’s conferences. In addition to helping authors learn how to put reality into the law enforcement aspect of mystery writing, he teaches basic fiction writing and Character development.

Police Culture is Key to Making Crime Novels Realistic

“Police procedure usually is pretty easy,” Mark said. “The hard part is getting the cops right.”

To understand how police officers think and the law enforcement culture, Mark recommends reading two books: Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement and I Love a Cop. He also recommends getting to know officers. “Talk to them, go on more than one ridealong with them,” he said, noting that it typically takes law enforcement officials a long time to get to know someone well enough that they’ll open up.

Creating Strong Characters

“People generally read books and watch movies with characters they can identify with and they care about,” Mark said. “Without them, they’re not going to get all the way through your book.”

To make characters that your reader will care about, you must create characters that are authentic in the way real people think and act. Your job as a writer is to help reader’s emotions connect to your characters. To do that, you really need to understand personality types.

Mark recommends the book, How Can I Get Through To You by D. Glenn Foster (a former police office who now consults with the U.S. federal government) and Mary Marshall (a lawyer specializing in family law). The book describes four core personality types—Feeler, Driver, Analyzer and Elitist—and describes effective ways to communicate with each.

“I give my characters one of these basic profiles,” Mark said. “Then I think about how they act under stress, how they dress, what they do when they enter a room. I give each main character a personal history, since people are made up of both genetics and environment.”

In his outline process, Mark starts with his main character. “I have someone in mind and create a quick profile sketch. It has their basic core personality, who the person is, how he or she grew up and motivations. I put the characters into twists I have going on.”

He creates basic plot points, writing down a page or two of bulleted action points.

Because of his dyslexia, Mark keeps much of it in his head, saying, “My characters and stories are in my head and start going forward. You have to do what works for you. Don’t try to copy another writer.”

Point of View in Character Development

Mark said that point of view (POV) is incredibly important in creating believeable characters.

“Most writers know that each scene should contain the POV of one character,” he said. “When I teach POV, I emphasize that the scene should be written entirely in that character’s POV.” That means describing things the way that character would describe it, not how the writer would describe it.

“We need to see the scene and perceive everything in it the way the character would,” Mark said. “If you can’t do that, you’ve not captured the character. Describe it with their words. See things the way they would.”

Mark cautions against having a character talking and seeing without being deeply in their POV, including the character’s internal monologue that is consistent with that character.

“Character dictates the scene,” Mark said.

Advice to Aspiring Authors

Mark said that the biggest thing is to keep at it, even when negative voices tell you otherwise.

“Don’t let negatiave voices tear you down, saying that writing isn’t worth it, and you won’t make money. If God has called you to write, write. A lot.”

He also recommends that you read a lot. Read the kinds of books you enjoy. Read books on writing. Take advice from people who have been there. Take criticism well. If you’re hearing something about your writing from multiple persons or sources (such as three), take a look at it. Take what only one person says with a grain of salt.

“Discern the difference between personal preferences and things that will help you as a writer,” he said.

Finding Joy in Everyday Life

“I’m a happy guy,” Mark said. “I’m blessed by God and have a wonderful wife and kids, I still do police work and am involved in martial arts. I write, but that doesn’t define who I am. It’s part of what I do.”

You can follow Mark on his blog and on Facebook.

This entry was posted in Bookshelf, Craft of Writing, Joy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.