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Category Archives: Channelling Fiction Characters

Don’t Write the Same Old Same Old

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

When writing fiction, particularly mystery, thriller and suspense, don’t develop plots and characters that have been used before. Do readers really want another jaded police detective who is an alcoholic? How about yet another body found in a trunk?

Readers want to be surprised, entertained, and have something different. Those who like to try to figure out who done it and why like a challenge. If it is too easy, that won’t work.

Twists and turns in suspense, mystery and thriller novels work very well – provided they are different. And if you are writing a series, you need to write the unexpected even more so your readers don’t get too comfortable with your series characters. You want them to relate to the characters and develop a bond, but you have to shake them up with each book’s plot and characters.

Remember your characters need to be like real people – they can’t be stagnate. Throw them lots of curve balls and see how they act and react.

Some authors that are masters at this are Julia Spencer Fleming, Peter Robinson and Harlan Coben. The latter writes standalone mystery-suspense, while the former two write series mysteries. Spencer Fleming, for example throws a big curve with each book. Just as something seems to be sorted out between her two main characters – Rev. Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne –  right at the end of the novel, something happens that seems to come out of the blue.

But it is not really out of the blue – if you go back throughout the novel you will see events and what the characters are doing that make the unexpected logical. Some examples (without stating which novel) are when the priest and the cop finally get their relationship solidified, the priest who was previously in the armed forces and is now on reserve, is put on active duty outside the US. Right at the end of the book. Great hook to get the reader to read the next one in the series.

The reader knew Clare’s background here,so that wasn’t grabbed from the air. It was the timing.

And that’s what is important. Timing. In my Beyond novels, I build up the suspense with (among other things) a growing relationship between the main character PI Dana Bowman and Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Both are relationship shy – that isn’t too different. But how it evolves (or does it?) is different because of other things going on in the novel. The ending has a big twist.

This is the novel I’m still putting the finishing touches on for the publisher. So, I’m not going into more details. The previous and most recent one, Beyond Blood has a bit of a cliff hanger at the end – the premise here being, when a crime victim has been rescued, it may not all be rosy and comforting for them. In fact, it isn’t in real life.  I took that idea and left the reader wondering about a character’s dealing with after effects. The short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point has four stories featuring Dana Bowman and most of the rest of the Beyond gang. These stories take place the year after. And the current Beyond book is later that same year and the character is still suffering some after effects.

Unexpected events change people – how they live their lives afterwards.And that varies with each person. So, too, should your fiction.

Don’t be lazy and write the same old same old. Surprise your readers – but make it logical. That may sound like an oxymoron, but be creative.

And read what is already written to see what works, what surprises and what doesn’t. Read books by Julia Spencer Fleming, Peter Robinson and Harlan Coban, and yes my Beyond books too.

You can get more information about the Beyond books by clicking on the Beyond Blood icon at the top.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

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Connecting with your fiction characters

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

The other night I had a dream about one of my main Beyond characters – the other fraternal twin, Bast Overture. I was in my house waiting for him to arrive here – not just in my head, but physically. Of course, as in most dreams of this type, I woke up before Bast arrived.

I’m not sure why I even dreamed about this as my mind lately has been overcrowded with computer and house repair problems. The former is all this Windows update nonsense with the changes in how and its slow checking for the actual updates and even downloading and installing them. Enough said about that. Perhaps Bast was there to remind me to get back to rewriting the third Beyond book this week. I haven’t done anything in it this week so far – not just for computer issues to deal with but also client work and this latter is fine with me.

But the weird thing about the dream is Bast is not the Beyond character I identify with – but his fraternal twin, Dana Bowman. No, Dana is not based on me, but as some of you know she is the one I channel (or the other way around if Dana has her way). She is the one I dress up as and “become” in comedy skits. Not Bast. Bast would be a little difficult for me to do unless I grew a beard (red in colour, too) and stood on stilts. Bast is 6 feet 3 inches tall to my 5 feet 1 inch.

And next Thursday, October 27 I will be again doing a Dana skit – this time with another novelist – Shane Joseph. We have a scenario where Dana and Shane’s main character, George Walton, from his latest novel In the Shadow of the Conquistador. Our novels occur in the same time frame mostly – the late 1990s, but that’s where similarities may end. Shane’s novel is literary and mine is mystery genre. But our characters can be pain in the you-know-what. Dana is an opinionated private investigator who likes to stick her nose in other people’s business and George is a philandering world traveller. But they do have something in common, at least Dana thinks so…until she meets up with George.

If you want to see and hear what happens, if you live in the Toronto, Canada area, check it out. We are part of the monthly Urban Folk Art Salon October 27 at the Mount Pleasant Library.

Also part of this two-hour salon are folksinger Brian Gladstone, poet Merle Amodeo, Ariel Balevi, Isaak Bonk, Ann Marie Boudreau and Mary Mllne with host poet/violinist Tom Gannon Hamilton.

The location, time, etc. details are:

Location:

Mount Pleasant Library

599 Mount Pleasant Rd. (between Davisville Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E.)

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

More info: 416-393-7737

Time and Date: 6.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016

Free.

Below are photos of Dana Bowman and Shane Joseph. Sorry, I don’t have one of George Walton.

And click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top for more info about the book.

Cheers.

Sharon

Dana Bowman

Dana Bowman

Shane Joseph

Shane Joseph

 

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Developing fiction characters from observation

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction workshop I taught this past Tuesday.

If you want to get your dialogue bang on with your characters, here are some tips:

Listen, watch and read who and what are out there. That could be a TV series, a movie, a book, and in-person. A couple of TV series with excellent and diversified characters (each quirky in their own way) are NCIS:LA. Even if you are not an NCIS fan, the two sets of investigator partners are priceless – not only to watch for entertainment but to study as a fiction writer. Briefly.  the one set consists of Deeks who is actually an LA detective transferred to NCIS. He tends to run off at the mouth and fixates on weird things in life. His partner (professional and personal in the series) Kensey is so different – she is the slob in this duo and likes to pick on Deeks. The other duo, in a nutshell, Sam and Callen – Sam black and Callen is white but they are different in personalities and lifestyles. Sam has been married for many years to another agent, Michelle and they have two children including an adult son in the military. Callen is a minimalist in his life and has problems with committment.

I suggest checking out reruns of NCIS:LA as Kensey is in a coma from a severe injury for the next few episodes as the actress playing her is on maternity leave. But there are other interesting unique characters in the series including the unit’s second in command played by Linda Hunt.

Another series with quirky characters is the British Heartbeat. It ran from around 1992 to 2010 but repeats are shown on various TV stations or you can probably see it there or on alternative viewing. Heartbeat is set in the late 1960s in a fictitious small town in North Yorkshire, England. It focuses on small town policing operating from Ainsfield station at that time and is intertwined with some of the social issues then.  Not all the characters are cops, but all characters are so well developed and except for a core few, the characters do come and go over the years. My favourites are Mr, Greengrass who is an elderly con artist with the most disgusting dog you may have ever seen, and Oscar Blaketon who is the Sergeant in charge of the police station until he takes early retirement due to health issues. Then he becomes a postal clerk and then co-owner of  the pub which is also central to the series. Blaketon is an interferring know-it all and keeps that up even after he retires.

Another way to absorb characters is to listen. A writer I know wanted to find out how teenagers speak so she would go to where they hung out and listen without butting in. Getting the slang and other language peculiar to your characters often requires this up-front listening. I also like to listen in on loud cell phone conversations when travelling on public transit – although there is not as much of that now with people texting.

The idea is to observe and absorb but not steal characters from TV, film, books or real life. And if your character has disabilities, you might want to actually interview someone with the same disability and also try to live in their shoes, so to speak, for a bit of firsthand feelings. For example, life in a wheelchair is so much different and not just operating the wheelchair and getting through doors. The view is a bit different. Just a caution: if you are going to get the feel of being blind, it might be a good idea to have another person with you for safety’s sake.

As for me I had a six-day experience of being 85 percent deaf. It was terrifying going into a grocery store and trying to read people’s lips. The only thing I heard was two people yelling and it must have been quite loud for me to hear it.

It was only temporary – ear wax. Who what have thought that?

How do you create distinctive characters in your fiction?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

And as usual, the Beyond Blood book icon at the top takes you to one of the places with my profile and books.

 

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Dana Bowman and the Beyond books return to the promo circuit

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

As hinted at in last week’s post, with summer holiday months now officially over, September is the time to get thing rolling with writing and book promo. And so I am.

Without going into the whole PR she-bang (you can read some of that on the Gigs and BlogTours Page  connected to this blog – link is below. More gigs to be added shortly.) I have some info on the gig there) and the Book page (Beyond Blood in particular) on my website.

Instead, I’ll just talk a bit about published authors using unusual means to promote their books. Some piggy-back on plays or other public events connected to their book’s contents; others start anthologies to help showcase theirs and others stories – particularly newbie authors.Some do a lot of cross-publishing and promotion – for example, writing both short stories and novels and entering them in contests. If they win, place or show, that is something that can be used to promote their books. Others get involved in various literary and fund-raising events to read from their books or…

I do the latter, but with a twist. As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, I like to dress up as my main Beyond Blood character, PI Dana Bowman and do comedy skits – mainly where she disses me the author but in the process tells something about the books. Dana doesn’t read in her skit.

Dressing up as Dana can be challenging. We are roughly the same height, so I don’t need to wear elevator shoes or stoop and we are both skinny. But she doesn’t need glasses and I do. Her hair is short black and mine is shoulder-length brown and grey (depending on when I last had a hairdressing appointment). There is also the age-difference problem. Dana is 25 or so years younger than me. Fortunately I have a youngish face, so that helps.

I try to keep it simple – the biggest wardrobe accessories are a black wig and my prescription sunglasses – Dana does wear sunglasses, although not prescription. The sunglasses also hide any “crows feet on the side of my eyes – so that helps with the age difference. And touch wood, I still can move fast physically and have a lot of energy (or so I am told) most of the time. The rest of the wardrobe is just basics – jeans or denim capri pants and a pullover or T-shirt, running shoes, and a cap, which is Dana’s usual ensemble. Oh, I did buy a large purse bag at a yard sale and use that as Dana’s big bag which she totes around with her everywhere and which can contain her sketch pad, handcuffs, and a copy of Beyond Blood and Beyond the Tripping Point. Dana has her instructions to show the books to her audience while she talks.

And as mentioned in last week’s post, Dana is going to be doing something completely different in her next appearance. She will team up with the main character from the latest novel by author Shane Joseph for what we hope is a hilarious skit combing fiction with reality. Dana will have her work cut out. One of Shane’s past careers was as an actor and I am a newbie actor here (really, I’m a drama queen or should that be comedy queen?) and we are combining a literary novel character (Shane’s) with a genre novel character (mine). Now let’s hope Dana doesn’t fall flat on her face – unless that is in her script. At least where we are appearing (Mount Pleasant Public Library branch in Toronto, October 27), the room doesn’t have a stage and is carpeted.

That is all I’m saying about that for now. You can check out Shane Joseph here and our gig in the Gigs and Blog Tours page here.

And the usual. Click on the Beyond Blood book at the top to go to my Amazon profile and book copies.

Cheers.

Sharon

And here’s Dana….

Dana Bowman with bag cropped

 

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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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Using real life in your fiction – more info

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

A writer friend recently told me that I was one of the strongest people she knows and then she referenced that I raised my son as a single parent.

Once I got over the shock (I seem to live my life in worry and fear lately but I am very vocal and get after people and organizations that mess up my life), I started thinking that this may have a lot to do with the family situation I created in my novel Beyond Blood.

My main character, PI Dana Bowman has a seven-year old son, David. She is also divorced, so a single mom.

In my life, I do have a son whom I raised as a single mom. But I did have help from my ex-husband. Dana gets no help from her ex, Ron, but she and David live with her fraternal twin brother, Bast Overture, also a PI.

My son was a young child in the 1980s while Beyond Blood is set in 1998. But subconsciously I guess some of raising my son rubbed off. But there are several differences besides the time frame. Dana is much more outspoken than I was back then and she ventures where another character Great Aunt Doris says she shouldn’t because she is a mother. Aunt Doris says Dana shouldn’t be working as a private investigator and chasing after bad people also because it’s not safe for David.

Unfortunately, it turns out Aunt Doris is right here because David is kidnapped. But that puts Dana in the double-bind of being the PI to find her son and being his mother. That creates a lot of character conflict which influences the plot. And that is pure imagination. My son was never kidnapped. The closest he came to “disappearing” was when he was four years old. I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house (and yes, I was home at the time) or outside – at first. Then I looked a little closer in the big backyard. Yup! There he was, crouched down in the grass and playing with his toys.

My point here is you can use some situations and even characters loosely in your novels and short stories. But you have to fictionalize it all. Just think “trigger point” and use your imagination from there.

Maybe living my life in fear (balanced by being very outspoken and yes, I admit, sometimes grumpy) has spawned something good. Because Dana’s family situation continued in the four linked short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point and in the current Beyond novel I am currently rewriting.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

And as usual, if you click on the book cover at the top it takes you to my amazon profile and my two Beyond books

 

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Dana Bowman from Beyond Blood appears again May 28

Sharon A. Crawford channelling Dana Bowman from Beyond Blood

Sharon A. Crawford channelling Dana Bowman from Beyond Blood

Dana Bowman, the main character, the irreverent  PI from my novel Beyond Blood will be doing another of her comedy skits this Saturday afternoon. The occasion is Toronto’s annual Doors Open and Dana (and me too) will be at the Toronto Heliconian Club volunteering from 1.30 p.m. and then performing at 4 p.m.

There’s a lot of work in these comedy skits and this one is 85 per cent new stuff. The premise is Dana is supposed to talk about Beyond Blood and she does – sort of – in her own way, dissing me and generally not following instructions. So trying to get this skit together with help from Dana hasn’t been easy. Dana keeps sticking her face in maybe too much and therein lies the dilemma.

Just who is writing this skit? Who wrote Beyond Blood. Both Dana and I each answer “I did.” The book has “Sharon A. Crawford” for the byline but the skit?

Personally, I would prefer Dana that writes it. She is performing it so it’s her call. So, she’s been digging inside my brain for info or I have been channeling her.

There are many things to consider – content – is it funny or funny enough? Sometimes what’s on paper doesn’t come across as funny enough when you perform it. Then you go back to the skit content and realize that a lot of it is in the performance. The practice session yesterday wasn’t up to par. But I wasn’t feeling well then so does that mean that Dana was also feeling sick?

I did get ideas for some skit changes and made them.

And it might help if I was fully in costume when practicing. Especially the hair.

That’s Dana at the top. And here is the blurb from my website about Dana at the Heliconian Club May 28.

Sharon A. Channels Dana Bowman at Toronto’s Doors Open

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sharon A. Crawford will be channeling Dana Bowman, the main character in  Beyond Blood at the Toronto Heliconian Club during the first day of Toronto’s Doors Open. Sharon/Dana will be there from 1.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. to talk about the Heliconian Club along with other club members and she will take to the stage at 4 p.m. for a short comedy skit. Meantime, Sharon is coaching Dana on the Toronto Heliconian Club’s history and club activities, etc.

See you there.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

 

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