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Category Archives: Characters and plot in fiction

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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Creating suspense in fiction

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

How many books have you read where the plot seems to flatline? Maybe the characters get too chatty. Maybe the description of characters or setting reads more like an expository. Maybe the scenes themselves are mundane. Do you then yawn?

Those spell boredom for the readers. And I see it happening in novels that are supposed to be mysteries. A village scene, instead of creating some touch of menace or at least some suspense, reads more like a slice of village life. Not all authors can do the village scene as well as the late Agatha Christie did.

There are ways your novel can get a life readers will want to read about. And just to clarify. Suspense doesn’t only equal mysteries and thrillers. All fiction needs some suspense – and that includes romance novels with their relationships. In fact, the twists and turns of relationships in any novel are fodder for creating suspense. Characters are at the core.

Here a few tips to create suspense in fiction:

  1. Start your story with something to draw in your reader. If you must have your village scene, get inside your main character’s head and show her take on the scene. Perhaps she dreads the town council meeting, the gardening club meeting, the tea, etc. Why? Or something terrible happens at the beginning at that meeting. Here’s a quick example. Marion would never call Fairfax council meetings boring again.
  2. Dialogue is good – reveals and develops characters and their interactions, as well as moves the plot forward. Unless your characters get overly chatty and go on and on for pages about religion, politics and more mundane things. All three might be relevant to your story, but add some spice, some suspense. Maybe one of the characters chatting is not making sense, seems to be high on something. More to the point, have a character reveal something startling to move the plot forward. Or have the dialogue interrupted by something happening. Depending on your story’s genre, could be somebody unexpected bursting into the room and creating chaos.
  3. Character descriptions. Forget the long expository but blend it in with the storyline and reveal something or several somethings about the POV character and other characters in this scene. In Beyond Blood, PI Dana Bowman meets Det. Sgt. Donald Fielding for the first time when her house is broken into. I show it from Dana seeing Fielding from the feet up as he comes down the basement stairs. The two clash. Dialogue and action show this and builds suspense about what could happen later on with two strong personalities trying to solve crimes when they can’t even agree on what crime happened in Dana’s basement. You can also have characters make snide remarks about another character’s hair or clothes. That would tell you something about both characters. Some narrative is necessary, but don’t drone on.
  4. Same can be said for settings. Nothing is more boring than reading paragraph after paragraph describing the main street of a town or the town itself. You aren’t writing a travel piece: you’re writing a novel or short story. In my Beyond mystery novels, I don’t just describe the town of Thurston, Ontario (fictional town), but have Dana  or her twin PI Bast  actually drive down a street, Suspense could be someone following Dana or better still she thinks someone is following her and dodges all over town to ditch the person. Or there is a collision – accident or intentional? Or if one of the twins goes into a shop or restaurant, I work in the location and relevant characters inside. “Relevant” is the key word. .

Visualize what you want and then write it for the reader to get the picture Remember: show, not tell the reader.

These are just a few suggestion. I also suggest you read published books by authors in the genre you are writing – authors who know what they are doing to create suspense within the mundane. Sometimes the latter is the most frightening.

If you click on the Beyond Blood novel above it will take you to more information about my Beyond books.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Writing stories from extreme weather

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Can you take an extreme weather situation you lived through and write a story about it?

Often living through these types of events can cause a lot of trauma, even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And one way to get on the road to healing is to write about it. If it is too painful to write your story, then why not use it as a basis for fiction. Getting your imagination to work with what is now a reality can often produce a powerful short story or novel.

Examples are floods, tornadoes, volcanoes, and ice storms, The one in the news lately is the severe prolonged ice storm in the province of New Brunswick in Canada’s Maritimes. That one caused widespread prolonged power damages.

I wasn’t there for that one, but did go through the one in southern Ontario, particularly Toronto, in December 2013.

So, give your imagination free reign for story ideas. If you’ve lived through an experience, your experience will factor in for what it feels like, what can happen, what it looks like. But you want a different story, different characters – could be mystery, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, romance.

Or you might want to take one or two events that happened during the storm – to you or friends and go from there. For example, in the December 2013 ice storm in Toronto, I had a belligerent boarder and her cat living with me when the power went off. Fortunately the phone (a land line) still worked so my son (who still had power – it wasn’t everywhere in Toronto – in fact there were blocks with no power right beside blocks with power) could phone me. My son arranged and paid for a hotel room for the boarder, her cat and me for two days and took us out to dinner the first evening there.

Outside it was icy – sidewalks, roads, trees and power lines, some still down. Until downtown where the hotel was – the scene was more normal, dry sidewalks, lights and heat.

Oh yeah, the boarder’s cat was black.

So, what can you come up with in a story with just that much information?

If you click on the Beyond Blood novel above it will take you to more information about my Beyond books. No floods or tornadoes, but there is a scary scene in a lake, both above and under water in Beyond Blood, and a hair-raising car drive up a highway in the short story “No Breaks” from Beyond the Tripping Point. The idea for the short story came from something that happened to a friend and me, but the short story is not our story. The scary lake scene in Beyond Blood comes from a few pieces in my life – I can’t swim, being on a sailboat with a friend, her boyfriend and my son, and the swimmer (my friend), not me, falling into the lake. This latter wasn’t a traumatic scene (it was actually funny and yes my friend did get herself safely back onto her sailboat – and she was laughing all the way about it), but it does give you the idea of taking something you lived through and “spinning a yarn” from it.

Creative writing to all.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

 

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Writing critique group comes through

Beyond the Tripping Point Cover 72dpiI have posted before about writing critique groups and how they can help us writers. But it never hurts to add more on the subject because we writers write in a vacuum of me, myself and I. So we often think in opposites – our short story, or essay, or novel is brilliant or our writing piece is awful. Sometimes we think with wisdom – we know something is just not working but we don’t know exactly what or if we do, we don’t know how to fix it. Enter a writing critique group.

As the organizer and facilitator of the East End Writers’ Group in Toronto, I don’t always bring a piece for critique to our almost monthly meetings There is only so much time for a limited number of authors to read and get their work critiqued, so  If I did bring something to each gathering, other members might think “oh, she runs the group, so she can do this.”  This isn’t true as I find we are all helping each other whether we bring in something or not. And we are polite as well as giving constructive criticism. Nobody should feel their work is really bad.Each of us has our own individual writing experience and knowledge which we can put into the critique – even if we don’t write in the genre of the writing work being critiqued.

So, last evening I brought in the first five pages of a humorous mystery short story for critique. And I learned a few things. One author who also writes short stories wanted to know the age of the two main characters. The ironic thing here (and I got it and mentioned it) is I am always suggesting he do the same in his stories. Somebody else misread the ages of these two characters and it was from what she read and also what wasn’t there for her to read. She asked me how old the two characters were and when I told her, she said they were much too young as women at that age nowadays would be more technical savvy. She said that one sounded like she was retired. After I explained that the “retired” one was currently unemployed and she was the one not technically smart, but the other one  was and that the latter was in the story, I realized that I needed to include some ages, fix the bugaboo I had in with the technological luddite, and mention she is currently unemployed. She should be early 50s and her friend 15 years younger. The latter would work, not only because she has an elderly mother who figures in the story, but my son is late 30s and is very tech savvy – in fact his work is with computers, software and architecture and the like. And he is my computer expert who helps me with my computers.

So you can see how a writer’s tunnel vision can work, or not work. I didn’t even consider including the characters’ ages. As one of the others said, and I paraphrase. You see in your mind how your story is going and presume everyone else knows as much as you do.

Wise words, and something for us writers to consider.

Do you belong to a writers’ critique group – in person or online? If so, how has the group helped you?

Cheers.

Sharon

And if you want a looksee at my collection of published short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, just click on its icon at the top.

 

 

 

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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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Writing fiction from anger

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection. Click on it for publisher's website

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection.

Do you get angry at the crap that happens in your life? Some stupid motorist running a red light nearly hitting you when you cross the street? You or a family member keep getting sick or suffer a serious injury? You get a lot of “junk” phone calls and/or emails? Some utility has messed up your bill? Your garbage isn’t being picked up but all your neighbours’ garbage is? And customer service for the latter two is rude and unhelpful. You get the picture. You feel a swirl of emotions and often anger is at the core. Maybe you even want to kill the person causing the problem – or making it worse.

Don’t do that.Instead  write about it. I don’t mean a play-by-play of your situation – but fictionalize it. One way to do this that can work very well is writing a noir satirical short story.

I do that all the time. Many of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point are based on something bad that happened to me or someone else or something that really makes me see red, purple, and blue. Examples from BTTP include The Couch, For the Love of Wills, and No Breaks.

Currently I am writing a short story about something I have been (and still am) inundated with – telemarketers. Usually I ignore them or pick up the phone, get sarcastic and tell them off, then bang the phone down. But many of these telemarketing calls are also scams and are computer-generated, so you get a recording – which if you don’t pick up the phone will actually go to your voice mail.

So, I’m writing about telemarketers and two women’s revenge of one telemarketing company. But as I write mysteries, it is not that straight-forward. The characters are not me or anyone in particular in my life. However, I have used one tactic that I did in No Breaks – two female friends, but not the same two friends. And I make it humorous, quirky and yes sarcastic. Does the telemarketer get just desserts? I’m not telling – that will come out whenever the story gets published.

To get started on that you need to develop your quirky characters. One or both are victims of the problem and one is usually not so smart or sophisticated as the other. It works better to tell your story from the point of view of the victim who isn’t as savvy as the other one. And you need a villain or two – and if writing a mystery you need some red herring type of villains. Depending on your story you might need a police officer. In my telemarketing story I do have a police detective Larry Hutchinson, who made his first appearance in “For the Love of Wills” in Beyond the Tripping Point.

You also have to develop a plot – based on your characters and their situation.

As regular readers of this blog know from previous posts, I am a seat-of-your-pants plotter. I take my characters, my idea, figure out a few plot developments and then run with it. I let the characters (particularly the POV one) take over, along with what happened to me in real life – which is also in my mind.

I also keep focusing on how much fun I am having with the bad guys getting their come-uppance.

Of course, the plot isn’t that straightforward – like real life it gets messy and goes on tangents. But in the end if the baddies get their come-uppance, that is good. Because in real life that often doesn’t happen.

As an old boyfriend once said, “Life is not fair.”

That’s why we have fiction – to at least right some of these wrongs.

And as usual,if you click on the book cover at the top of this post, you can link to more info about it and Beyond Blood.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Beyond Blood characters celebrate Christmas

Dana Bowman digging in her bag for Christmas presents?

Dana Bowman digging in her bag for Christmas presents?

Christmas is near and fraternal twins and private investigators Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, along with Dana’s seven-year old son David are gearing up for the big C – Christmas. But as we all know and have experienced, Christmas doesn’t usually go as planned.

Scene: Christmas Eve in the Bowman/Overture household.

Dana; Okay, David that’s enough peeking under the tree. Bedtime.

David: Aw, Mommy…

Dana: Come on, upstairs to bed so Santa can come down the chimney and surprise you with toys.

David: I want to surprise him and say “hello” and “thank you” when he arrives.

Bast comes into the living room: And help him eat the cookies too.
David: No, Uncle Bast. Well, maybe if he can’t eat them all. He is kind of fat you know.

David moves over to the mantle, gets down on his hands and knees and peers up the chimney.

Dana: David, what are you doing?

David: Checking to see if Santa can make it down the chimney or get stuck.

Dana: Really, David. That is part of the magic of Christmas.- Santa can always get in but you have to go to bed first or he won’t come.

David: But Mommy, I’m really worried he won’t be able to get down our chimney.

Dana, throws up her arms: David, he will get in.

Bast, goes over to David and crouches down to his level: Okay, David, looks like we’ll have to let you in on a little secret. If for some reason, and I’m just saying “if” Santa can’t make it down the chimney, we always leave the front door unlocked so he can come in that way.

Dana: Bast? Safety.

Bast: Shh.

David: Okay, Uncle Bast. Let’s unlock the door then?

Bast: Already done.

David: Can I just check? It might be stuck.

Bast looks at Dana and shrugs. Dana nods.

Bast: Okay, but then it’s up to bed with you. Promise.

David: I promise.

There is a knock on the door.

David jumps up: It’s Santa. He’s early.

All three rush to the door. Dana checks the small window.

Dana: Oh, no. And it is definitely not Santa. I guess we’ll have to let her in. Well, folks we have an extra Christmas guest, it seems.

Dana opens the door: Hello, Great Aunt Doris. I thought you would be spending Christmas with you nephew, Ron.

Doris: He seems to have plans, although he didn’t tell me what they are.

Bast: Well, I guess you better come in.

Doris: Hmm, still here, I see. I thought you would have moved out by now. This is the Bowman family home and should be Ron’s.

Dana: Now, Aunt Doris, you are quite welcome to spend Christmas with us but you have to be civil to us.

David: What’s civil?

Doris: Hello David, Merry Christmas. I guess we better do as your mother says and be nice to each other – that’s what civil means. After all it is Christmas.

Doris enters the house. Bast takes her coat and hat and puts them in the closet. Dana shrugs her shoulders and whispers: What else could I do.

David: Don’t lock the door. We leave it unlocked for Santa.

Doris: Young man, doesn’t Santa come down the chimney?

David: He’s fat and might get stuck.

Doris: Oh, I see. Good thinking, young man.

There is another knock at the door,

David: It’s Santa, this time.

David beats them all to the door and pulls it open. On the steps stands a young man in jeans, windbreaker and a toque. In his hand he holds a bunch of wrapped presents.

David: Daddy. You made it for Christmas.

Ron: Well, that is what you and I planned.

Dana groans. Bast sighs. Aunt Doris smiles and says, Merry Christmas. Now this family is all together for Christmas.

tree05

We will leave the Bowman/Overture family to celebrate Christmas, keeping in mind Dana and Ron are divorced. Ron has been an absent father. Aunt Doris doesn’t like Bast because he is gay. And Aunt Doris has a bad habit of not only landing on Dana’s doorstep uninvited, but she tends to stay and stay and stay.

If you want to read more about another of Aunt Doris’ never-ending visits amidst murder and other nasty deeds, you an read about it all in my latest Beyond mystery, the novel Beyond Blood. The link to info about that is on the book cover below.

And on behalf of Dana and the Beyond gang and me, too, I want to wish all of you a joyful and peaceful (as much as possible) holiday season however you spend it.

Just make sure Santa doesn’t get stuck in your chimney.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

 

 

 

 

 

 

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