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Category Archives: Characters and plot in fiction

Show not tell in fiction

The second beyond book.

How many times have you read (or written) a scene in a novel or short story that reads something like this?

John decided to tell Mary off and do it loudly.

“Mary, you are a disgrace to the club,” John yelled.

What’s wrong here?

It not only tells the reader what John is going to do,but then puts the same thing in dialogue.I call this overkill and is an insult to the reader’s intelligence. It is equivalent to hitting them on the head and slapping them in the face. Show, not tell the reader works better.

So, what can you do here? Delete the narrative where it tells what John plans to do and go right to the dialogue. Of course this is taken out of context (NOTE: not anything in particular – just off the top of my head  – before said head was hit, of course).

Besides the dialogue you can show John in action. Does he point a finger at Mary. Does he throw a book? Does his face contort into a red mass of fury? You can also show how John feels about doing this. Maybe he is scared to stand up to Mary as he may be on the shy side and Mary is a forceful person. So maybe his yelling and actions show this.

Having said all this, it is okay to have some narrative which can include telling your story, showing what characters are like and what your Point of View character feels and thinks.

Just don’t tell when you can show. And never do both around dialogue.. Readers don’t like being insulted.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The next book in Sharon A. Crawford’s Beyond mystery series, Beyond Faith (published by Blue Denim Press will be out this fall 2017. Meantime, click on the Beyond book at the top of this post and get more info about Sharon and her Beyond books.

 

 

 

 

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The Credibility Factor in Fiction Writing

The second Beyond book.

We writers let our imaginations flow. We get creative and write outside the box. However, sometimes we go on tangents with our plots, and characters’ actions and dialogue, often resulting in going way off the credibility meter.  We don’t always see that, but our readers do.

And to make it more complicated – credibility can be relative. What is credible for fantasy may not be credible for mystery or romance – at least the plot. Character, no matter the genre, always need to be credible.

I’m not immune to this credibility tangent. Just ask my publisher. And read last week’s post here.

So, how do we get make sure our characters and plot are credible?

One thing I sometimes do is act out a scene. Can a character actually do this? No, I don’t jump off buildings – nothing extreme like that (I’m afraid of heights anyway.) But I do it to get the logistics of a character’s action. For example to see if a character could actually see something from a certain window? Or what it is like walking in heavy rain. Yes, you can use your imagination, but I bet you’ll forget some detail. So get out there and experience your scene. Hook yourself up to your cell phone  so if you have to talk like your character, you don’t risk strange looks from others you pass. If you are using present time and present location and not making any of that up, it might be a good idea to get the lay of the land as it is now for streets and crossings. You don’t want your characters crossing a street called Main Street today that last week was renamed to Markham Avenue.

Use a credibility meter for characters to decide on action or dialogue. (And remember, this might be done in a rewrite). Ask yourself how your character  would act or react- based on their traits, based on their background, based on their psyche, based on what has happened with and to them before in your novel. Would a timid character suddenly start arguing with someone who is clearly trying to get her goat? But remember, part of a novel’s premise is things change and that includes the characters. So if something happens to your character to bring about a change, maybe that character will finally tell that other character off. Don’t make it easy for him or her. It would be a struggle.

It also is a good idea to have your writing critiqued by a writing critique group – online and/or in person.

Remember, writers can have tunnel vision about their work. But other writers will look at it fresh and from other viewpoints.

That is taking your writing out of the box in another way.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Let it rain – between your book covers

I hate heavy rain, especially large amounts, especially mixed with strong winds. Which we are getting today in Toronto,Canada. So, what am I doing about it? Besides staying in and checking the basement for any water getting in?

I put the rain in my third Beyond mystery book. Not the rain coming down right now. In one scene I have my main character, PI Dana Bowman, walking through a rain – heavy with blowing winds. Unlike me, Dana drives, but she has been somewhere near home so left the car in the driveway before the rain started. Now she is walking home, but the rain and what it brings – including the kickstart to the novel’s story- begin happening as she struggles through the rain.

In a nutshell, I took a re-occurring scenario in my life, a scenario I don’t like – and fictionalized it.

You can do that, too, but there are caveats.

  1. If your story occurs in another time – an that means not today – make sure you are accurate in presenting your story.. My novel takes place in late fall 1999 in a fictional town called Thurston, Ontario. Thurston is loosely based on Aurora and Newmarket in York Region, Aurora is where I lived for 23 years – although I got out of Dodge in 1998. Rain storms today are not the rain storms of 1999. In Canada and the United States we get way too many and in some cases they are of possible flood proportions. The winds now are stronger and more frequent. So I researched Environment Canada’s historical weather information for the lower half of York Region in  November 1999, right down to the day.
  2. You may think your memory of your situation is clear in your mind to the point where you are right there, but it might be a good idea to list its components – with the rain again – were there many puddles?   Did the wind turn your umbrella inside out? Was it daylight, dusk or night? What exactly from this scene do you want to use – its essence or something specific?
  3. Remember, the scene must have something to do with you story’s plot. Don’t just put in heavy rainstorms because you like or hate them and find them cool. Maybe your main character is chasing someone in the rain. Does he or she slip or fall? What is going on around her? I work in the cars splashing by and what Main Street, Thurston is like during a rain storm. But it is all part of the plot.
  4. When you get down to actually writing that scene in your story, keep writing and don’t stop. Hopefully you’ve done any research and have some idea how you want to morph it into part of your story. When you go through it to rewrite, you can check to see if it makes sense, if it is part of the plot.
  5. Make sure it doesn’t go off into a long expository tangent.Just work in some information with your plot.For example with the rain in my novel, I show the reader how heavy the rain is by how it affects Dana struggling to walk along Main Street and also the others she meets, including … well, that would be giving some of the plot away,

And don’t forget to enjoy, to get lost in the creativity of the writing. It can help get your mind off current problems – even if they include heavy rain. Speaking of which, it is time to check the basement again. And oh yeah, it was also our garbage pickup day today, so while we had a lull in the rain earlier, but not the heavy wind, I was continually running outside to right bins – mine and a few friends across the street. And of course, today was the day the city decided our street should have the new supposedly racoon-proof green bins for wet waste delivered. They may be racoon proof, but not extreme-weather proof. The bins were flying all over the place and mine came minus the scoop and instructions. I did grab the instruction paper as the wind blew it down the street. A very wet sheet, now drying on a kitchen chair.

But that’s for another story, another day. Dana Bowman wasn’t dealing with garbage bins.

How do you work reality into your fiction?

And as usual, click on the Beyond book icon at the top to find out more about the first two Beyond books.

Cheers.

Sharon A.. Crawford

Dana Bowman, looking for her umbrella before braving the elements?

 

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Listen to your publisher

I am lucky that the editor at my publisher’s goes through my submitted manuscript and makes suggestions. Then we book a phone consult to hash through all these suggestions and comments.

It really gets me thinking beyond whatever box I was writing in.

I had that experience earlier this week. This was the “final” submission, i.e., the one that would make or break whether my new Beyond novel would be accepted for publication.He was quick to praise that it was a much better story and worth being published, but it came with the suggested changes. And some of them pointed out what wasn’t working and left the how-to-do-so up to me.

So we had, as the current dialogue goes, “a conversation about it”. We were both polite but explored what could be done. He said he had read the novel as a reader and not a publisher and that’s where his suggestions came from.

Besides stretching the creativity limit, it also served as pointing-out what just might not work. He didn’t say it, but he was playing devil’s advocate.

Not all publishers do this with their authors – whether new. Often it is “my way or the highway if you want it to be published.” That often stifles the author’s creativity. It is okay for authors to talk about why they wrote what, but go from there. Get past the ego that everything in your manuscript, down to the last comma, is sealed in gold and it has to be published exactly that way. We have probably all read published trade books where the publisher gave the author (often a well-known author) free rein. I won’t mention any names, but some of those books could have been shortened by 200 pages or so.

Getting published, at least by a trade publisher, is a two-way street. Remember, your publisher wants to sell your book, so making that more viable is a good idea. And it can also increase not only your royalties but the book’s presence in a very crowded market.

I have to the end of April to make the changes. So, after our phone conversation, I spent the rest of the afternoon and into dinner time going through the whole novel again and making short comments to his comments based on our conversation. Because being human, I would not remember it all if I didn’t do that.

I’ll keep you posted on Beyond Faith.

Meantime, you can familiarize yourself with the Beyond mystery series by clicking on the Beyond Blood icon a the top.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Three Author Snafus Editors find

I’m wearing my Editor’s hat today and the hat pin is keeping it firmly in place. There are several “concerns” (to put it gently) I come across when editing an author’s fiction manuscript. Today, I’ll highlight three of them with quick suggestions on how to avoid.

  1. Point of View does the lice movement, i.e., switches heads a lot. Sometimes this switch occurs many times within one scene and it is confusing for the reader. The scary part here is some of the POV switching occurs in published novels. Somebody was dozing at the wheel. Yes, you can have multiple points of view in a novel. Often, depending on the novel’s plot, multiple POV is very necessary. But the rule of thumb is to keep the same POV for the chapter, or a scene in the chapter. Get inside one character at a time. If it helps subhead the POV character’s name for the chapter or scene (you can remove that subhead later). Refer back to that subhead when you finish writing the scene’ or chapter’s draft.
  2. When detail becomes expository. This can happen with describing rooms, towns or history and when it gets out of hand can put the reader to sleep. Why? Because the prose is coming across as a lecture. Even putting it as dialogue doesn’t always help. Yes, put the character in the scene and if describing rooms or towns, beaches, etc. do it as the character goes into the room, etc. and what they see. If the room is untidy, maybe they trip over something. For history, keep it to a minimum – what actually is connected to the story’s plot – not the area’s whole history from BC. Yes, use some dialogue, but keep it short and have the characters do something while talking, have other characters ask the history teller questions or make comments. And have the conversation interrupted with something else happening. For example, if they are in a car, maybe the car blows a tire; maybe they are being followed (but watch the POV here); and maybe there is a sudden storm.
  3. Weird formatting in Word. I’m talking beyond what a copy editor would do – such as changing paragraphing to traditional style for submission to publisher. I have had hard returns in manuscripts, extra space suddenly appearing at the bottom of the pages, backward quotation marks. And my favourite for “the author is in the doghouse” – submitting a manuscript for editing when the manuscript has already been formatted in Word’s book form. Huh? Keep it simple and basic. If you can’t do this, hire a Word professional to type up your manuscript. Oh yeah, handwritten manuscripts are never acceptable.

These are just a few of the “idiosyncrasies” I have received from authors expecting me to edit their manuscript.and I have received worse.

Okay, back to wearing my author’s hat.

And as usual, if you click on the Beyond book at the top, it will link to more information. Teaser: there may be some news of another Beyond book soon.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Writing fiction from reality

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4Sometimes writing fiction from reality can make a stronger story. And I am not referring to the “reality” of so-called reality TV shows. I’m talking about your personal experiences.

There is a catch, though. You are writing fiction so you need to change charactes’ names. You might also want to change places and timelines. One of the most important points is that because this is fiction, you can change what happens – in fact you can use what happened in your life as the seed for your story and go from there.

One of the short stories, Porcelain Doll, in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) is taken from a regular occurrence in my childhood – but a pleasant one. So I did a “what if?”

My late father worked for many years as a timekeeper for one of the railway companies. Mom and I had free travel passes on that railway line and the competing railway. That was how we travelled to visit Mom’s relatives and to other places each summer.

So, I took that travel and the approximate time and created a “What if?”

What if the dad was a bully?( My Dad wasn’t.) and the mom was a doormat scared of him? (My Mom wasn’t.) What if the dad also bullied the daughter? (My dad didn’t – he used to call me his princess.)

So, I extracted a few facts from real life – a family of three who annually visited a grandfather on a farm, the mom knitting, the dad obsessed with the train service, and what the train ride was like at that time (early to mid-1960s), and the daughter’s obsession with reading Agatha Christie mysteries and dolls. Here the resemblance gets more than murky.

What never happened on a train in real life (at least not on any trips I took), occurred here – from playing poker for money, a prize doll (hence the story’s title), murder, disappearances, the aforementioned bullying – and the aftermaths. Story is told going back and forth between the present (1989) and the past to move the plot along to a startling conclusion.

With this use of my past I could get the feeling of being there on a train ride in the late 50s and early 60s including some little known facts such as the trains actually had a separate coach for smokers and you couldn’t smoke in any other coach, a somewhat novel idea in the days before smoking and non-smoking regulations across the board. My dad smoked back then. There was also the train route and where you would have to change trains – although I kept it to the same route I changed the location where the grandfather lived. So, I had feelings and remembrances of these train rides.

What I didn’t have was how the little girl in Porcelain Doll would react and act to what happened. That was pure fiction and that is where I had to get inside Sarah’s head. And…

No, I’m not telling you anymore. This is an example to give you an idea how you can do it. If you are stuck for a story idea. I think Porcelain Doll is a stronger story because of my past experience. Certainly others who have read it have said so.

If you want to read Porcelain Doll and the 12 other stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, you can click on the book icon at the top to get more information about the book.

What personal experiences have you had that could be turned into fiction – with a lot of well, fiction in them?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Same old same old to twisted plots

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4If I saw one more TV mystery where the cops found the dead body in the trunk, I was going to do more than scream. And I did. I wrote “The Body in the Trunk” (from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012). Instead of a body being found in the trunk the story deals with getting a body into a trunk and the why behind it. I also, as I often do with these stories, wrote it as a satire, in the noir black vein.

At one point I was also getting bored with reading mystery novels where the main character, a private investigator seemed to be continually broke. So, in “The Couch” I created a young (mid-20s)  private investigator who has too many clients. The story, also a satire noir black, deals with how the PI tries to downsize the clients – first using standard legit means, and when that doesn’t work, turning to crime. The payback is unexpected. “The Couch” was first published in an anthology, before being published in Beyond the Tripping Point.

So if you hit writer’s block on creating a new plot – take a twist on an old one, but one that is overused to the point of boredom.

And let your creativity loose.

You never know what will surface. It is just criminal. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that).

Cheers.

Sharon

And as usual, click on the book icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books.

 

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