A lot of authors use character sheets to detail important things about their characters in a table or an organized list, but that just seems too clinical for me, and on top of that, I don’t like to over-describe characters, at least not their physical appearance. I prefer to leave much of the characters looks up to the reader’s imagination. So I usually write character descriptions up in dialogue and prose as though they are first being introduced in the story. Oftentimes, however, I do this as I’m writing. In other words, I don’t necessarily write anything down about a character until the first time I introduce them in a story.
That’s typically worked pretty well for me so far, but with mysteries I think you really need to have a solid working knowledge of your characters before you start writing the story. That way you can know what their motives are, what their backstory is.
I’ve already written backstories for all of the characters in my new mystery series, but I also went ahead and wrote their introductions as though I was writing them into the story for the first time. So I thought it would be fun to share those introductions here. They may change a bit once the story is completed, but these will serve as my basis for each member of the cast. Keep in mind that most of these descriptions are seen through the eyes of our main character, Ash Banyan.
So without further ado…
Ash Banyan hunched over the steering wheel much the same way he’d hunched over the desk in the cramped cubicle he’d worked in for the better part of the last twenty years. He pushed his dark, thick-framed glasses up the bridge of his long nose, catching the brief reflection of his muddy brown eyes in the instrument cluster of the old Ford truck. His palms were slick with sweat, partially from the poor state of the air conditioner, but if he had to be honest with himself, mainly because of his fear of heights. On top of all that, he was pulling a twenty-six foot trailer over steep passes through the Santiam forest on less than stellar tires with a temperature gauge that had just moved one tick passed the midway point. In all the years he’d owned the truck, the needle had always stayed comfortably in the middle, much like Ash himself.
Lizzie Banyan leaned into her lithe frame, holding her left arm tightly to her side with her right. She bit at her bottom lip and stared furtively at the ground, her eyes seemingly aware of everything around her while doing their best to avoid contact with anyone. An errant strand of dark hair fell across her face causing her to flick her head ever so quickly before resuming her previous stance.
Ash knew his daughter could be very outspoken, and oftentimes he’d find himself wishing she would stop talking long enough to take a really deep breath, but now was not one of those times and it troubled him to see her so troubled.
Julia was the antithesis of Ash. She was comfortable in her skin, adventurous, and wore a perpetual smile, a smile that was made all the more beautiful by those impossibly big green eyes, eyes that saw right into the heart of whoever she was looking at. She pulled her strawberry blonde hair into a quick ponytail as she breezed past him into the tiny trailer. She studied the place for a moment and he was actually surprised to see that she seemed to approve.
Her smile widened for the briefest of moments. “It’s about time Ash,” she said.
He detected the sadness in her statement, just a hint that anyone who didn’t know her would have missed. Ash, however, knew all too well the reason for her sadness. After all the years of her prodding him into getting out and living life, he was finally doing it, the only problem was that it was too late for her.
Despite that, he knew she was too good of a person to be truly resentful of him. She had obviously found happiness without him, and she seemed to be happy that he’d found a measure of it himself.
Eva Rogers was the kind of woman Georgia’s father would’ve said was from good stock. In fact, it only took one look at her to see she’d grown up on a farm. She was a handsome woman, but Georgia thought most of that handsomeness came from her strength and determination. She was the kind of woman who’d look right at home on a tall horse with her wild red hair sticking out from underneath a cowboy’s hat.
In the relatively short time Georgia had known Eva, she’d never known her to wear a stitch of makeup, and her hands were always rough from hard work, but there was a natural beauty to her… and a fire in her eyes. The kind of fire that couldn’t be put out, at least not easily. Although Eva had never confided in Georgia what she was up to, Georgia had been around long enough to know she was a woman on a mission. That’s why Georgia knew something bad had happened to her, something very bad.
Ash didn’t like the look of Kip, but then he didn’t really like the look of any of the boys Lizzie had brought home. They all seemed to be like shelter dogs, or causes as he thought of them. Ash was all for causes, but he’d always hoped his daughter would find a boy who didn’t need so much work, a boy who came from a good home, a boy who knew where he was going. The more Ash thought about it though, the less he was sure he was the best judge. After all, he’d thought he’d known where he was going.
Kip mumbled a greeting and offered Ash a clammy hand. How in the world could a young man be so cold? Maybe it was the Oregon weather. Maybe the boy’s brain was diverting as much blood as it could to itself in the feeble hopes of making him capable of intelligent conversation. Ash kicked himself for being such a jerk. If his daughter had heard his thoughts, she would’ve given him the look and walked away in disgust.
The boy had the same orange hair as his mother, but it was cut short and looked as though it had never been combed. He had a smattering of freckles that drew a line between his eyes and his mouth. His hazel eyes flitted from here to there like an ever vigilant squirrel, always aware there was something out there bigger than he was. In truth, Ash actually felt a little sorry for the kid. He could see he was deeply worried about his mother.
Georgia May Evans…
Ash thought Georgia May had at one time been a much larger and more imposing woman. She was smaller in frame now, but he doubted she was any smaller in stature. Georgia May’s skin reminded Ash of the sepia photographs he’d stared at in wide-eyed wonder as a child in his grandmother’s den. It was rich and deep and hinted at her years without giving away the precise number. She was worn like one of those old photographs. Ash imagined her as one of the stones in the McKenzie, smoothed by countless years of swift moving currents, the years of teaching and fighting for her place had worn some of the edges away to reveal the beautiful polished stone beneath.
She was the kind of woman who commanded respect without asking for it, but made you feel welcome if you minded your p’s and q’s, but it was her eyes that he couldn’t look away from. They were dark and knowing and they held the expanse of her wisdom, and they could see right through Ash’s carefully constructed defenses.
Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Wembley…
Chuck Wembley didn’t look like a Chuck or a Charles to Ash. Ash imagined that the name Chuck was the kind of name one earned after a lifetime of comradery or back-breaking work, likewise, Charles didn’t really fit the man either. He seemed a bit small for a sheriff, sure he was fit and looked as though he could handle himself, but Ash had always thought Sheriffs wore wide hats and big belts with equally big belly’s, silly now that he thought about it, but still, nothing about Chuck seemed to say Sheriff.
First of all, the man appeared entirely too clean to be a Sheriff patrolling the wilds of the Oregon back country. He was dark-haired, clean shaven, blue eyed, and wore the kind of clothes that would be more at home in an office. Even the man’s smile was something out of a magazine, but despite the seemingly perfect exterior Ash could sense an uneasiness just below the surface. It was like Chuck knew he didn’t belong where he was, and that he knew that any minute now everyone else would know it as well.
Gareth pressed his warm hand into Ash’s and shook it heartily, not too firm and not too soft, a perfectly inviting hand shake. Ash was immediately drawn to the man. His brown eyes were warm and mirrored his own, and his smile and laugh were infectious. Ash estimated from what he already knew about his new co-worker that he must be in his early forties, but his lean, toned build and his thick, curly brown hair gave him a youthful appearance. He was the kind of guy who probably still got carded when he bought a six pack at the grocery store.
Ash liked the man at once and was relieved to know that at least this part of his new life was shaping up nicely. He’d been worried when he took the job about fitting in with his new co-workers, but Gareth made him feel completely welcome and wholly relaxed.
Ash instantly felt nervous upon meeting his new boss. He looked like a grown-up version of the kind of guys that made Ash’s high school years a living hell. James Ritchie towered over him, sizing him up with dark, beady eyes and smirking under a thick umber mustache. His smirk seemed to intensify as he squeezed Ash’s hand to the point of cracking.
Ash imagined the guy had previously been a high school football coach, or a drill sergeant. The guy even wore cammo from head to toe and black combat boots that were probably heavier than the police issue battering ram like flashlight that hung at his hip.
The man pulled him a little closer, his grip ratcheting up. “Hopefully there’s more to you than there appears to be.”
Ash smiled weakly and nodded. How on Earth does a person even respond to a statement like that? Not that it mattered since Ash had suddenly lost his ability to speak.
Bill Kennedy looked like the kind of man his mother would’ve like back in her hippy days, or so he imagined. He had the look of someone who either never ate quite enough, or had the metabolism of a squirrel. Ash thought it was most likely the former as the man had mannerisms more akin to a sloth than a squirrel.
Bill’s blue eyes floated around never quite focusing on anything, but seemingly looking for something all the same. It was a lighter apparently. He smiled and then chuckled to himself when he’d finally found it. He pushed his long sandy hair out of his face unsuccessfully as he fumbled with a cigarette.
“So, you been living here long?” Ash asked.
Bill glanced around the trailer as though that was answer enough, and in truth, for Ash, it was. The place was the kind of disaster it took a person years to create, even the most slovenly sort, which Ash assured himself Bill most certainly was.
The evening light filtering through the mini-blinds gave Mare O’connor’s auburn hair the look of a slow smouldering fire, embers glowing in strategic places, brightening and fading in succession. Ash was immediately drawn to her, but he did his best to hide that fact from the lovely woman sitting across from him on a chair that looked a little too elegant for a cabin.
“So how are you settling in Mr. Banyan?” She crossed her long legs and sat back in the chair. Her voice dripped with southern charm, she was definitely not a native Oregonian he thought to himself.
He felt his face redden and hoped the slatted light would make it less obvious. He squirmed uncomfortably on the too soft cushions of her sofa like a fly in a web. “Ash, please call me Ash.”
She nodded daintily in acknowledgment, her delicate rose-colored lips forming an all too knowing smile.
Ash rubbed at the back of his neck. “It’s great.. er.. I mean.. I’m settling in just fine. You’re lovely… I mean your place here is lovely.” He could feel more blood rushing to his cheeks. “The RV Park, I mean. It’s so lovely here tucked in the forest.” Ash felt like kicking himself again. How many times could a man use the word lovely without looking like a bumbling idiot? One time, he suspected.
Gabby the Beagle…
Gabby rested her head on his knee, watching intently with those stereotypical puppy dog eyes, hoping against hope that Ash would save at least a tiny bit of his turkey sandwich for her. Against his better judgment he gave in and tore off a sizeable chunk of his lunch in the hopes it would keep her busy while he finished the remainder of the sandwich. It did not in fact keep her busy. She swallowed the whole thing in less than a second and then rested her head once again on his knee. He knew it was the beginning of the end. Despite her horrendous table manners, he’d already fallen for her.