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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Looking at story endings

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.

— Rod Serling

Last evening I had a discussion with members of the book club at the Albert Campbell Branch of the Toronto Public Library. One of the many interesting questions from one of these readers was about the ending to my short story “Porcelain Doll” from Beyond the Tripping Point. And the ensuing discussion got me thinking.

I’ve blogged about the beginning and middle of short stories and novels, but endings are just as important for the writer and especially the reader. You want to have your readers hanging onto every word of your story but you don’t want to disappoint them in the end. That doesn’t necessarily mean a main character shouldn’t die but…

Let’s look at endings. Without completely spoiling the ending of  “Porcelain Doll,” when the protagonist Sarah Holden is reunited with her father she has mixed feelings – relief, love – lots of heavy emotions – but when she sees him being led out in handcuffs and sees ”a glimmer of the old Daddy in his eyes,” she shudders. (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford Beyond the Tripping Point)

The book club member and I explored this ending where Sarah Holden has these mixed feelings about reconnecting with a father who for years she thought was dead because of her, a father who was a nasty piece of goods in that he was verbally abusive to her and especially to her mother. But he had one redeeming quality – he loved his daughter. He found it difficult to express his love so did the one thing he thought would please her – try to win a big porcelain doll through a poker game.

This ending works because it brings out the mixed feelings Sarah has for her father. If she completely forgave him and ignored the pain he caused her, particularly for deserting her and her mother which left her with feelings of guilt, it wouldn’t be realistic. His arrest is minutes after she is reunited with him so she has little time to digest all that happened and is happening. Perhaps if it was a few years after the reunion and Daddy and Sarah got to know each other…maybe.

What can we learn about endings?

1.      They must be logical and follow through with the plot and characters.

2.   That point doesn’t eliminate surprise endings but again the plot and characters must point towards what happens in the surprise. Killing off a bad character or even a superfluous one because the author can’t figure any other way to deal with him or her doesn’t work. Killing off a bad character in a “shoot-out” type of scene might work if the antagonist corners the protagonist and it is a “kill or die yourself” situation.

3.   Happy versus sad endings – both can work, but being a so-called “romantic” at heart (some of you will have a hard time believing that), I think often the sad ending could actually be turned into a better ending, even of hope – especially if the author is writing a series. For example, a steamy relationship that occurs in the novel or a blossoming relationship, is ended at the story’s finish. Why not leave it up in the air somewhat for readers and give them some hope and a hook to read the next book. Pamela Callow is good at that in her thriller mystery novels, Damaged and Indefensible. The protagonist has professional run-ins with a former lover, whom she still has feelings for, in both novels, but there is also a blossoming relationship with another character.

4.      No long drawn out endings. We don’t need a line-by-line account of the “steamy relationship” couples’ marriage or an injured protagonist’s recovery. Watch this with Epilogues. It can bore the reader. Just a few sentences or a few paragraphs where the fellow proposes and the woman just had to say “yes,” or “of course we got married six months later.”

5.      Balance – with plot and character – is the key word.

I discuss some of my characters in this Liquid Lunch interview part.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xMhcTRANMY&feature=youtu.be

.Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Getting inside your nasty fiction characters

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

If you write fiction you are, in a sense, corrupted. There’s a tremendous corruptibility for the fiction writer because you’re dealing mainly with sex and violence. These remain the basic themes, they’re the basic themes of Shakespeare whether you like it or not.

– Anthony Burgess

We’ve talked about character development in previous posts and how you have to get inside your characters’ heads to see what makes them tick. That can be a pleasure if the character is basically a good person with some flaws. But what if one of your major fiction characters – such as a serial killer – is a nasty piece of goods and so unlikeable you cringe.

If you just skim the surface of Mr. Nastiness, that is all your readers will see. Worse, they may think he and his actions are superfluous, perhaps somewhat unbelievable, and maybe he comes across as merely thrown into the plot as a solution for a crime.

You need to get under Mr. (or Ms.) Nastiness’s skin – even if they don’t appear in many scenes but are pivotal to your plot and to the reaction of your major characters.

Or the nasty character can be the main character.

In my short story “Missing in Action,” the main character, Chrissie, has a middle-aged uncle who left his family and ran away with his secretary and the secretary’s son, 15 years ago. Unlike most of these scenarios, this secretary was not a sexpot half the uncle’s age. Instead, as this news report states:

One is led to wonder why Roger Stuart ran off with Anita Perez. The name sounds exotic but Perez was not a Mexican beauty. She was on the heavy side, about six inches taller than Stuart’s five foot eight inch slim build. She had been previously married and had a son, Anthony. She was also two years older than Stuart. Stuart’s wife, Sheila, 47, on the other hand, is a petite blonde, slim, with a heart-shaped face. (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford. Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012).

From this description you can tell that there is something “off” about Ms. Perez. She is taller than her lover and on the heavy side. That could convey that she might have control over Roger Stuart, perhaps even abuse him. Add in she is older, not younger than Stuart’s wife and the reader may wonder what the attraction is…and if it has something to do with Stuart almost emptying his bank account (that’s in the same news story Chrissie finds archived online) and running off with her. Ugly people fall in love, too.

Of course, Ms. Perez appears later in the story and when she does and has a violent confrontation with Chrissie with her son Anthony present, the reader finds out she is a controlling bitch. There are other instances in the story that show Ms. Perez as being Ms. Nastiness. But no more story details. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

If I hadn’t gotten inside Ms. Perez’s head and “dissected” her, she might have come across as a “so what?” character, i.e., what is her relevance?

Then there are the serial killers. I have one in my pre-quel novel (still in rewriting stages) and I had to get inside his head. How do you do this without turning violent yourself?

Here are a few tips for getting inside the head of your nasty characters.

1.      Read about other nasty characters for information and yes, to help get you in the mood.

2.      Pull in any nastiness from what has happened in your life, and the lives of your family, friends and colleagues. But don’t create a character just like them.

3.      For serial killers it does help to watch Criminal Minds if only to see a variety of backgrounds and motivations for serial killers. But don’t copy.

4.      Get inside your nasty character’s head and feel their emotions – rage, anger, unhappiness, resentment, etc. Get a sense of what they look like and speak like.

5.      To help with 4. create a full character outline of Mr. or Ms. Nastiness – their background (for example were they bullied as a child, where they went to school and were they a good student, how they interacted with their parents, siblings, friends, where they work now; are they married or not, gay, heterosexual). Also their physical appearance, traits, likes and dislikes, etc.

6.      Then take a break from Mr. or Ms. Nastiness.

7.      When you write your short story or novel, the nasty character may change from your character outline. Go with that flow. Mr. or Ms. Nastiness is evolving.

8.      When not writing about your nasty character, try not to constantly think about him or her. He or she is not you…or is he? Maybe you are basing your nasty person on you.

For my upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to my BTTP page on my websitehttp://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it. In particular:

This evening, Thursday, April 18, 2013, 7 p.m.

Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards Short List Party Toronto http://crimewriterscanada.com/awards/annual-awards-events/shortlist-events

I’m reading a short suspenseful excerpt from Beyond the Tripping Point. Eleven other CWC readers are reading excerpts from their books as we anxiously await the names of who made the short list. Our books are for sale, too.

Location: Indigo Chapters in the Manulife Centre, Bay St. at Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Rewriting your fiction

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out

–          Author Unknown

In previous posts I’ve talked about when you write that first draft you need to keep on writing and never mind fixing it up. At some point, you will need to wake up the editor inside your head and rewrite. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years and in particular while working with the editor at the publisher (Blue Denim Press) of Beyond the Tripping Point.

  1. What you think needs rewriting and others think may not always mesh. And that’s a good thing because you want many readers for your book.
  2. You don’t have to do exactly as someone else suggests – for example in my story “16 Dorsey St.” my editor suggested making the seniors younger. That would mess up the story’s timeline, so I compromised – I took three or four years off the seniors’ ages and worked in that they were not frail.
  3. Often someone else’s suggestion makes the story better. My editor suggested deleting out a very long ending to “My Brother’s Keeper” with an alternate shorter ending, plus deleting and/or changing parts of “Porcelain Doll.” I complied and had two better stories.
  4. Get feedback from other writers – joining a writers’ critique group (online or in person) is helpful here.
  5. When you get right down to it, you will be doing the rewriting and BEFORE you show it to anyone you should do some rewriting:
  6. When rewriting look for:

a)      Too wordy phrases – can you say it in one or two words?

b)      Anything that doesn’t make sense to you.

c)      Repetition – in action, scenes, words (do a “Find” for the latter – you’d be surprised how many times a “was” or my problem word “but” appear).

d)     Watch for any scene, etc. that makes you yawn (outside of when you are tired).

e)      In line with d) pace yourself in rewriting. Don’t try to rewrite a whole novel in one go.

f)       Make sure your plot and character actions make sense to you and aren’t vague and inconsistent. Sure, you want to leave your readers guessing about some things but having your character suddenly start karate-chopping a villain when you’ve already presented the character as slight in build, meek, with no interest in martial arts, oh…oh.

g)      However, make sure your characters undergo some change. This might sound counter to f) but show some characteristic that would motivate their actions despite a weakness. For example, in “Unfinished Business,” my main character, Lilly, avoids confronting her past until her past threatens her 12-year-old daughter. The story up to then shows that Lilly loves her daughter.

h)      Can whole scenes, parts of scenes, parts of chapters, even whole chapters be eliminated? Here look for a plot thread or tangent that isn’t really necessary to the story. In my prequel novel (still in rewriting stage), I removed whole scenes connected to one thread – another murder. Instead of having  PI Dana Bowman do a long trip down to Toronto to find a specific person (and finding her body), I had her computer savvy twin brother Bast Overture find a news story on the Internet about it. All it needed was a follow-up with Detective Sergeant Fielding for the police end to include an important plot part without all the extras. If your novel manuscript is longer than say 75,000 to 90,000 words (and the latter is pushing it), that might be an indication to cut. Or maybe rewrite it all into two books. (Note: as an editor I turned down copy editing a novel manuscript that was 205,000 words – gulp, although I had a time issue here too).

i)        For short stories, remember they are short stories, so even with the longer stories (6000 words and over) make sure every word counts – no tangents. A specific word count from your targeted market (contest, publisher, etc.) can be used here.

j)        On your later rewrites, do a line check for extra words and phrases. Be ruthless.

These are my 10 pointers for rewriting fiction. Does anyone have a pointer to add? How do you rewrite your fiction? Please share.

For my upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to my BTTP page on my websitehttp://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it. In particular:

Thursday, April 18, 2013,7 p.m.

Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards Short List Party Toronto http://crimewriterscanada.com/awards/annual-awards-events/shortlist-events

I’m reading a short suspenseful excerpt from Beyond the Tripping Point. Eleven other CWC readers  are reading excerpts from their books as we anxiously await the names of who made the short list. Our books are for sale, too.

Location: Indigo Chapters in the Manulife Centre, Bay St. at Bloor St. W., Toronto

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Making your fiction funny

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Sharon A. Crawford’s book. Click on the cover to go to amazon.com

The funniest things are the forbidden … The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.

— Mark Twain


I use humour in many of the short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point. My goal is not necessarily to be funny but the characters and their situations need humour, often the black comedy type. My characters are a little off from normal and get themselves in spots where they well, go beyond the tripping point in life and then have to sort it all out. Throw in crime and some of these characters need to go on the light side of life.

One of these stories “The Body in the Trunk” focuses on two close friends, Kelsie and Sally. Kelsie wants to dump her cheating husband but the normal divorce route doesn’t sit well on her shoulders. As she tells Sally,

“Divorce?” cried Kelsie when I’d said as much. “I’d have to split the house, the cottage, the golf set, the home entertainment centre, the BMW and,” she glared at me, “the dog. How do you split a dog? If Harry gets prison for life, he gets nothing and I get everything. And I really want that BMW.” (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2012).

\So Kelsie drags Sally into her plan so that Harry will… You didn’t really think I was going to tell you the story, did you? You’ll have to get the book.

Basically I created an original situation which is humorous and had my characters act in offbeat ways that are funny. For example, in a few scenes in the story Kelsie wears a clothespin on her nose. But it ties in with the plot and Kelsie’s character.

So, if you want to create humour in your fiction, your characters must be funny in character. None of this having a character tell jokes unless the character is a stand-up comedian. Otherwise it is forced humour and will fall flat on your reader’s eyes and mind.

Your whole plot can be something offbeat and lend itself to humour (as does “The Body in the Trunk”). And you don’t necessarily want all characters to be funny. Kelsie is, but she is balanced by Sally who while thrust into the ridiculous situation, is not a funny person. The formula for humorous skits applies here – the funny person needs a straight (and I’m not referring to sexual orientation here) person to play against. Of course, there are some humorous skits where both characters are funny. Some of you may remember the skits on the old Carol Burnette TV show. Of course Carol Burnette just has to appear on stage and she gets laughs, but until your characters get well-known in the reading world, it is better to play the funny one against a straight character. The Janet Evanovich series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is a good example. Stephanie is always getting herself into situations and the humour bounces off the pages.

Which bring me to Point of View – tell the story from the funny character’s POV or another character’s? That depends on who the funny character is – a main character or minor character, protagonist or antagonist, or in the case of mystery-crime stories – one of the suspects. With novels you can have multiple points of view (one POV per scene), so there is some choice. You can get into the funny person’s head and/or the straight person’s head   – with the latter you can get their take on the humorous character. If it is short story you are writing, you need to tell the story from one point of view but either the funny person’s or the straight person’s could work. Unsure which? Try writing your story twice – once from each character’s POV. Then read each out loud and see what seems to work best.

Whatever way you use humour in your novel or short story, make sure it isn’t forced. Readers will pick up on it.

One good thing with humour in book fiction – print, e-book or audio book – readers don’t have to suffer from that awful canned laughter on TV sit-coms…not yet anyway.

And I’m going to relent a little; you can hear me read the beginning of “The Body in the Trunk” from my reading on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be

For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to the Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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