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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Short Story and Novel Writing with series characters – Part 5 – Point of View

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

Moving series characters between novels and short stories gives the characters a chance to speak. With short stories you are limited to one character’s point of view to tell the story. Novels give more leeway but you still don’t want too many characters jumping in. The reader will be confused and possibly annoyed and you, the author may lose the plot thread. Or more realistically have too many plot threads that end up in a tangle.

You can take a major character or a minor character in your novel and write a short story with this character as your point of view character. So, let’s say your novel has three major characters – Angela, the person being stalked; Detective Walkins the police officer working on her case, and Jude her boyfriend as the three point of view characters in the novel. However, there are several minor characters: Janet, the nosey old neighbour across the street, Ben, Angela’s co-worker, Angela’s daughter, etc. etc. All of these characters have their stories, their life, their idiosyncrasies, their voice. In you novel they appear only as they are seen by one or more of the three main characters.

Give one, or all of these characters, their own short story. It can have little or nothing to do with the novel. Perhaps the story has to do with something else in their life. The nosey neighbour, for instance – just how did she become nosey and butting into everyone else’s business. Maybe she is a former investigative reporter who messed up and had to move on to another profession. But she misses digging up the dirt, so she puts herself into her neighbours’ business. Or Detective Watkins – he may have other cases, that one-by-one could generate several short stories – maybe even a novel.

You see where all this can get you?

You can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html
Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.
Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 4

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.

– William Faulkner
When writing series fiction, particularly novels, how do you keep the continuity going with your main characters from novel to novel? As mentioned in last week’s post, you need to put some reference to previous novel(s) plot and characters or the reader is left confused.

For example, in novel No. 1, let’s say your main character, a police officer, is shot during the story’s climax. It is touch and go, but he wakes up in a hospital bed and is able to talk to his partner, his girlfriend, etc. However, he has been shot in the chest and it just missed his heart, but he still has a long recuperation period.

Unless you are skipping a period of time until he is up and around, you need to include this recuperation period in your next novel. Perhaps your detective is put temporarily on a desk job or he is still on sick leave. His (or her) colleagues get a case or two that he wants to be involved in and they need his help. But he is supposed to stay put. You can work around that by having him act as a consultant – his colleagues can drop into the hospital or recuperation facility (if he is not home yet) or his home to talk it over with him. He could be on the phone constantly to his colleagues or at least his partner. They can be doing all this behind the back of their supervisor and you know how that can pan out. You can hype it up with his shooter still out there (that would have to be clear at the end of the previous novel) and trying to get him. He has to get through the recuperation period but you don’t want a novel all about that if you are writing a mystery novel. You need to blend in what is happening with the characters, how they are developing based on what goes on in their lives. An injured detective recuperating and somewhat immobilized would have much to face, especially if he is used to being active.

The late Robert Parker in his Spencer series did this very well. His private detective, Spencer, was shot in the chest in one novel and the next novel incorporated his recuperation with how it affected his relationship with his girlfriend, Susan, a psychologist, plus the novel’s mystery. Parker was good at writing complicated.

Most of the TV series now follow the main characters’ development and well, private life, and incorporate these into the story. The hit series Rookie Blue (now back on for the summer, 22 episodes this year), does that very well, even if you don’t agree with what they do. The five original rookies are still there and each season they add one or more new rookies. One of the original rookies has been promoted to detective. But all have personal lives and with all these characters who work closely together, their personal lives become entwined and changes occur. It is complicated, but well done. I suggest you watch it. The Good Wife is another TV series that has work and personal lives intermingle with a lot of complications. This time the characters are lawyers, instead of police officers. They even killed off one of the series main characters this season. Rookie Blue did that a couple of seasons ago as well. Killing off a main character is not always a good idea, but if you do, you need to incorporate the repercussions from that and how it affects the other characters in future books or TV episodes.

All these things will affect your plot. It’s the chicken and egg situation. Which comes first – the plot or the characters? It is a combination of both – either can lead – but both are connected and drive each other.

Meantime, read any of the mystery series novels by Peter Robinson and see how he handles continuity and consistency in character and plot.
Also, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 3

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

I have so many different projects, I hear voices in my head – the characters talking all at once – and I have to write to make them stop.
– Eli Roth

When transitioning series characters between novels and short stories, you need to keep the timeline and events straight. We touched on this issue two blog posts back. Remember that your mind will carry all the information to date about your characters, including their actions, including relationships. Your readers’ minds don’t.

Especially if your reader is not reading your short stories and novels in chronological order. As readers we (and I count myself in here) don’t always read series books in order. So, in the first novel in the series you read Alice is having a baby with Jack. Later you get to the first novel where Alice meets Jack. I’m doing this with the Deborah Crombie mystery series. I still haven’t read the book where the main character and her boss change their relationship from just business to personal but I’ve read books where they are living together and ironing out the kinks with a blended family, plus dealing with their respective outlaws, I mean in-laws, although sometimes they may act like the former.

Take this a step further with your series characters hopping in and out of short stories and novels. Which came first? And if you write a novel, then some short stories, then another novel, etc. with the same series characters, be careful. A character in a short story set in 2000 would not know what will happen in the following years, unless you want him or her to be psychic.

A character in a story set in an earlier time would not be as fully developed as in a later story. This can get a little confusing if you are back and forth in time with your story. Sometimes taking your character’s traits outline (remember that suggestion from last week’s post?) a little deeper by listing how they were then and later can help. Also listing the trigger (another character’s actions, something they experienced, etc.) that changed them after the first story, can help.

Again, you may not use all of this in your stories, but after writing out all the information, it is embedded in your mind – somewhere. The trick is to pull out the right characteristic for the right story.

This brings up another question. How much do you reveal about your main characters (and plot for that matter) in novels and short stories that has occurred in a previous novel or short story? You don’t want to give away character and plot from the previous. Yet you don’t want your reader kept wondering if your characters seem to appear out of the blue. Or family and friends and situations are mentioned briefly and in a way that leaves your readers scratching their heads and muttering, “Huh?”

With two of the linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) I am right upfront about what happened to David, Dana’s son in the prequel novel Beyond Blood (to be published by Blue Denim Press in the fall of 2014). I have to be, because in those short stories David is psychologically mute. Otherwise the reader will wonder why and if he has always been like that. So I state it but blend it into the main plot of the short story. Here’s an example from the beginning of “Gone Missing.”
The police can’t find her, Ms Bowman,” Robin Morgrave says.
Rosemary Morgrave has gone missing and I’m putting on a brave smile for her twin brother. Robin sits on the other side of the desk in The Attic Agency’s third floor office. Only my twin brother, Bast, nodding, stops me from losing it. Ever since David, my seven-year-old son, was abducted last August, I’ve been living in Panicville. Sure, we got David back, but how much of him returned? He follows Bast around like an investigator-in-training. His brown eyes stare right through my soul. I wish he’d just say how he feels. But since his return, David hasn’t opened his mouth except to swallow liquids and food. He doesn’t even cry. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012, copyright Sharon A. Crawford).

Next week we will talk more about plot consistency and how much to reveal without giving it all away.

Meantime, read any of the mystery series novels by Peter Robinson and see how he handles continuity and consistency in character and plot.
Also, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.
Cheers.
Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 2

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.

– Larry Niven

 

After all my time-line tips last week I goofed. I put the wrong year for the four linked short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point. Ditto for the related series novel. It should be 1999 for the short stories and 1998 for the novel. At least I had it correct which came first. The years are now corrected on last week’s blog post.

Mea culpa, mea culpa.

This post will deal with length of short stories versus novels and start the discussion about series characters for both. The latter is complicated and we won’t cover everything today.

First length.

Short story length can be anywhere from the flash story of 50 words to longer stories of 8,000, even 10,000 words. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine stories tend to run in the upper word count limit. However, some authors take the short story up to 18,000 words. In this case, many are self-publishing – either e-copy or online or in print or all of those. To me, this is a variation of the traditional poetry chap book publications. This is all good. The only caveats I offer here are: if submitting to publications or short story contests, follow the submission guidelines; and watch you don’t make the stories too long or you will be writing a novella.
Novel lengths vary from 65,000 words to 120,000 words (think Elizabeth George for the longer novels). Most novels are somewhere in between and it depends on the publisher or the author if self-publishing. My publisher, Blue Denim Pressm tends to go for the lower page count. Personally I like any length as long as the story flows and doesn’t read as if it is padded with plot lines, character development and points of view that are way too much and detract from the story. Shorter novel requirements sure make the author learns how not to be overly wordy, as I’m finding out. But as a former journalist, I always wrote long and then rewrote to fit the editorial requirements. Writing too short here would create the dilemma of insufficient information and it is harder to add than to subtract – believe it or not.

Characters in novels versus short stories

This is a loaded one. Novels and short stories written in the literary vein are more about the characters than the plot. However, the trend today in commercial fiction (including genres such as mystery and romance, particularly in novels, is to develop characters more). While I like Agatha Christie mystery novels – they were what I grew up on, what got me interested in mysteries (along with the old Perry Mason TV series), her characters, although intriguing and original, were not fully developed. The exceptions are her two main series characters – Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.

So, how many characters do you put in a novel and in a short story? Obviously because of length, you wouldn’t cram many characters into a short story. War and Peace crunched down to a short story it is not. Take two or three main characters and a few minor characters and go from there, i.e., you will develop the three main characters fully but not the few minor ones. By “develop fully” I mean it wouldn’t hurt to do an extensive character sketch of your main characters before you start writing – with the caveat that they are not sealed in cement, granite or avalanche. When writing stories, characters sometimes take over and you as a writer have to respect that. Key question to ask here: is what this character is doing characteristic of him or her? That’s when you may have to return to your character sketch.

And you won’t use everything in your character sketch in your short story – or even in your novel, but you will use more in your novels. With a short story, every character element and development has to tie in with your basic story plot. With a novel you can add in the extras, although they have to tie in with the plot, but you have more leeway.

For example, in my prequel novel Beyond Blood, Dana Bowman has more space to show how she feels about a certain situation with her son as well as the conflict she has with being a mother of a six year old and a private investigator, especially when the two collide. If I didn’t do this, Dana would come across as shallow, one-dimensional and unbelievable. In the four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (remember these are the year after the novel occurs), Dana is still reacting over what happened to David, but in the interest of space and plot, the whole story can’t be about her reaction. So I weave it in with the case she is investigating. In “Saving Grace,” while she is following a lead on a country road outside Goderich, Ontario, she stops the car and has a mini-break-down. But it doesn’t last long; she has to pull herself together and get on with it.

In the novel Beyond Blood, after the actual event that triggers all this has happened, Dana has many instances of having difficulty dealing with the situation. In one scene (without giving it away), she wakes up and is somewhat disoriented and depressed so she acts a bit strangely. She also has nightmares that act as a sort of premonition of what will happen. The time she spends with her son and her feelings about him there, as well as developing a possible relationship with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding, all tie in with the plot. Without this character development, some of the future plot lines would have the reader saying, “This doesn’t make sense. How would she know how to do that? This action is not credible.”

These pointers are more for commercial fiction than literary fiction.

Next week we will delve more into the makings of series characters appearing in novels and short stories.

Meantime, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with Same Characters

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

You can’t write a novel all at once, any more than you can swallow a whale in one gulp. You do have to break it up into smaller chunks. But those smaller chunks aren’t good old familiar short stories. Novels aren’t built out of short stories. They are built out of scenes.

—Orson Scott Card, September 1980

Transitioning series characters from short story to novel or vice-versa presents challenges for fiction writers. It requires the combination of imagination and keeping facts straight.

Unless you are time-travelling with your stories or are deliberating putting them at an earlier or later age, time-lines can be tricky. Where in your characters’ story timeline do you want the short stories to appear? Or if the short stories came first, then your novel needs to be kept in the time-line. That can affect your characters development. For example, you don’t want one character to be divorced in the short story and newly married to the same person in a novel obviously set at a later date. You need to be consistent and realistic. If you mess up, your readers will find it.

My story situation has the timeline and consistency problem in spades (and I don’t mean the spade that digs the graves for bodies dead from murder). My short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point was published first. In it are four linked stories featuring fraternal twin PIs Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, Dana’s son David and a few other series’ characters. It is David I have to be concerned with because these four stories happened after the novel Beyond Blood, which I call the pre-quel novel. The four stories occurred in 1999 and the novel in the summer of 1998.

David is psychologically mute in Beyond the Tripping Point. In Beyond Blood, the reader finds out why. So, obviously he is talking at least for the first part of Beyond Blood.

Then there are the other characters, such as the ones I kill off in Beyond Blood. Obviously they didn’t appear in Beyond the Tripping Point.

Characters are supposed to grow and develop, so in a prequel novel, the characters have to be a few steps behind in that area. For example, in Beyond Blood, Dana could not be at the point where she is dealing with a mute David – that comes in BTTP. Things happen to characters and that’s what changes them one way or the other. But the event must happen before the change – something to keep in mind when transitioning from novel to short story or vice-versa.

To make the situation more complicated with me, I had actually written an earlier version of the pre-quel novel before those four linked short stories. So, when writing the stories, I had to keep the novel’s content in mind. When I returned to rewriting the novel for the publisher (after BTTP was published) I then had to make sure I was consistent – even though I was expanding the plot, making it more complicated. One of my base lines was why David became psychologically mute and when he is mute.

There is also the obvious difference in short stories and novels – length. The short story has to be more succinct because you do not have novel-length. You can’t have multiple plots in a short story or multiple points of view. How much about characters do you include?

Next week’s blog post will deal with some of those issues.

Meantime, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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