If I had to pick one thing that has made a difference in my writing it would be seeing a story from each character's perspective. It puts the pieces into a cohesive puzzle.
That doesn't mean expressing all that to the reader. They may only need to know what the protagonist shows them. However the protagonist operates in a world with other people, and they march to their own drummers.
If you write traditional mysteries, they likely have an amateur sleuth who discovers a body -- as opposed to witnessing a gruesome murder. As word spreads, family members of the murder victim (let's say a 57-year old man) react very differently. His wife is stoic, his oldest son is so upset he cries easily and can't go to work, and the youngest daughter hosts her book club the next night because, as she puts it, life goes on and she'll appreciate the support of her friends.
The varied emotions could simply be reactions the writer shows because it's traditional to have a family grieve. Let's say that one of the family members gives the sleuth an important piece of information about the victim's actions the day before he was killed. It could be anything from where he ate lunch, who he played tennis with, or who he thinks was trying to undermine the father's company.
If the writer doesn't know the supporting character's perspective or background (and I'm not talking about a data dump), then the information about lunch seems like a simple recitation of what a family member knows about the victim's prior engagements.
But what if the writer knows that the daughter is furious with her father because he touted her brother's accomplishments and resented paying a dime of her college tuition? Through his passive aggressive behavior, he has always implied that teaching social studies is not as important being the CFO of a tech company, and his son makes good money as a CFO.
The resentful daughter may offer a caustic assessment of her father's ridiculous spending to dine out. That's very different than simply saying he ate at the Big Spender Diner.
The acerbic comment could cause the sleuth to explore the father's spending habits more than s/he might have. That could lead to the sleuth learning that the victim spent lavishly on business lunches for all of his employees except one. That resentful employee's anger built until he confronted the victim in his office after hours and threw a punch that led to a head injury and...bingo, dead body.
And the son's tears? Because though his father spoke well of his career choice, he never offered any indication that he approved of his son. Now the son will never be able to win his father's praise.
At this point, you may say, "So what? As long as the daughter said he spent a lot of money dining out, who cares why she emphasized that point?"
Because knowing why she dissed her father's spending habits tells the writer a lot about the murder victim. Does the writer want to show other examples of a man who belittled others? What about showing him as someone who liked to spend big but struggled to pay tennis club dues in addition to basic expenses?
Does the author ever give readers the full story on the family relationships? Unless one of them was the killer, the story may not need more than a hint.
But in learning the perspectives of the son and daughter, the author learned more about the victim. Well-rounded characters are far more interesting to writers and readers.
Along the way, those secondary characters may have become more intriguing and end up with bigger roles. You never know where a story will take you.
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Learn more about Elaine at www.elaineorr.com