First and foremost you must do your research.
When I started writing For Their Sins, I thought I would write something that was pure fantasy. I hoped to design a world that was recognizable but a few paces out of synch with ours. As the story developed, it became obvious that For Their Sins had to occur in the shadows of the real world.
On the first draft, I used placeholder names, chose random cities, arbitrary times, and made rough guesses on costuming. Every aspect of this novel had to be rechecked. Some of the facts would probably go unnoticed unless a history buff read the book. While other mistakes would be glaring errors to anyone, who traveled to those parts of the world.
The one fact that plagued me was: The United States is a melting pot. We probably have one person from every nation if not every major city in the world. I never knew who was going to pick up my book. The last thing I wanted was for someone to lose interest for a small detail or worse a glaring flaw.
One easy example was researching the year Constantinople changed its name to Istanbul. It’s a well-known fact that it happened and I’m sure it shows up in trivia and maybe even Jeopardy. When one of your main characters came from such a famous city, you have to get your facts straight.
Second pay attention to detail.
This goes hand and hand with doing your research. While my books aren’t overly descriptive, I give the details where they count. Everything must feel authentic in a historical or urban piece. I have two methods and you’ll either love or hate my writing style.
If something is well known and there is no need to describe it I don’t. For instance, if someone says a 50’s style diner most people see a checkerboard floor, chrome bar, and bar stools, booths with red vinyl and neon signs. The image would at least be close enough that it wouldn’t affect the plot.
However, if the image was unknown and/or important to the plot, I will take the time to describe it in detail. A short example follows: He wore a black vest with gold embroidery and a dark blue shirt underneath. A light blue sash made a wide belt at his waist. His black pants were loose and baggy.
The details pull the reader into the world that you created. It allows them to fully visualize what you want them to see. Just remember too many details bog down the story and slow the momentum, too little, and they just see black and white. The trick is always finding the right balance.
Each character should have their own voice and personality. For Their Sins is written in the first person and the whole novel is Alexandria’s voice. I purposely allowed her to use contractions when writing but not when speaking. Alexandria is the only one to not use contractions in her dialogue. She is also a little more formal at the beginning of the novel and slowly loosens up. Other characters like Collin have a few words that have an accent or pet names only they use for Alexandria. Be careful with accents though I’ve read a book or two where the accent was so thick I had no clue what the character was saying. You also don’t want to create a caricature.
Character development occurs as much through their mannerisms thoughts and actions as it does dialogue. Alexandria's thoughts are seen throughout the novel because it is written in the first person. This can be done in the third person as well the character would just need to be indicated. Allowing the reader an insight into a character’s thoughts is a great way to show who they really are.
Mannerisms are things like nervous habits or reactions to stimuli. If your character is questioned by someone in authority do they cave or fight back, do they have a nervous tick like chewing their nails? Think about what makes people human and go for it. There are books you can buy to help you, or you can observe people, or watch movies with people in similar situations as your characters. Think about who you want your character to be, then shape them. Without great characters, no one will read your book.
You can find Alexandria Diego in the world I created in For Their Sins