Start reading like an author. Every week we review a book that provides a master class in crafting one or more elements of fiction.
SHADOW PREY (A Lucas Davenport Novel), by John Sandford
There is a reason Sandford’s Prey series has lasted for decades and now boasts 25 books—the man isn’t just a storyteller, he’s a craftsman. I read his work, and I’m like, dude! You know, the reverent use of dude, which means dude, you’re just that awesome! I want to call him up and chit-chat about life. But the true measure of how good Sandford is at character building comes from the fact that I want to hang out with Lucas Davenport. I mean, really just kick it with him. He feels real (and I bet he smells delicious). In Shadow Prey, the second book in the series, Davenport, a Minneapolis-based detective with hawkish features and a weakness for women, pursues answers in a growing number of ritualistic killings. For any new author hoping to pursue a future in writing series fiction—especially in the mystery or thriller genres—reading a few John Sandford novels is a must.
How to create characters who come from real life rather than central casting?
Here are three quick tips on a few lessons learned from Shadow Prey.
- Create conflict through character. Conflict isn’t just about coming up with a bad guy then having a hero chase him down. Conflict starts within a character; in his interior. Lucas Davenport feels real because like many of us, he is more than just one thing. He’s a dogged detective who pursues criminals with the mind of a predator. He’s a take-no-prisoners personality. Yet, he also loves poetry and has built a financial empire as a software developer.
- Looks matter. When building your character, make his or her appearance important to the mood and story you’re telling. Davenport’s appearance creates further conflict. He’s tall, dark and appealing to women. Yet, despite having piercing blue eyes, his smile is often frightening and his skin, though naturally dark for a white guy, bears the shadows of scars. So he’s both sexy and scary.
- The friends and family plan. Again, the tug of conflict extends into his relationships. Davenport is a tough guy. However, his best friend, Elle Kruger, is a nun. The dynamics of Davenport’s friendship with Elle provide further insight into him as a man and delivers readers the kind of depth not often seen in commercial fiction.