by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I have the luxury now of uninterrupted reading time, when I didn’t as much when my kids were little. But I still notice that I have the ability to get characters and motives confused when I read mysteries. This is even during books I love and am putting a lot of focus into reading.
When you think about it, it makes sense. Mysteries are complex. There are a number of suspects populating the pages, along with recurring characters to keep track of. Throw in some clues and some red herrings and you might feel as if you need to take notes.
If you’re writing cozies, though, there are some things you can do as a writer to help the readers out. After all, many readers are grabbing their reading time in carpool lines or during a few minutes before turning in for the day. I’ve even noticed that readers see what I’m doing and appreciate it: it’s been mentioned during at least one of my Goodreads reviews.
Here are a few tips:
Be careful with character names. It’s tough to keep track of new characters, especially if more than one of them has a name starting with the same letter. But also be careful with names that are similar that don’t start with the same character: Tim and Jim, for instance.
There’s a writer whose books I love, but I feel as if I’ve had to go through a marathon of concentration when reading her books. She’ll often have one character who’s sometimes referred to by a nickname. And, because they’re police procedurals, the cops will often refer to a character by using a first name sometimes and a last name others. Try to avoid giving a character more than one name.
Use recaps to run through the suspects and their motives. This is probably the most helpful thing you can do for a reader. It’s even better when done with a sidekick instead of as internal monologue. Have your sleuth go through the suspects one-by-one, mentioning motive, means, and opportunity as you go. It’s not repetitive . . . it can really help. Have your sidekick ask the sleuth questions to further help it stick in readers’ minds.
Reintroduce Characters. When a character has been offstage for a while, make a short reintroduction. It’s easy to forget a character when you haven’t been reading about them for thirty pages or more. Just give a quick, simple introduction to help readers place the character. (Jim, Marjorie’s son, walked up to the group.)
Do you have trouble keeping track of characters when you’re reading? As a writer, how do you make things easier on your readers?
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