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Category Archives: Crime Writing

Writing through complicated novel plots

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Sometimes novel plots can get away from you, especially if like me, you write mysteries or thrillers. Even doing an outline before starting to write won’t stop potential confusion for several reasons.

Characters, especially the main ones, have a habit of taking over the novel and that means directing the plot. Which can be a good thing, because it shows that your novel has life. But when, like me in my Beyond mystery series, you have more than one point of view  character, you not only have to deal with one rogue character, but sometimes two. Dana Bowman the main character in Beyond Blood is an outspoken willful PI with a mind of her own. Her fraternal twin brother, Bast Overture her partner in solving crime is a bit tamer. But he is a former crime reporter and the words “reporter” and “journalist’ send out flares of “digging up the dirt.”

So with two nosy-parkers on the loose (often working somewhat separately) and adding in some other characters such as police Detective-Sergeant Donald Fielding and Dana’s six or seven-year old son (age depending on which book), this author is often juggling a lot of plot development.

A disclaimer: I don’t do much of an outline beforehand. Sure, I have some idea of where I want the story to go, but I find if I do too much outline or summary I seem to automatically switch to write-the-novel mode and I’m off in that direction for then.

So, what do I do to try to keep the plot consistent and making some sense?

I do some flipping back and forth to check – maybe after the day’s writing session or perhaps just before I start writing the next time. Or as often happens a couple of niggling plot developments are in my mind and I need to sort them out. So I use the Word “Find” tool to go to these plot developments and from there do one or two things:

Make a note either in brackets in red in the paragraph or whole scene or with the Comment tool about what needs to be changed. I also keep separate files on some areas of plot development that come up and/or I want to put in. Not exactly an outline, but more of a description of what I’m trying to do…at that point. Until Dana and/or Bast step in.

When all else fails I just go in there and make the changes/corrections.

With two PIs I have to make sure they don’t overlap in what they do – unless they are actually doing some of their investigation together. When working alone, they have to keep each other informed of what they find or the reader could wonder “How did he know that?” And do it without long conversations between the two. Sometimes they leave each other phone messages or sometimes I use a couple of short narrative sentences, such as “Bast brought Dana up to speed.”

It gets even trickier in the current Beyond novel I’m rewriting when one of the twins suffers a concussion.

But, hey I like a challenge. It is one of the things that makes writing fiction interesting.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Click on the Beyond Blood book at the top to go to my amazon author profile and books.

To see what I’m up to with the Beyond books and characters check out the Gigs and Blog Tours page of this blog here

 

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Electronic mania versus telling a good story

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

We are bombarded with electronic devices in our daily lives and that includes TV shows. Sometimes the story gets lost in all the “bells and whistles.” But what about books? In particular novels set in present time? Should authors overwhelm the reader with smart phone usage, social media and the like?

A story in the May 2016  issue of The Walrus writes about this conundrum. Here writer Naben Ruthnum, discusses how some authors like best-selling author Joy Fielding skirt around it. While summarizing the story lines and acknowledging that the story is important, Ruthnum wonders how long this approach will be relevant in our digital/social media obsessed society?

Ruthnum writes “By ignoring the contemporary reality of instant communication, authors such as Fielding are preserving the nail-biting satisfactions of their art. But how much longer can these books provide escapism-seeking readers with relief given that their trick of withholding details is in direct conflict with our expectation that information always wants to be free?” (bolded part is mine).

That’s a big point with mystery novels – readers get temporary relief from a mad mad world and that includes overdoses of electronic media leading to overwhelm.

Yes, mystery novels do imitate reality. But the reality is what the story is about, the story’s setting and its characters. As in real life, not all people are digitally proficient; nor do they all immerse themselves in the whole digital/social media life-style. So, Fielding and other authors have to be true to that. And they are.

Personally, after all the over-abundance of bells and whistles on some TV shows set in present time (not futuristic and not fantasy), I prefer a somewhat toned-down digital presence in the novels I read (and write for that matter).

Many mystery novel authors handle this digital business very well. Marcia Muller’s PI Sharon McCone has a nephew who handles all this digital stuff so only what is necessary to the story is told. McCone gets to do what she does best – personal investigation while her nephew helps out on the digital end.

Mystery novel authors like Peter Robinson, acknowledge the digital aspect – his police officers have smart phones (they are called mobiles in England) but his main character Alan Banks doesn’t investigate by being glued to his smart phone or sitting in front of his computer (which some consider passe these days). He does what police should be doing – gets off his butt and interviews people, as well as following suspects in his car.

And yes, Robinson makes use of one current technology available to police in most cities world wide – CCTV- the police surveillance cameras on public city streets.

And I do the same in my Beyond books. Perhaps the short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point is the best example as stories in there take place in different time periods – 1965, 1980s, 1999 and present day. So for the first two – no technology-infested society. In 1999, where my fraternal twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture are introduced, technology is relevant to the time – so I have cell phones (that have antenna and fold closed), Polaroid cameras for “instant” photos, and dial-up Internet connection, but with email functions. (Note: in Canada DSL didn’t get going until late 1999 – after the four “twins” stories in BTTP. I should know. My computer techie son’s computer business at that time was testing one of the DSL’s in 1999 and in late fall1999, my son hooked up my computer o one of the first DSL’s provided. Dana uses a computer for basics such as email and leaves all the computer technology to her brother. So in my third Beyond book (which I’m still rewriting), which is set in November and December 1999, I have computers – desktop and laptop – using DSL. There are also onlinr forums involved which Bast accesses – but it is all part of the plot and the twins’ investigation of a case. And birth record searches (which is part of the novel’s plot) were not online then (I checked with Service Ontario on this one), so Bast has to go into the Ontario Government dept. office to do an in-person search.

My BTTP stories set in present time do use electronic realities such as CCTV and smart phones. In fact one story, the main character is obsessed with using her device but that is part of the plot. The plot, the story is never buried in electronic devices.

Which is what Peter Robinson and many other mystery novelists do. Use the current technology (or technology for the time period of your novel) as it applies to  your story. Don’t make the technology the story unless that is your plot.

A happy medium often works best. Besides, we mystery novel readers need a rest from the over-indulgence of digital on TV in other areas of our lives. And that’s one reason I like reading from my Kobo (I do still read print books). Not a lot of flashing digital nonsense. And the print size is bigger – better for my fading eyesight (left eye)

Our eyes and brains need this respite, this escape from too much digital.

What do you think?

And on another note, I will be part of a panel (along with Ali Cunliffe and Susan Viets) about Self-publishing from both authors and editors perspectives. Hosted by the Editors Association of Canada, the panel/seminar will be held in Toronto Tuesday, April 26, from 7.30 p.m. More information on my Gigs and Blogs page here and also on Editors Association of Canada website.

Cheers.

Sharon

Again click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books. At least we have this digital function today.

 

 

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Crime wave hits Gerrard Ashdale library March 24

Longshot of the Gerrard Ashdale library CWC presentation

Longshot of the Gerrard Ashdale library CWC presentation

At 6.30 p.m., March 24, 2016 an unusual crime wave hit the Gerrard Ashdale branch of the Toronto Public Library. Downstairs, the dead body outline was “drawn” with masking tape. Upstairs, “crime” was in progress – at least between the book covers, and expanding to the audience facing the five crime writers in the front.

For the next hour and a half, true crime writers Mark Eddy and Nate Hendley and crime fiction authors Lisa de Nikolits, Steve Shrott and Sharon A. Crawford (also moderating to keep the crime enthusiasts on track) discussed various aspects of crime writing and reading – from authors’ and readers’ view points.

Besides the why we write what we do (Lisa and I have social justice as our reasons and Mark Eddy, author of The Recent History of Terrorism in Canada 1963 -2013, wrote that book because Canadian literature didn’t have this history published). We also discussed where we get our ideas. For example, many of mine come from real life incidents such as a harrowing drive up Highway 11 to cottage country with a friend when her car brakes stopped working. I take the incident and fictionalize the characters and plot.

But one of the most interesting discussions was in answer to the question:

What is your take on novel or true crime endings, i.e., should you leave the reader hanging or have a resolution that ties up the book’s contents?

Some wanted a full resolution, but some were okay with a resolution for the main plot, but some of the issues with the characters could be left hanging, especially for series novels. Nate Hendley, who (among other true crime books) wrote Steven Truscott; Decades of Injustice about Steven Truscott (who was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape at age 14,in 1959), was pleased that he could put in his book that in 2007 the Ontario Court of Appeal declared Truscott acquitted of the rape and murder of Lynn Harper. That declaration was the result of Truscott himself filing an application for this in 2001. Justice moves slow. In fiction, that can happen faster.

The five of us authors in the hot seats also discussed unusual ways we promote our books. For example, Nate Hendley had copies of his Truscott book at a presentation of a play about Truscott in southwestern Ontario. I dress up as my main Beyond Blood character, Dana Bowman and do short skits where Dana disses me. See my website for where Dana will next appear.

Meantime, here’s another photo of the CWC gang up close at Gerrard Ashdale. Both photos were taken by the library branch’s head librarian, Gail Ferguson.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The CWC gang up close - Sharon, Steve Shrott, Nate Hendley, Lisa deNikolits, Mark Eddy

CWC gang up close – Sharon, Steve Shrott, Nate Hendley ,Lisa de Nikolits, Mark Eddy

 

 

 

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Crime Writers talk crime at Yorkville library tonight

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Crime can pay – at least between the book covers. Maybe not in big sales to make authors rich. But in authors connecting with each other and with readers.

That is set to happen this evening as four of us crime writers from Crime Writers of Canada – Rosemary Aubert, Robert J. Hoshowsky, Nate Hendley and me Sharon A Crawford will be talking about how we either create crime or tell it like it is. For the first time with me involved, there are two true crime reporters – Robert and Nate. Both write different aspects of true crime and both got into doing so in different ways.

On the fiction side, both Rosemary and I write series novels – hers is the award-winning Ellis Portal series. What’s interesting about Rosemary’s books is the first five were published by a large trade publisher, and at the beginning of this year she went with a small independent publisher.

I write the Beyond mystery series and am published by a small trade publisher – no awards yet, but I’m working on it.

Here are the details about the four of us and our presentation this evening.
Nate Hendley

Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based freelance writer and author of several books, primarily in the true-crime genre. Decades of Injustice, a hard-hitting look at the wrongful conviction case of Steven Truscott, is his latest book from a Canadian publisher. His website can be found at www.natehendley.com

 

Robert J. Hoshowsky

Robert J. Hoshowsky is the author of two True Crime books, including the Arthur Ellis-shortlisted The Last to Die: Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada and Unsolved: True Canadian Cold Cases, which inspired Macleans magazine to publish an entire special issue on famous murder cases. His extensive research on the last men executed in Canada has sparked an interest in the Lucas case, which is currently being investigated to determine if Lucas’ death sentence can be posthumously overturned, for the first time in Canadian history.

 

A former Researcher-Reporter at Macleans magazine, he has also contributed to top-rated television programs, including the Canadian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. His investigative work has been published in over 100 magazines and newspapers worldwide.

 

Much of Robert’s recent work can be found in Serial Killer Quarterly, where he has profiled such infamous murderers as Jeffrey Dahmer, Britain’s John Christie, Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, and Sheila Labarre.

 

Rosemary Aubert

Rosemary Aubert is the author of eighteen published books, the most recent being Don’t Forget You Love Me, the sixth in the acclaimed Ellis Portal mystery series, set in Toronto and featuring a formerly homeless judge and reluctant solver of murders. Rosemary is a popular teacher, presenter and mentor.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

 

Sharon A. Crawford, a former journalist, is a freelance memoir and fiction writer, writing consultant and instructor, and editor. Sharon is the author of the Beyond mystery series, the short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012), and her latest novel Beyond Blood (Blue Denim Press, Fall 2014). She teaches writing workshops for Toronto Library branches. She belongs to Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, The Toronto Heliconian Club and runs the East End Writers’ Group. Her hobbies: reading, walking and gardening act as catalysts for her next novel.

An Evening of Crime at the Yorkville Library

Thursday, Oct 22, 2015

6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Four Canadian crime writers read from their latest works: Rosemary Aubert, Sharon Crawford, Nate Hendley,and Robert J. Hoshowsky. Sharon Crawford will interview the panel and a question and answer period will follow.

No registration required.

Yorkville Library Branch (Program Room)
22 Yorkville Ave., Toronto, Ontario.

If you are in the area this evening, please drop in.

Meantime, I have to go over the questions I’m asking the panel and make sure I’m on the ball with my answers too.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Click on the Beyond Blood cover at the top to find out where copies are available

 

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On the book promo road again

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

The presentation at Woodbridge library last Thursday evening was another one of those magical evenings where readers and authors connect. So much so we could have gone long beyond the end time.

Rosemary McCracken, Nate Hendley and I did our separate mini-presentations, each ending with a short reading from one of our books. Nate sat between us “the thorn between the roses” is the way he put it. Maybe, but not the author, more for what he writes – true crime. Nate talked about how he started writing books and sort of “fell” into writing about criminals and now also those wrongly convicted like Steven Truscott. Nate also read an excerpt from Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice (Five River Publishing, 2012)

Rosemary talked about her mystery series featuring financial advisor Pat Tierney and the issues writers of book series have to face. She also discussed how writing contests have helped her get her stories (yes, she also writes short stories) published – something writers shouldn’t ignore. Rosemary read the beginning of her first Pat Tierney novel Safe Harbor (Imajin Books, 2012)

I talked about my series characters – but not from the writing a series viewpoint, but where some of them came from and the location and time period for the Beyond stories featuring the fraternal twin PIs Dana Bowman and Bast Overture and how both affect my research. I also covered a bit of the research I do and read the beginning Prologues from Beyond Blood.(Blue Denim Press, 2014)

And then we turned it over to the audience. Lots of questions – from research to journalism – I got the question on the latter to my surprise because I’m the former journalist and Nate and Rosemary continue working as freelance journalists. The questions turned into a real dialogue among authors and readers. Like we were chatting in a living room – well a somewhat large living room. Afterwards, some of the readers came up to the table to chat more with us and to buy a few books.

And some of us Crime Writers of Canada authors are going to do it again next Tuesday, Sept. 29, 6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m., this time at a library in Toronto’s west end – Runnymede branch. This time the authors are Rob Brunet, Karen Blake-Hall, Madeleine Callway and myself. No true crime, but three of us (Rob, Madeleine and I) all had our first novel published in the second half of last year. Karen writes sizzling suspense-romance. The presentation is free so if you are in the Toronto area, please come – exact address is 2178 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON. I’m not going to put the library link because as I found out in my other blog http://www.onlychildwrites.wordpress.com) posting on Tuesday, the link for that memoir writing workshop I was teaching Tuesday evening has now disappeared. Fair enough. The workshop is done and over with. So, for now you can check out my Gigs and Blog Tours page on this site (click on it at the top). Just remember the link to the Runnymede library blurb will probably disappear after Sept. 29.

And that reminds me – I better add October’s events to this  Gigs and Blog Tours page.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Click on the Beyond Blood cover at the top to find out where copies are available

 

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Crime Writing Trio off to York Region again

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

The crime-writing trio of Rosemary McCracken, Nate Hendley and myself Sharon A. Crawford are off to yet another library in York Region. In this irregularly scheduled book tour of various York Region libraries, this evening we will hit the Woodbridge Library at 150 Woodbridge Ave. in where else – Woodbridge, Ontario. That’s just north of Toronto. Here’s the blurb about our presentation.

Crime Writers of Canada authors – Nate Hendley, Rosemary McCracken and Sharon A. Crawford have another run-in with crime (between the book covers) coming in September. It is all part of an irregularly scheduled tour of York Region library branches. The “crime” trio will be talking about their books and writing, answering questions from the audience and reading. Nate Hendley writes true crime, Rosemary McCracken writes the Pat Tierney mystery series, and Sharon A. Crawford writes the Beyond mystery series.

I find it interesting doing any crime writing presentation and reading – whatever format we use. This evening one of the librarians will introduce us and we will talk individually about some aspect of our writing. As Rosemary and I both write series mystery fiction, we try to talk about something different in crime writing (besides our book series and character and plots being different). Rosemary will talk about how writers handle writing a series and how writing contests helped market her short stories. I’m focusing on where my characters and plots come from and what, how and why I do the necessary research. Nate writes true crime so that is a whole different perspective,

Rosemary is driving us there and we plan to arrive a bit before the whole presentation starts at 6.30 p.m., going to around 8 p.m. We will have copies of our books, so if you are in the area (I know not all reading this post are), please drop in. It is free and promises to be entertaining.

Our photos and links to our websites/blogs appear below.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Rosemary McCracken author of Safe Harbor and Black Water mystery novels

Rosemary McCracken author of Safe Harbor and Black Water mystery novels

https://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/

 

Nate Hendley true crime writer

Nate Hendley true crime writer

http://www.natehendley.com/

Sharon A. Crawford reads from her Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford reads from her Beyond series http://www.samcraw.com

 

 

 

http://www.samcraw.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing an outline or not for your novel?

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Do you painstakingly outline your characters every move and every plot development in your novel before you write it? Or do you jump right in and write from your idea of plot and characters? With a series (like my Beyond Blood series) the second option is modified as you already have your main characters – they just need further development.

I do a little of both and by that I don’t mean outlining to the last detail what is going to happen. I start with an idea and some new characters and start to type in an outline. But something happens as I do this. The darn story wants to be told so I involuntarily switch to writing mode.

Not that I’m through doing outlines. Far from it. I have had to stop and think between writings what could happen next. I say “could” because characters and situations change (like people in real life situations). And being anal and sticking to the original plan is often not in the best interest of the novel. This is creative writing – fiction.

Because a few things happen when you are in creative writing land. You get better ideas and characters like to take over. Listen to them. Some original plot ideas may not work out. Some characters need fleshing out and/or need to be connected to the story more, particularly what I call the “guest characters” as opposed to the series regulars.

I tend to write complicated plots and am constantly going up and down the screen to fix inconsistencies. I do have a list of inconsistencies and also a list of what I call “Balls being juggled in the plot.” The latter refers to what evolves as I write, but they must be worked out in the story telling. Let no story thread be left well, unthreaded.

One thing readers hate is if some plot development is left hanging at the end of the novel. I’m not referring to continuation of series characters’ private lives – for example relationships that have formed in the novel and may continue in your next novel. If Alice and Joseph start dating in your novel, you don’t have to marry them off at the end of the novel. Leave that open-ended one way or the other as anything can happen in the next novel. But if you have a subplot that is a red herring (part of the criteria for mystery novels), you better resolve that one.

So I ask you again – how do you write – from an outline or by the seat of your pants?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Click on the Beyond Blood cover at the top to find out where copies are available.

 

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