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Category Archives: Credible Fiction Characters

Using Humour in Fiction

Mysteries, thrillers and horror fiction can be very grim. Some authors (including me) add a little humour to lighten the load a little. But there are a few things to consider if you want to use humour in your fiction. (Note: I’m using the Canadian spelling of  “humour” because I am Canadian).

First, a big  no-no:

Don’t have your character or characters crack a lot of jokes. This isn’t stand-up comedy or a comedy TV series. There could be one exception to this – if a trait of one of your characters is to tell jokes – bad or otherwise and it fits in with the plot and this character’s interaction with other characters. But use it sparingly or not at all. It is not the best technique.

Some techniques that can work:

Your main character is a klutz. Picture a klutzy private investigator or cop or? This can bring up several scenarios that can lighten your story. It can also provide some problems for your character in their investigation. For example, your PI is snooping outside a house where nobody is home at the moment. Or maybe he or she gets into the house to look around. Instead of the family dog barking at them or charging at them, why not have the kluzy PI trip over a sleeping cat and fall down a few stairs – or how about a whole menagerie of animals – maybe he or she collides with a snake that has gotten loose from its cage? And the PI is terrified of snakes.

Or give your PI or cop, what we call a character tag and use that to create some humour as the character does what he or shee normally do. In my Beyond books, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding stutters – not with work-related things, but with personal things that make him nervous – such as his attraction to PI Dana Bowman. He also suffers from migraines. In one scene in Beyond Blood, Fielding knocks on the door of the bedroom Dana had to sleep in overnight – not at her place as a murder and kidnapping took place there and her home is a crime scene,so Dana and her fraternal twin PI  Bast Overture are staying at a neighbour’s next door. Here’s a short excerpt from Beyond Blood with the encounter the next morning between Dana and Fielding.

Beyond Book No. 2

The pounding came from the bedroom door.

“M … M … Ms. Bowman,” Fielding said from outside the door.

Couldn’t the man give me a little privacy? I pushed the covers off and realized I was in a strange bed and still wore my party dress. Red for blood. Red. Cut it out, Dana.

“What the hell do you want, Fielding?”

“Are you d … d … decent?”

“What?” I scratched my head and yawned.

“Ms. Bowman. I need to talk to you.”

“So talk.”

“I h … h … have a ch … ch … change of clothes for you.”

“What?” I leaped out of bed, ran to the door and pulled it open.

Fielding leaned against the wall. His face resembled whitewash and red rivers flowed through his eyes. He held a plastic bag, which he slid over my way.

“Your ch … ch … change of clothes. C … Constable Nivens collected them.”

“Thanks.” I grabbed the bag. “You look like hell. No sleep?”

“Just a migraine. I get them all the time. It’ll pass.”

“Migraine. Here, come in and sit down on …” A quick glanced around the room showed an ironing board piled high with clothes standing beside a chest of drawers. A basket of clothing sat in the room’s only chair. “… on the bed.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t. Migraines are awful. My mother used to get them, but thankfully I don’t. She used to blow in a paper bag, to get rid of the pain, I mean. Maybe there’s one here.” I started rummaging in the dresser drawers.

“Ms. B … B … Bowman. It’s all right.”

“Here we are.” I shook a scarf from a Fashion Shoppe bag and shoved the bag at Fielding. He ignored it. “Put it over your face and blow.”

He stared at me, for once speechless, took a deep breath and sputtered.

“Take the damn bag and blow. And go and sit down. I don’t want to have to deal with a cop passing out in a bedroom.”

A little colour hit his face for a second. He staggered over to the bed, plunked down on the edge, leaned over and blew. I moved towards the doorway, stopped and swung around.

“Look, Fielding, I’m sorry. Guess we’re all a little edgy.” I sat on the bed beside him and touched his forehead. He flinched and pulled away. “Sorry. Do you want a glass of water?”

“W … w … wait. It’s the kid. I m … m … mean your son. I have a daughter.”

“I know. You told me earlier.”

“Well, I want you to know, Ms. Bowman.”

“Dana.”

“D … Dana, that I’ll do my best to get your son back safe and sound.”

“I know that, Fielding.”

“Don.”

“What?”

“M … my name is Don.”

“Okay, Don. Anyway, you have two private detectives in the house to help you out.”

“Now, listen here, Ms. Bowman. You let the police handle this. Your job is to answer your cell phone if it rings, so we know what the kidnappers want. Nothing else.” He pointed his forefinger under my nose. (Copyright Sharon A. Crawford, From Beyond Blood, Blue Denim Press, 2014).

As you can see,  there is enough for the reader to visualize – especially a burly cop blowing into a brown bag.  hey are in close quarters and both characters are uncomfortable. But it is only a moment before the two characters return to “business”. But what else does the encounter tell you about the characters and the story?

In my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, some of my stories are noir and satire, one in particular – The Body in the Trunk, which has an unusual take on two friends trying to move a body to… well, that would be giving it away. You have to read it to get it.

And that’s my last suggestion. Read published novels  containing humour in the genre you are writing in. Three authors who do it so well are:

Melodie Campbell with her Goddaughter  series. The Toronto Sun calls her “Canada’s Queen of Comedy”.

Steve Shrott (who also teaches humour writing) with his stand-alone mysteries. One features a dentist who is a part-time PI and another features an actor whose main roles have been dead bodies.

Janet Evanovitch and her  mysteries. Her bail bonds character, Stephanie Plum, is forever getting into scrapes, especially with the two fellows who like her.

See how these authors work their humour to fit their characters and their plots.

Happy reading, especially over the Christmas season.

Have a good holiday.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Can Point of View help Character Development?

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.

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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Beyond Faith has a Book Launch date

Sharon A. Crawford and Dana Bowman have an announcement to make:

Drum roll…

Book Launch for Beyond Faith is set up and here are the details so far.

Muskie and Murder

Book Launch for Beyond Faith by Sharon A. Crawford

and

Hunting Muskie by Michael Dyet

Presented by Blue Denim Press

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Location: Supermarket Restaurant & Bar,  268 Augusta (in Kensington Market), Toronto, Ontario.

More details as they come and more in a future post on Michael Dyet, the other author whose book is being launched the same day. For  now I’ll just say Michael writes literary fiction and I write crime fiction and that is an interesting mix. Meantime, check out Michael’s website.

Michael is known as The Metaphor Guy.

Sharon A. Crawford mugshot

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, and Dana Bowman here too.

Dana Bowman PI from Beyond Faith

 

 

 

 

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Beyond mystery serial Part 5 and Dana Bowman on Beyond Faith

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It’s coming. Beyond Faith, the third book in the Beyond mystery series, this October 2017. Dana Bowman, Private Investigator here. Yes I’m out from between the book covers. And we do have a book cover now. Sharon A. Crawford, the author has made her choice. Stay tuned for a sneak look – coming up soon in a post here. Meantime Sharon is frowning and standing here in front of all of us in this ongoing seat-of-your pants story.

 

Voice: I’m Sharon A. Crawford, the author of the Beyond books and I want to know why you Dana are pulling characters out of Beyond Faith.

Dana: I’m not. They are just appearing.

Sharon: No, they’re not. You’re doing it.

Dana: I am not. Look here, just whose story is this anyway?

Sharon: That’s what I’m wondering.

Dana: Well, you may have something to do with the Beyond mystery books but this online story is MY creation.

Sharon: Really?

Dana, pointing a finger: Yes, really.

Ms. Dugan: Hey, what about my brother and what about me and that…that hooded person on the floor over there?

Sharon, waving her right hand and arm around like a want: I can take care of that. Begone.

The figure disappears.

David: Hey, it’s magic. You are really a cool author.

Dana: David.

David: Aw Mom, so are you.

Ms. Dugan, frantically waving her arms: Hey, can I get your attention, please. What about my brother? What about my story?

Sharon: Well, what about i?. Dana, you said you are writing this one. So, go through it. But no more characters from Beyond Faith.

Ms. Dugan: But I’m in it.

Sharon: You get a few brief mentions. So don’t exaggerate here. Now, I’m out of here…for now.

Sharon strides out of the agency office as Detective Sergeant Fielding walks in.

Fielding: Dana, I need to talk to you. We have been looking into this matter and some things don’t add up.

Dana: What do you mean?

Fielding: It seems there is some question about some of these characters.

Dana: What?

Fielding: Some of them don’t seem to exist. Can you explain that, Ms.Dugan?

TO BE CONTINUED…

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Like Dana says, Beyond Faith is coming. Meantime, there is Beyond Blood – the book before. If you haven’t read it yet, click on the book cover below to find out how.

The second Beyond book in the series

 

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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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