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Category Archives: Credible Fiction Characters

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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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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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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Using fictional characters’ inner thoughts for character development

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

We’ve all read fiction where the characters come across as superficial. I’m not referring to their traits (and superficiality may well be one of them). Instead, I’m referring to characters that don’t evoke a strong reaction from the reader, characters that  don’t connect in some way to the reader, characters that leave the reader thinking “Who cares?”. Chances are fiction with characters that the reader can’t seem to get into means that the writer doesn’t really know their characters. The writer didn’t get inside each haracter s’ head.

Getting inside your protagonist’s or antagonist’s head is key to understanding them and bringing them to life to your readers. Here’s a short excerpt from my novel Beyond Blood to illustrate this.

Chapter Twelve:

David:

He had woken up to cold and darkness. Beechnut. Where was Beechnut? He was lying on his back and tried to sit up but his arms were stuck in front of him and his feet were stuck together. Shadows seemed to come at him.

“Mom … mee,” David said. “Mom … mee. Where are you? Mom … mee, I’m scared.”

No answer. Where was he? Where were Mommy and Uncle Bast? Where was Debbie? They’d been reading Alice in Wonderland. Then he had gotten hungry and run downstairs to the kitchen with Debbie after him. It was a game they always played. When he’d heard a noise in the basement he’d run down there and seen one of Mommy’s friends playing the game, so he’d chased after … and then … he couldn’t remember. His head hurt and he felt a little sick. He tried to move his hands again, but couldn’t. They were still stuck together.

Where was he? His toes hurt. His teeth hurt and he was so cold.

“Mom … mee. Mom … mee.” Now he was yelling.

A door burst open and something thudded in.

Oh no, a monster. Coming after him.

“Mom … mee. Mom … mee. I’m scared.”

He heard a click and a bright light blinded his eyes.

“Pipe down,” a voice shouted at him from above, or was it beside him?

“Who are you? I want my mommy. I want Beechnut.”

Instead he felt something heavy and sticky cover his mouth. The bright light clicked off and footsteps receded to the doorway, and then he heard a door slam.

In darkness and alone, David began to cry, his sobs muffled by the tape over his mouth.(From Beyond Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press,2014).

It is probably obvious that David has been kidnapped and that he is a small child (he is six). Here the reader finds out how David feels about this from first discovering he is not at home and his Mommy is not around. The reader can feel for David, can feel his fear and despair.

Of course not all characters get kidnapped. Some fall in love; some are con artists, etc. The writer needs to convey all this to the reader and getting inside the character’s head is one way to do this.

There are other ways to develop characters. I will be teaching a workshop on Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction next Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the S. Walter Stewart library branch in Toronto, Canada. If you are in the area and want to attend, it is free. The library prefers you to register first (call 416-396-3975) , but you can just show up at 6.30 p.m. Workshop runs to 8 p.m. Here are the details about it.

Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learn how to show, not tell, to develop credible characters and make their dialogue sing. Uses excerpts from Beyond the Tripping Point and Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford to illustrate. Writing exercises and some writing critique.

Facebook Event

Location:
S. Walter Stewart Library Branch (auditorium)
170 Memorial Park Ave.
(Coxwell Ave. and Mortimer Ave. area)
Toronto, Ontario

Time:
6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

And if you are interested in reading more about developing characters but can’t make the workshop (for obvious reasons such as you live in another part of the world), you can click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top and that will take you to my publisher’s website where you can see my profile and where my books are available online and elsewhere. I didn’t do the usual link to Amazon because they have the incorrect price for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. It is not $94.36. I have contacted Amazon about this error so hopefully it will be corrected shortly.

It would be nice to get that much from a book, but who will buy it at that price? Somebody with big fingers on little keys maybe entered the amount?

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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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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