Category Archives: Characters and plot in fiction
My muse has been busy this week. Early in the morning, she appears in the last dream before I wake and she appears with answers, suggestions to the story I’m rewriting.I don’t actually see her or hear her. It is more a short scene showing the story scenario I have been struggling with, and leaving me waking up with an answer of what to write. You see, the more I rewrote the story, the more I questioned something in the plot. Most of the questioning was under the “does it make sense?” category or the “have I got the police procedure right?’
It is a mystery at a crime scene and there is some police procedure there. But the main character is a civilian who wants answers and is determined to get them. because of who the victim is. So police procedure has to be correct, but it is seen from somebody not really familiar with it. And my character is a fat eccentric senior So the story is not just a mystery, but it has humor, satire.
I did my research and have explicit info from a police sergeant who is involved in investigating homicides. So I’ve been going over what he emailed me to fact check with what I’ve written. And that necessitated some changes and a follow-up email concerning the large binders police now use for interviews of all things. And he caught something else I had in the question wording – where witnesses and suspects are taken for more questioning.
So, like I said before, every time I made a change, another necessary one would pop up.
This story has a submission deadline of a week from now and a maximum word count. So those factor in with writing time and story changes.
So I’ve been lucky with my active Muse. And sitting down at my computer every day and rewriting. And resenting time I have to do other things.
It is only now that I have figured out how my Muse is working. Each day and each evening I mull over what needs to be changed to work in my story and it gets pushed into my unconscious when I get distracted. And I do get distracted a lot – problems coming at me to solve, health issues, other writing and editing stuff, phone calls, computer problems, errands, etc. When I finally get to bed and get some sleep I have to go through several sleep cycles first and several unremembered dreams to get to the point when my Muse can get through. And she has and I am grateful for that and also for her timing – last dream before I get up.
Now if my Muse would only help me solve all the other annoying problems I have to deal with.
Any day I would much rather do something creative – like write or take photos or in the summer garden then deal with what I call negative problems shoved at me from what I call outside. I can create enough chaos without any help from others.
So, the lesson learned is – when the Muse strikes, WRITE!
How does your Muse work? Do you have a Muse? Do you listen to your Muse?
Sharon A Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery novel series.
No matter what genre of fiction your write – mystery, romance, science fiction or if you writer literary fiction – your characters are very important to your story and to your readers. Readers want to get to know your characters so they can connect to them – whether they like or dislike them. If you just skim the surface of your characters they become too superficial and your readers just won’t care about them. They may even stop reading your short story or novel before getting to the end. This does not bode well for the fiction writer.
How can you make your readers connect to and care about your characters?
One way is getting inside their head. The best way I know how to do this is by using another fiction-writing technique – Point of View.
Point of View is often misused, especially if you use more than one POV in your novel. And using more then one POV is not wrong. You just have to remember the cardinal rule. One character’s POV per scene or per chapter. So stay only in that character’s head during that scene or chapter. Otherwise you are doing what we call in the business – “jumping heads”. Perhaps if you think of lice doing that it will give you some incentive not to jump heads.
How can POV help you see and develop your characters?
Basically,if you are inside that character’s head, you have to think like him or her – not like you would think for yourself. For example, how does he react when things go wrong ? What makes him scared and what does he do because of it? Is he shy? Is he a bully? Is he being bullied? Reactions include actions, dialogue, inner thoughts and how others react to him? And these will depend on the character. For example if the character is a child, the reactions will be different than an adult. But adults also react differently to situations and that is based on their background, their characteristics – physical (are they short and fat and subject to a lot of derogatory comments about that? Do they cringe, hide inside themselves, stand up for themselves or bully the attacker – maybe punch him in the nose?)
All depends on your character and yes, doing a detailed character outline of your character helps. Just remember like real-life people, characters change and evolve – often because of what goes on in their life. So your character outline is fluid.
How do your characters react to being insulted? Frightened? To trauma?
Let’s look at one of my main characters in Beyond Faith – seven-year-old David Bowman. He was kidnapped in the previous book, Beyond Blood, and is suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder because of it. This affects how he speaks, what he does,what he thinks and what others, especially close family, think of him.
The best way is to use the writing axiom of “show not tell.” So here are a couple of short excerpts from Beyond Faith (published Blue Denim Press, fall 2017). Please note all copyright of all excerpts, is with me, Sharon A. Crawford, the author.
First, his mother’s inner thoughts about him. The first chapter is from her – PI Dana Bowman’s POV. She is walking up Main Street dreading returning home. Two short excerpts here:
THE WIND WHIPPED my back and the cold rain pelted my face. Hunching further inside my jacket, I pulled the hood tighter. Despite chattering teeth and an oversized purse sliding down my sleeve, I continued plodding forward.
Late November in Thurston Ontario could weave a wicked wind, leaving you out of sorts and gasping for life, a feeling I had experienced a lot lately. Couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. Bast said it was because we would turn 40 the end of next month and to get over it. But that wasn’t it. Just when I seemed to find the proverbial hole, something always kept me from crawling in. But what was really stopping me?………
I should be happy. Not only did my son David survive his kidnapping last year, but this July he finally started talking again after months of silence. First he wouldn’t shut up, then he took to following Bast around again like he did when still mute. Since summer disappeared into autumn, when not at school, David was spending more time alone in his room—drawing. I didn’t like what erupted from his crayons—devils, fires with heads sticking out the top, hands wielding axes or guns. Where did he get all these ideas? Had he not healed from the kidnapping? Maybe the aftermath was like grief—going back and forth and all over the place in uneven stages……
What’s happening here? How does this clue the reader in on David’s character? And on his mother’s too? What do these short excerpts tell you about mother and son?
Let’s hear from David now in another scene. A little bit of info first. Partway through Beyond Faith, Dana is attacked from behind, falls to the cement and suffers a concussion. This is part of the scene a few hours later in the hospital from David’s POV.
“Uncle Bast, can we go see Mommy so the detective can find out who hurt her?”…..
Bast turned to the doctor. “Very well, if you don’t have any objection, Doctor? I would like to see my sister, too.”
Dr. Richards scratched his cheek. “She is sleeping now. She should get more rest, no excitement.”….The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. But just family. And just for a few minutes.”
He led them back to Mommy’s room. The cop sitting outside seemed to be asleep on the job. David went to him and shook him. “Wake up. You’re supposed to be watching Mommy’s room to keep the bad guys out.”
Constable Biggs looked up, but before he could say anything, Uncle Bast was leading David into the room, behind the doctor. The doctor said something to the nurse about giving them a few quiet minutes alone with the patient. The nurse stood up and she and the doctor left the room.
Bast sat down in the chair on one side of the bed. David moved his chair closer to Mommy on the other side. He sat down and took her hand. And started to talk about school, Ms. Dugan, and Buddy. He was there and he wasn’t going to leave her. If he did, he knew she would die……
What does this excerpt tell you about David? What techniques were used to show the reader David’s character? And as this is a child character, are his thoughts and language appropriate for a seven-year-old boy?
If you wish to find out more about the Beyond characters, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are available at amazon.com, amazon,ca, and other online places as well as some bricks and mortars stores.
But I am also suggesting you read a variety of novels (or short stories if that is your writing area) to see how a variety of other authors handle POV and character. Two caveats: unfortunately a small portion of published fiction messes up the POV – blame the editor here. And don’t copy what another author does – reading is for your learning and inspiration. In the end it’s your story and your characters.
Sharon A, Crawford
Many of us writers are also gardeners. I’m not sure why. Both are creative although not in the same vein. One we create with words and the other we create with colour, design and more practically for food to eat. Writing is more in the head and gardening requires a lot of physical exercise. So maybe the two provide balanced living.
For example, when something about a story I’m writing hits a stalling point, I go out in the garden. Often I end up pulling weeds. Like the bad things in life irritating me, which I want gone, I want the weeds gone. And sometimes when someone or some entity (read big utility company and the like) has messed up something in my life, I give the weeds names as I yank them out and pitch them in the yard waste bin. And yes, when I’m done in the garden I often have an idea how to deal with the problem person or entity.
And I often get a story idea – like the short story I’m writing and rewriting about telemarketers.
So, let’s see how something in the garden can bring about a story idea. Let’s take something common in people’s gardens – wildlife trespassing and doing damage. In particular raccoons getting into the garbage and creating a mess. I used that idea as part of the plot in my first Beyond novel Beyond Blood. I had someone doing a series of break and enters one summer also leaving a dead raccoon at some of the places. There was a reason for it and not to punish raccoons for causing damage. You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out what.
But raccoons or any other animal doing garden damage can conjure up several story ideas: a rash of garbage and recycling bins being knocked over in a neighborhood on collection days. Raccoons? Or something else. Maybe a red herring for something really bad going on. Perhaps someone in the neighborhood wants to sell their property to a developer and his or her neighbors don’t want to. Or vice versa Maybe a developer wants to tear down some old houses to put up condos. So someone (depending on your story’s angle) might be imitating raccoon actions to make the area no longer livable for the residents and so they will want to sell, but not get caught.
Or back to the weeds for another story idea. Whose name are you using when you pull a weed and why? What’s the problem the person is causing? Take it from there but fictionalize it. Like I did with the telemarketer story. I wrote it somewhat tongue in cheek but it is a murder mystery (well, that is what I write). I decided to take a crack at telemarketers and created a fictitious telemarketing firm and had a gardener and a non-gardener who are friends go after that company. And that’s all I’ll say.
And from that, you can see your story characters don’t all have to be gardeners. In my Beyond series, neither PI Dana Bowman or her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture are gardeners, but gardens and gardening appear in two of the short stories featuring them in Beyond the Tripping Point. In “Road Raging”, the twins traipse through a garden gone dormant in the fall – they are after a road rager. In “Digging Up The Dirt” inside a garden centre something poisonous in it is featured.
Want more ideas? Watch the old BBC series Rosemary and Thyme which has two gardeners who are hired to fix large estate gardens in England and always run into murder. One of the two women gardeners is a former police detective. Sometimes PBS runs reruns but it is also available ion You Tube.
Or if you want something currently running on TV on one of the specialty channels – try Midsummer Murders – often takes place in a large beautiful English country garden although murders are investigated by police, not gardeners.
Take a look at the photo from my garden at the beginning of this post. Does it give you an idea for a story?
Sharon A, Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery series. Latest Beyond Faith. Here is one of the other Beyond books mentioned in the post above. Click on it for more info about it and the other two Beyond books.
It was a dark and stormy night. All right, cliche setting. But perhaps it’s overuse and familiarity has a reason. Settings are important when writing fiction. You don’t live in a vacuum, do you? Neither do your characters and their stories. Even if your character has disappeared to a remote island, there is still a setting. Think ocean, sand, trees, wild animals, an anonymous presence, etc. Even if your character is in prison, there is still a setting – albeit one limited in space.
Settings influence your plot and your characters’ behaviour. Don’t believe me. What about the late Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries? Wolfe, a middle-aged PI, lives in a brownstone apartment in New York City. He seldom leaves his apartment and prefers to spend his time alone in his big orchid room, commiserating with his large collections of orchids. Yes, the plants, in a room of their own.. Not your typical use for a spare apartment room. Wolfe is a loner and an eccentric. When he wants to see clients or suspects, he orders his employee, side-kick Archie to get them in. Any legwork outside the brownstone is Archie’s responsibility. And that is where the reader sees and experiences the setting – a New York City a few decades ago.
So you can see how setting is part of the characters and plot. Sometimes setting can even be a character. Think The Perfect Storm, although here I am treferring to the movie. In fact if you want to see setting, watch the movies and TV shows and see the variety of settings presented. There are hospital series such as The Good Doctor and Chicago Med. So you feel like you are there in the hospital. Or a fire with some of the firefighters stuck inside it in Chicago Fire. You can tell what I like to watch. Even the overdone car chase scene has setting. If you can get your eyes off the cars for a few minutes and just see their surroundings. A car chase on Hawaii Five-O is much different than one through the slushy, snow-covered streets in wintry Chicago PD. And the setting for the car chase influences just how the chase might go.
Back to books. In my mystery novel Beyond Faith, late the last night in November 1999, PI Dana Bowman is walking from a reception party to a midnight meeting with a blackmailer at St. John’s Church. Basically, she is walking from the industrial area of a mid-sized town to its downtown. On the way, I blend in the warm for November night with a car that seems to be following Dana. I’m not going to tell you what happens with that; instead I’m going to quote some of what happens when Dana gets to the church.
No one else was about, which might make it easy to spot the blackmailer as he or she arrived—if he or she showed up. Even the area of St. John’s was barren of people, but about half a dozen cars were parked in the parking lot. Overflow from the Beaver and Cricket, no doubt. Not the church, which appeared dark, and after climbing the stairs, I found that the door was locked. Odd. But then the time was pushing closer to midnight and St. John’s probably was the church that had been robbed earlier this year.
I walked down to the cement seat surrounding the fountain, and began pacing to and from the seat. My digital showed as five minutes before midnight. More pacing and time checking did nothing except move time forward to 11.58. The blackmailer was pushing it close. A breeze brushed my face and I wished to be wearing the usual wardrobe of jeans, sweats and warm jacket. I also wished the blackmailer would hurry up and get here. Just as I started to put on my fake fur coat something snapped nearby. A tree branch? I jumped and dropped the coat on the ground. Get a grip, Dana. Clutching my bag, I moved away from the fountain seat and looked at the other side of the fountain. (from Beyond Faith, Copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press, 2017)
And no, I’m not going to tell you what comes next. You have to get the book for that. (Hint. Click on the book at the top of this post.)
But from the Nero Wolfe scene descriptions and from the above from Beyond Faith, something else is going on. We don’t just get a bland description of the setting. The characters are actually doing something in it and the plot moves forward.
Plot, characters, setting – all part of a novel and they are intertwined, connected.
Sharon A. Crawford
Being interviewed on a TV show is a good way to get the word out about your book and, if you have a good interviewer, get out some information about you, the author. One sign of interest in your book, is interest in you, the author. How do you write? Why do you write? Or in my case – who wrote the book, Beyond Faith – PI Dana Bowman, the main character who insists she wrote it, or me, Sharon A. Crawford, whose name is on the cover?
All that and more (including non-fiction books versus fiction books) got covered last week when I appeared on the Liquid Lunch where I was interviewed by host Hugh Reilly and a newbie co-host. This is on the Internet channel thatchannel.com – the channel has been going since 2004. Not bigtime ( or small time) TV but TV is no longer just regular channels. Think Crave TV. Think Netflix. And think thatchannel.com
This was my third appearance in six years (one for each Beyond book) on Liquid Lunch. This time I have mixed feelings about the way it went. There wasn’t time for me to read a couple of pages from Beyond Faith because we chatted too much. “We” is mostly Hugh and meas the newbie didn’t say too much and she put her foot in her mouth about one thing she said. But I handled it graciously. Also it was a different studio room and setup from the previous two appearances.
But my biggest gripe was my bangs had been cut too short the day before. Clearly I’m reading too many celebrity stories online. I was able to carry on an intelligent conversation and even steer it back to Beyond Faith when it got a bit off track.
You can check it out for yourself here. Or you can click on the Beyond Faith book cover above and that will take you directly to the interview.
And something extra is coming out of all of this.
I am getting my own TV show on thatchannel.com. It will be about crime – true and fiction and PI Dana Bowman will be a part of it – if she has her way. Show will get going this spring
More info closer to the date. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted. Meantime, watch the video (it’s about 27 minutes) and please spread the link to it on your social media. Thanks.
Sharon A. Crawford