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Author Archives: Sharon A. Crawford

About Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A.Crawford is a writer/editor/instructor who makes words sparkle. Her debut mystery novel was published Fall 2014 and her short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point in October 2012, both published by Blue Denim Press. She is currently at work on the third Beyond book. Visit her at her website www.samcraw.com and her author blog https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/

Keeping the suspense in your novel’s plot

As an editor I have read and edited a variety  of fiction manuscripts. The creativity of many of the  writers and the wide range of story lines is very interesting. But one thing (among others) I sometimes find is the lack of sufficient suspense. The story drags; the story, well, it flat lines. Here are a few tips on creating suspense in your novels.

1. Leave your reader hanging – at the end of the chapter is a good place because it not only raises the reader’s interest, it gets him or her reading the next chapter. Here is an example from my mystery novel Beyond Faith.

“From what Sister Olsen had told me about her brothers, I had some idea what might be bothering Eli. Too bad neither Eli Foster nor I had all the facts.”

2. Ask a question. You know the old saying “questions are the signs of intelligence.” Questions also make the reader want to continue to get some answers. These are questions in the narrative, the character’s inner thoughts, not in dialogue. Obviously in dialogue, another character will usually answer the question although they might lie.

Again from Beyond Faith, “Who were they? And why did one seem familiar?” (all Beyond Faith excerpts, copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press.)

3. Don’t tell all at once. Keep some information from the reader. I do a lot of this in Beyond Faith. The idea is you build up your plot with tidbits even if the character knows more than she is letting on. This is just the opposite from the example in point one above.

4. Use foreshadowing.This is often in conjunction with another technique. Again, see the example in point one above. Another example of foreshadowing is when the character is heading for an encounter they don’t relish. Perhaps with someone they don’t like and know is a nasty person. Build up the tension by getting inside the character’s head. How does the character feel? Scared? Are they sweating? Do they try to avoid meeting this character or delay the meeting by driving the long way to the meeting place. If it is in a restaurant, do they drink a lot, drop the cutlery, knock over a glass of water?

5. Or as a twist, the person is overly confident about meeting someone – a piece of cake, the character thinks. Then, wham, when they get to the meeting place, something happens – a car runs her down; someone takes a shot at her. She finds the person there all right at the meeting place – lying dead on the ground. You can tell I write mystery novels.

6. One suspense-building technique that I use is to have two main characters both heading for the same place at the same time – maybe one knows the other is there; maybe not. But one or both of them know that there is danger at the other end. Each one is racing to get there and perhaps save the other. You flip back and forth between the characters in separate scenes or short chapters. Show the reader what each character is thinking and what is happening to them. And don’t make it easy. In Beyond Faith I have PI Dana Bowman following Eli Foster in their respective cars; then I flip over to her fraternal twin, Pi Bast Overture who is not following anyone, but he has found out vital information about another character and figures out what this character is going to do so he is off to stop it. And no, I don’t tell all to the reader. And I’m not telling you any more here.

There are many more ways to create suspense. The twisted plot is one. And you can get ideas by reading published novels, the ones that do build suspense. Yes some crappy novels get published and I am not referring to self-published here.

And keep writing and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting.

And join a writing critique group for feedback.

And when you have rewritten a lot, hire an editor.

Then you can do some more rewriting.

I just started reading Hunting Muskie, a collection of literary short stories by Michael Robert Dyet (Blue Denim Press, fall 2017 – yes, same publisher as me). The first story “Slipstream”, has many plot threads popping up – all connected to a theme. And it keeps you reading. It also breaks the idea that some people have (mea culpa sometimes here) – that all literary stories don’t contain suspense.This one sure does have suspense.

Happy reading and happy writing.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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When Your Fiction Characters take over

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series

Fiction characters taking over writing your novel or short story is usually seen as a good sign that your characters are developing.

But where do you draw the line?

For the past couple of years I have been dressing  up as my main Beyond mystery novel character, Dana Bowman, and do short comedy skits at libraries, cafes, etc. In the past few months, when rewriting Beyond Faith for my publisher, Dana has been taking over. It is like I am channeling her.

This isn’t the first time that was picked up. A few months after the previous Beyond novel – Beyond Blood – was published, I was interviewed on the Liquid Lunch on thatchannel. com. Sandra, one of the interviewers said it was like i was channeling my characters. Hmm. Around about the time I started doing skits featuring Dana.

But now Dana is claiming to have written Beyond Faith? What? We have internal discussions about that. Right now I’m letting her think she co-authored Beyond Faith with me. Really, it is my name on the book cover, although she gets mentioned on the back cover – in the book synopsis.

Internal discussions may be the key word to some sort of sanity. Or if out loud in the privacy of your writing space, your office, your home. You don’t want to be like the pour soul on the subway last evening.

He was a young fellow in a hoodie carrying a backpack. Which could be a red flag. He was running back and forth to the different subway cars – something not allowed on the old subway cars with actual doors between cars. As he entered the cars he would look at someone and carry on a conversation about something that made no sense. Then he would dance around a bit, grab the bar overhead and start swinging. After a few minutes of this, he went into another subway car.

I suspect he was high on something. But what if he was in character? What if he is an author and he was letting his character speak? What if?

Probably not. But it could serve as a guideline of how far not to go with your character acting out. Public transit and public streets no. But if you are a scheduled author presenting at a library or conference, yes, be your character.

And in the privacy of your writing area, yes – if it helps you develop your character, develop  your plot.

There is a fine line between madness and sanity and I’m not sure where authors can safely cross the line.

As for Dana Bowman, I’ll still channel her; I’ll still carry on conversations with her. I will sometimes listen to her.

But I wish she would listen to me sometimes.

The bane of creating characters.

If  you want to see how Dana is invading my life, see the comparisons between the two of us posted on my website here.

And please comment to answer this question. Are your fiction characters taking over writing your plot? How do you feel about that? Is it a help or hindrance to your writing?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Here’s the cover of the latest  Beyond mystery novel. Click on the cover to see one of the places the book is available. And as you can see Dana Bowman’s name is not on the cover.

 

 

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Creating Credible Fiction Characters

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series

Creating characters that resonate with your readers, characters that are three dimensional – in other words credible characters – is not always easy. But it can lead you down interesting and unexpected pathways and forge a bond between author and character. Sometimes that bond means the character thinks he or she is writing the story.

That’s what happened with the main character in my Beyond mystery series – PI Dana Bowman. Maybe it’s because as part of my book promo she comes to life when I dress up as her for presentations in libraries,cafes and the like.

I have to keep reminding Dana that is is my  name, not hers, on the book cover as the author.

And we really are not alike, so not the same person – as I keep telling Dana.

Here’s a  character comparison of us on my website

So how do you create credible characters? Do they suddenly appear in your head? Sometimes. Sometimes you get your plot first

Characters can come from real life, your imagination or by osmosis. Here are a few pointers

  1. If you create a character from real life, make sure you use the real person as only a kicking-off point – perhaps how they look, perhaps one distinctive characteristic and create from there.

  2. Don’t steal other authors’ characters – evenly loosely disguised as your so-called character.

  3. Personal experience and knowledge can help in creating and developing characters. but remember you are creating fictional characters for fiction, not writing a memoir.

  4. An oxymoron – fictional characters must come across as real characters, real people, so readers can connect to them.

  5. Once created, characters don’t remain static – they evolve; they change, even in just one short story, and more so in novels, especially series novels.

I have lots more info on this and will be teaching a workshop on Creating Compelling Characters this Sunday, November 5, from 2 p,m. to 4 p.m. with the Toronto Writers Circle at the Toronto Reference area. It is free and open to the writing public. Here is the library info about the group and location. If you live in the general area you might like to join us.

And here is my latest Beyond mystery book. Click on it for more info

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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After the book launch of Beyond Faith

The book launch for Beyond Faith was held by Blue Denim Press on Sunday and while not attracting large crowds, we had people there. And we all enjoyed ourselves. My main book character PI Dana  Bowman and a few more of the quirky characters  – Bast Overture – Dana’s fraternal brother and PI partner, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding – head of Major Crimes, David, Dana’s son, and a couple of new characters for the novel – Eli Foster and the nameless one all appeared from my reading. And I only read a couple of short excerpts within 15 minutes. But I read as l like to say – putting myself into the characters’ heads and shoes.

 

Photo courtesy Martin Crawford

At least I was awake then (Don’t let that photo here mislead you. I am listening to my friend and apparently trying to sign my book which she bought and looking at something not in the photo.) Unlike now, when I feel like I’m one of the walking dead and Halloween isn’t quite here as I write this. But it was worth it at the book launch.

So what have I learned from this book launch?

Good side – people invited will come – most let you know they are coming but some just show up. And they buy books – some even bought a copy of the previous novel Beyond Blood.

Bad side – those who RVSP’d they were coming, and didn’t bother to let me know that they couldn’t make it after all. Let’s put it this way – I know who you are and my take on you has gone down a notch.

Good side – those who RVSP’s they were coming, then couldn’t at the last minute and let me know. I can understand and accept that. Stuff happens at the last minute. And I won’t bite off your head because you did tell me.

Good side – Meeting and reconnecting with friends including a fellow I worked with in both our first jobs as teenagers (well late teens) for the Ontario Government. I first contacted him via Linked In. So don’t be too quick to complain about Linked In. Thanks to Linked In, I have reconnected with a former editor, a cousin who is now living in Asia. And I have found editing work via Linked In.

Bad Side – More people would have been nice. Beyond Blood and Beyond the Tripping Point brought in more people. But from what I’ve seen with other book launches I’ve gone to this year, evening launches seem to attract the largest number of people.

Good Side – some of those people who couldn’t make the launch because of previous commitments want to buy a copy of Beyond Faith – one already has.

And so the book promotion will continue.

But first I need to catch up on some sleep.

And then start kicking things I “have” to do; things others want me to do – out the window.

But I’ll open the window first.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Here’s the book. Click on it for a link to one place the book is available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The kindness of strangers

The offending shopping trailer

Those who know me well know that I don’t have a partner and that for the most part I have to get through the crap in life on my own. To clarify, I do have a son and a few close friends who help where they can and for that I am grateful. But often I am facing a lot of problems that I have to deal with on my own. I divide those into constructive challenges and I try to get through those myself and consider them positives. It’s the destructive ones, often coming from left field that I resent having to deal with alone. I consider them negatives. I can’t just ask a non-exiefstent partner for help.

That is why the unexpected help spontaneously from strangers is so wonderful. I am so grateful when that happens I try to pass it along, i.e., help someone else, even if a stranger.

Last week I had a string of help from strangers – and all related to trying to maneuver one of those bloody push trailers/shopping carts.

I never liked them and preferred to cart groceries and books around in bags I carry on my shoulder.

However, last week I had to bring books to a bookseller at the Bouchercon Mystery Writing conference in downtown Toronto so decided to buy one of those trailers. I loaded it with copies of my three Beyond mystery series books. It was heavy. So when I phoned a close friend to invited her to  my book launch Oct. 22, I was talking about this trailer and she offered to drive me part way to the location. She had to get her husband to put the trailer in her van. She dropped me off at a taxi stand. As it turned out, it would have been a nightmare going through  public transit entrances and exits with the trailer. The cab driver was very friendly and helpful.

Books got delivered okay. But unfortunately not as many sold as I had hoped (and I had brought less than the bookseller had suggested). The day before I had to pick up the books I did the public transit route just to check it out, but as suspected too much for a short skinny woman with a heavy trailer of books.

And did I mention that this bloody trailer collapsed after I got it home empty after dumping the books off at the bookseller’s booth? It was still fine then, or so I thought, but two days later I was moving  it around in the house and the top canvas part disconnected from the steel bar near  the top. It its fastened by velcro – which would be fine if the side parts of it had been originally put in the steel bars going down when it was  at the manufacturer’s. It had looked okay to me and after I closed the velcro part I did notice the bag wasn’t too sturdy from then, but what do I know? I’ve never used the damn things before and only got one because of no other choice to get the books to where I was going.

Sunday morning on the way down, pushing the empty trailer into the subway station, my discomfort must have been visible, because a young fellow offered to carry it down the three flights of stairs. When we got to the bottom, he noticed that the canvas bag was out of the steel side bars and said if he had a screwdriver he would fix it. He said the bag should be in the bars but the top part was screwed in.

To come home, after collecting the unsold books, a hotel employee, I think a bellhop, got the trailer out the door and got me a cab and put the trailer in the trunk. The cab driver was again a helpful and friendly fellow and lifted the offending bag out of the trunk. I did have to drag it up the veranda stairs and into the house.

After I removed the books, it clicked what the fellow at the subway station had been getting at. When I checked the photo of the trailer in the sheet that came with it ( a sheet with little info) I noticed the sides of the trailer were indeed over the sidebar.

Not on my trailer. It’s going back to Canadian Tire today and if they don’t give me my money back I’ll be raising unholy hell. I do not want to cart that trailer around with me today because I have to check out the last part of the trip to where I do a guest breakfast talk on Saturday. The walk after I get off the subway for that is short but tricky and confusing and I sure don’t want to have to figure it out early Saturday morning. You can bet I’m not using a trailer any more. New rule of thumb – I only bring what books  I can carry in bags on my shoulders. And hope I have enough books for sales.  It has happened once that I didn’t.

I may have to take a cab from the subway station on Saturday morning though if it I feel the route is bad after today’s venture, I’ll see if the organizer can get one of the writing group members to pick me up at the passenger pickup at the subway station.

I am spending too much on cabs here. I never take cabs unless from the train station after a visit with cousins in southwestern Ontario. I live at the poverty level so cabs aren’t really in my budget.

Cheers (I think),

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series. Book Launch for Beyond Faith is Sunday, October 22. See details on flyer below.

 

 

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Beyond Faith – some thoughts on holding the book

As you can see from the picture I finally have a print copy of Beyond Faith in my hands. Actually several copies which the editor at my publisher’s Blue Denim Press just brought here  – some copies for Bouchercon and some for other author events where the publisher or a bookseller isn’t present. It was getting tiring, especially to my bad eyes, to deal with e-copies only. And again as you can see, it shows on my face. That tired look isn’t just from not enough sleep, it is partly because I’ve been getting out invitations to my book launch – again online. My face may be in permanent squint mode.

But to finally hold a copy does fill me with joy and a sense of accomplishment  (despite the clutter behind me in my office). It was a long road of  many revisions, two switches in book launch dates, but it is worth it. One friend said I was really proving myself as an artist. And (this is me, talking), I do get a lot of fun out of it as I can commit murder –  all between the books covers, of course. Another friend I used to work with many many years ago – we connected through Linked In –  is coming to the book launch – we haven’t seen each other in years and years and…

I guess what I’m trying to say to anyone who is writing a book – fiction or non-fiction, a short story, poetry, a play, whatever. The going may be very uphill, not only with the writing, but with getting it published or presented. Don’t give up. Think of yourself holding that book (a real print book – e-books won’t do it) or performing in a play, or… you supply the outcome.

Keep the long-range goal and wish in mind.

And keep on writing.

I plan to follow my own advice – once the book launch is over .

Here is the book cover up close without my sorry face in the way.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford.

 

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Beyond Faith is here – some author thoughts on writing, rewriting and publishing

Beyond Faith has arrived at Blue Denim Press – my publisher. Soon I will get some print copies in my hands; soon it will be available on both the main Amazon site and the Canadian Amazon site. Check these current links for when. The book launch is still scheduled for October 22 at Supermarket Restaurant and Bar; I’m headed for Bouchercon the big mystery writers conference Oct. 11 to Oct. 15, and etc.

Whew! I need to take a deep breath and think. Think about how an author gets to this stage – at least this author – and how it feels.

This is my third Beyond book but still the elation, wonder and gratitude is there – just like  with the first book, and the second book. Although supposedly I am an old-hand at all this (and that is a myth – you always learn from each book’s writing, each book’s marketing – the whole she-bang). Among other things, with Beyond Faith, I learned a lot about revisions and working with the editor at my publisher’s. Some of you may know that I am also an editor, albeit a freelance one. Sometimes experience on both sides of the fence can be a help; sometimes not. The main thing is to remember which side of the fence you are on at that time. Sure past editing experience may help you with rewriting, but you are not the editor. Having said that, the book editor and the book author must not work at cross-purposes. You have to work together to create the best book possible. I like to think that’s how Shane and I brought Beyond Faith to publication.

The little voice in my head is whispering, “I should hope so – after eight revisions requested by Shane since the first submission. And that’s not counting all the revisions pre-submission and when I made all the changes, additions and deletions with each revision. It doesn’t come with the first try. Revision 1, Revision 2 and so on required several rewrites, only to go back the next day to make more changes to that revision.

In between all this and even during, my mind was whirling around with ideas of what and how. Sometimes I had to go out to my garden and pull weeds; sometime go for a walk, sometimes sleep on it. I don’t think I dreamed up any ideas, but sometimes when I woke up, an idea was there in my mind.

Shane would make suggestions for what needed changing and even say something had to go because it didn’t work. One example is in a scene I  had with David, Dana Bowman’s seven-year-old son, who was out walking the dog, Buddy, with his babysitter. The sitter goes into the drugstore and David and Buddy have a confrontation with a couple of the other characters. Shane pointed out that a seven-year-old, particularly David, wouldn’t talk like that. So, I had to do some rewriting to keep the plot intact but make David, well David. Usually I can do this, but something was definitely off. I was also told to put in more menace to have something frighten David then. And I did.

So while waiting for the publisher to deliver the actual print book author copies, I feel a sense of accomplishment, relief but also some trepidation. Because Beyond Faith now has to sell. And while I love doing book promo, there are never enough hours in the day to do all that I think is needed for that. And I am still learning how to do many of those things.

And do you know what is high on my list of impediments to doing book promo? Same as gets in my way of writing.

Screw-ups and other problems in other areas of my life – especially those caused by what I call “outside” – others screwing up, bad weather and the like. Things like unexpected house repairs, health issues, other people wanting me to do things for them now, late and delayed public transportation, bureaucratic and bank errors – all things that steal from my time.

And yes, they all make fodder for future stories. Some of them are at the basis of some of the happenings in Beyond Faith – all fictionalized, changed to be more menacing than in real life. Sorry, folks, not telling which happenings or even which characters fit that category. I will say that I do have an axe since 2014, but it’s used for chopping the ice that sometimes forms on sidewalks in the winter, not for chopping up people.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

author of the Beyond mystery series

Sharon holding up the previous 2 Beyond books at WOTS

 

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