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Monthly Archives: August 2016

More on your setting in fiction

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Besides actual location, setting also includes information peculiar to what is happening in the location. For example, in my novel Beyond Blood, the main character PI Dana Bowman goes sailing with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Fielding has been sailing for years but this is Dana’s first time aboard a large sailboat – more like a small yacht. So I combined my limited sailing background with checking in with an expert in this area and also some reading online and in books about sailing..

A few years ago I wrote a newspaper story on a fellow, a seasoned sailor, who was planning to sail at least partway around the world. His “sailboat” (the small yacht type) was anchored in the Harbourfront area of Toronto Harbour. I made an appointment to interview him for the story and met him on his boat. When I arrived he was swabbing the deck.

I told him I was also going to ask a few extra questions for background information for a novel I was writing. He gave me the boat tour – it is amazing what can be packed into the small enclosed area below – everything from a small kitchen to a bathroom to a place to sleep. He was very informative but he did not take me out on Lake Ontario. So, I had to go back a few years when my son, still a child, and I went sailing with my friend and her boyfriend – for the feel of it, to remember you always wear a life jacket when on a sailboat, to how the winds affect the sailing, to falling into the water. No, I (who can’t swim) didn’t fall in, but my friend, a good swimmer did. She was okay with her life jacket on and just laughed about it as she swam the short distance back to the boat and climbed back aboard. But it gave me information for Beyond Blood although no one falls in the water.

So when Dana first goes out on the water with Fielding, I work it in as a friendly lesson while avoiding making it an expository or Sailing 101. Here is a short excerpt:

“Here put on a life jacket.” He handed me one which I donned. Fielding put on the other one and shoved the cooler under the floor. “Please sit down while I hoist the sail.”

” Need any help?”

“No.” He looked into my face. “Fine, but you have to obey orders if you want to crew.”

“Aye, aye sir.” I saluted,

Fielding moved away and moved into what resembled a cockpit, lowered the centreboard and removed the tarp, exposing two sails.”

“Here, store the tier below deck.”

“Huh?”

Fielding pointed to where the cooler rested. Taking hold of the tier, I folded it and placed it below deck.

“Maybe I’ll just watch this time.” I sat down on one of the benches.  (From Beyond  Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2014, Blue Denim Press)

Dana does help more a bit later. The whole chapter is not about learning to sail as Fielding and Dana also use the time to find out more about each other until…

Well, I’m not going to say what happens or how this chapter ends.You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out. Click on the book cover at the top to find out one of the places the book is available. For now,  I’ll just say that later in the novel, Dana has to use her sailing knowledge to try to save a family member. So, the first sailing episode was not just a respite from all the murder and mayhem, but also served a purpose – showing how Dana learns something about sailing so that when she has to use it in a life-threatening situation, it is not a skill pulled out of air with a quick explanation such as “I (Dana) learned to swim a few years ago” tacked on to it.

That is something else to remember. You may have more leeway in a novel to go off on so-called tangents, but make sure they have something to do with character development and plot – especially in mystery novels.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Fiction Setting in past times

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Some of us write fiction set in past times. That could be from last year back several decades or centuries. My Beyond stories are set in the late 1990s, so many things were different even back then 17 or 18 years ago.For example, technology could be considered part of setting (think wi-fi availability today in cafes, public transit, and just walking along the street). What we take for granted today, may not have been around back in the days of your novel or short story.

One big setting factor is weather. We can all probably figure out that today’s weather is much more extreme in all ways. There are more floods, tornadoes, heavy snowfalls, etc. And so if you are writing in another time period, you have to be aware what is going on in the weather then. And not in general, but on the days your story takes place and the actual location. That requires some research beyond your memory of back then if you were actually living in that time period. Leave your memory of the weather for your feelings about it when it happened and you might be able to use that in your story. You need to do more concrete research.

If you don’t something like the following could happen.

Supposing you are setting your story in August 2011 in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. You have been there many times in the past, but not since 2010. So, you write your story setting it in August 2011 in Goderich as you remember it with its centre of town set up in a square..

Hold it right here. On August 21, 2011 a big tornado hit Goderich, Ontario causing extensive damage to the downtown square and nearby houses. If you have your characters meeting at one of the shops there or even in a chase through the downtown square on that date or just after, but don’t factor in the tornado, oops.

A tornado can add to the suspense in your story, so consider including it.

But do your research first – online with old news stories.And if you don’t know what the weather was like on certain days of certain years, you can check with weather authorities (such as Environment Canada) for historical weather information about dates in the past. You don’t want to have a blizzard in late November in such-and-such year just north of Toronto when the weather was actually mild for the time and it rained the proverbially buckets.

There are many other time-related issues that factor into setting. I’ll cover a few more of them in a future post, but here’s one to think about and research.

Your characters are eating soup that came out of a can and the year is 1921. Did soup or any other foods come in cans in 1921? You need to do your research. And you can take that food area much further to what people actually ate in the your story’s time period and how they prepared and stored food and where and how they ate.

Setting covers much more than geographic location.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

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Being Dana – precautions when getting inside fiction characters

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Dana Bowman is the main character in Beyond Blood. Because some of the novel is told from her viewpoint in first person singular, I get inside her head a lot. Of course, Dana thinks it is her getting inside my head.

Could be.

That’s where fiction authors have to be somewhat careful. How much of what your character thinks, does and says is him or her and how much is you? While it is true that some of our quirks rub off on our characters, they are distinct “people” at least between the book covers or in e-books, and in your head.

Add to all this head business is my comedy skits where I actually become Dana Bowman. Again, have to make sure I’m channelling her, not me and she talks and acts as Dana, not Sharon. I try to use the black wig as my changing point.Black wig on I’m Dana; black wig off I’m me. And no, I don’t wear the wig when I’m writing – or as I am doing now – rewriting the next Beyond book.

This brings up something else I’m having to deal with. Without going into a lot of details, Dana suffers some sort of injury in the latest book. What happens has not exactly happened to me – yet. So, besides doing the medical research, to understand better what Dana is going through, I went back (in my mind) to similar injuries I have suffered. How did I react? How did I feel right after it happened? Later? Injury consequences.

Earlier this summer I was at an open garden held by a member of my garden club. I had never been to her place before and because we were encouraged to walk all over the property outside, I entered the property by walking on the front lawn. After seeing the garden in the backyard, asking questions, and talking to the garden’s owner and other club members, I decided to return home.

This time I left by the normal route out front – used the cement walkway to the public sidewalk.

Except when I got to the end of the walkway I lost my footing and went flying forward, landing on my front on the hard cement sidewalk and injuring my knee – big wide cut, bleeding.

Shock, was what I felt. And anger – although the latter was not directed at the culprit – yet. Many people helped me up and one fellow lined up my purse and hat which had fallen off. Many (included the owner) brought out some first aid stuff and one couple drove me home (it was a 10 minute walk but I wanted to get antiseptic on my knee before putting on the gauze and band-aids to hold the gauze in place as soon as possible. I was deathly afraid of infection (because I had been bitten by flying ants a couple of summers ago and the areas did get infected). After the cleanup at home I headed over to the drugstore for more band-aids and gauze.

Later, like the next day, I began to re-direct my anger – at the homeowner. The step was deeper than a curbside step (from sidewalk to road) and unseen – no handrails, so unless you were familiar with the area you would not know the step was there. I wanted to report the homeowner’s negligence to the City – there is probably a bylaw for something like this. But I decided that if my injury didn’t become infected I wouldn’t do that, but would have a serious “chat” with the homeowner next time I see her. The injury didn’t become infected although at one point it looked like it might be and I rushed over to the walk-in medical clinic near my place. I haven’t yet talked to the property owner, because I haven’t made it to any garden club events since then.

How does that translate to Dana and her situation? Well, the fall part, the shock at it happening, the loss of control and the fear afterwards – that’s what I can draw on. The rest for Dana has to be different because she does not fall down an unseen step. Also she is 27 years younger than me, so “seniors and falls” doesn’t come into play.

What happened to me gives me some idea of something bad physically happening, something that is unexpected and how Dana could feel.

So, if you can pull something out of your life that occurred to get the feelings at least, it can help you get inside your character’s head when he or she has something bad happen that is similar.

Now I just have to contend with Dana’s chattering inside my head.

Who is really in control here?

If you want a look at Dana Bowman as I see her (and others when I do a comedy skit), her picture is below. For more info on her check out my website book page. You can see what I look like (on my good days) at the top of this blog

And you can check out my author profile at amazon by clicking on the Beyond Blood book cover at the top.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford channelling Dana Bowman from Beyond Blood

 

 

 

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Author reading calm after the storm

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

To continue with last week’s post about the East End Writers’ Group meeting amidst a thunderstorm, my author reading the next evening at another library branch – the Mount Pleasant library branch – went well. In fact the whole Thursday evening of this Urban Art and Folk Salon was something special for all of us. I call it the calm after Wednesday evening’s storm because it was a delightful evening and despite the usual pre-presentation nerves, very enjoyable.

I left in lots of time to allow for public transit screw-ups. Tthere was one delay when I was switching subway lines. Trains were holding because somebody who shouldn’t have been on the tracks was, at another subway station. The TTC kept us informed about subway service and I boarded about the third train that arrived when the train service resumed. When I transferred to a bus, I chatted with a woman who was actually on one of the subway trains that was stopped. She said that everything (including air conditioning and I presume lights) was turned off while they sat. That seems unusual as anytime I’ve been in a train stopped for whatever reason, things were not turned off.

But after this little glitch, everything got better. I sat on a park bench by a school yard and had my sandwich and fruit and took a slow walk the four blocks up to the library, arriving in plenty of time for the 6 p.m. start to the Salon. And what a Salon it was. Lots of musicians, mostly folk who are really good with playing guitar and singing, two poets, and me reading about murder and mayhem. But I read it like it was a play performance – two short story excerpts from Beyond the Tripping Point and the beginning of Beyond Blood. Tom Gannon Hamilton, one of the poets reading and also the host and organizer of these monthly Salons, is also a violinist and he accompanied the other musicians on his violin. The library supplied snacks and at the break I met some new people and re-connected with some “old” (as in those I had met before, not necessarily age).

It was truly a wonderful evening and made up for all the nonsense from the night before. And I notice from the information online that the S. Walter Stewart Library branch where my East End Writers’ Group meets still has the children’s department downstairs closed until further notice due to flooding. I am always outraged and saddened when flooding of buildings – libraries, peoples’ homes, etc. occurs. Most of the time it is from severe weather.

But don’t get me on that topic. I cover it in my personal blog Only Child Writes – in several postings from time to time.

And as usual if you click on the Beyond Blood book cover at the top, it will connect to you my amazon author profile.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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