Category Archives: Novel writing
Research does show the benefit of what they call “nostalagia”. See The Psychological
You may have written your story with a three-dimensional character. The reader is enthralled with your narration – the character’s background, what they think and what they do. Then your character opens his or her mouth and speaks.
The character, is a 20-something immigrant to say Canada, Great Britain and English is his second language. But he is trying and when he masters English better he will be bilingual. But now he is speaking like a professor of English Literature. What’s wrong with this?
Or your character, a seven-year old boy speaks like he is 27 or older. He has average IQ for his age and your description of him includes a reference to that. Even if you hint at that the normalcy of his life will soon change with events, he is still a seven-year old boy.
Fiction characters’ dialogue must be realistic to their age and life situation.
The first situation was something unpublished I read. My take on that was to have the character speak in some-what broken English in parts, keeping in mind he is learning to speak English. So you would cut out all the “a’s:” and “the’s” as many people learning English as a second language do this. For example instead of saying “The car won’t run,” you say “Car not running.” That also covers another area. When learning English, the person does not use contractions. I also would interject this phrase or something similar a few times during the person’s conversation “How do you say it?…”
The seven-year old boy who sounds like he is 20 years older is from one of my Beyond mystery novels – Beyond Faith. David, PI Dana Bowman’s seven-year old son, David may have been kidnapped, but coming back from that doesn’t make him act older. He may do some things he wouldn’t otherwise do, but in keeping with his age as well as his experience. My publisher picked this one out in one of my rewrites before the book was published. I had David traumatized by his kidnapping in Beyond Blood which had him doing things like drawing demons.But he doesn’t go out and investigate what is happening in BF. He does become tuned-in to what is happening (what he comes up against), but in my changes in the rewrite I had him use his fear to show how he reacted. He had become protective of his mother and so he kept things to himself, even when he and Dana were in a session at the therapist’s. And to show he is still a boy, I have him mix up the meaning of words he overhears. In this scene he and Dana have had an argument about an incident when Joanna, the babysitter took David and Buddy (the dog) for a walk. Joanna went into a drugstore, telling David to stay outside. During that time one of the murder suspects shows up; David is frightened, lets go of the leash, Buddy goes after her. David runs after Buddy, and things happen and almost happen. Back home Dana is furious at Joanna for leaving David alone and at David. Here’s the argument. It is from David’s point of view.
“Go to your room, David. I don’t want to talk to you now,” Mommy said. “And you too, Buddy. You’re as much to blame as David.”
As he headed towards the stairs he heard Mommy yelling at Joanna for leaving David outside the drugstore. Joanna was crying and saying she thought he would be okay with Buddy and she couldn’t bring him in when she had to buy those famine products.
“What are famine products?”
“David, upstairs,” Mommy shouted at him.
(From Beyond Faith by Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press, 2017, copyright 2017 Sharon A, Crawford).
Notice, Dana is called “Mommy” with David’s point of view. Often when he addresses her he says “Mommy, Mommy…”
So how can authors have their characters talk like well, the characters they are:
1. Get inside their head.
2. Listen to characters around the same age and life situation as your character. I knew a writer who at age 30 was writing a book about and for teens. She figured she was too old to remember how teens spoke, so she sat in a park where teens congregated and eavesdropped. This was before Smart phones. You can probably come up with other ways to listen in. If family dynamics and your main character is a mother – go to a grocery store and watch for moms with kids. You can get great insight on parenting and how their kids act in grocery stores.
3. If you do character profiles or descriptions before you start writing, add some dialogue.
4. When you have some dialogue written, read it out loud, or better still, record it and play it back. Does it sound realistic?
5. And read novels with diverse characters of all ages and situations.
These are just a few ways to get your characters speaking in character. But it will get you started thinking.
Sharon A. Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery books.
You may be writing fiction, but you still need to do some research. Sure, you can make up your story, your characters – and you better be doing the latter – but some things such as a place, a date, a real life event will pop up that you need to check out, even if you are writing science fiction. And if you are writing anything – sci-fi or other – and there are police in it, you will need to do research. Ditto for any other career involved even if you have worked in it.
Then there are stories set in countries other than the one you live in – or oven another part of the country you live in. Peter Robinson, who writes the Inspector (now Superintendent, I believe) Banks mystery series sets his novels in Yorkshire, England. Peter has been living in Canada for many, many years, but he makes regular trips back to Yorkshire.
And if you are writing historical novels – romance or mystery, or any novel set in the past, you need to do some research. My Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are set in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Computers, the Internet, etc. were quite a bit different then. If you set your story in the late 1990s you can’t have people running around with smart phones. Yes, there was email and Internet then, but on computers.. My twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture do have cell phones, but the type that flipped open and closed and no email or text on them, although text was just coming in across the pond in Europe. But not in Toronto, Ontario and north of Toronto.
Even though I didn’t have a cell phone then, a real estate agent/friend of mine did. So I could go back to what I remember about that phone, which I did use a few times. Not enough though, so I did a lot of research on cell phones from the past, what they looked like, their size (fortunately in the late 1990s they weren’t still the big clunkers from four or five years earlier). I was able to do enough research for that on the Internet. But not all research on the Internet is sufficient. Sometimes you have to get off your laptop, off the Internet and off your butt, off your smart phone, and get out there and do other research.
There is the obvious one with police and I’ll go into that in another post. Today, I want to talk about one of my in-your-face type of research – not exactly interviewing someone – which I did a lot of when I was a journalist (and some was via phone and email). No, something else I used to do for research for a story was to get out their and “absorb the scene”.
One of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point is set in present day Toronto. There is an alley in the story, so I re-visited the alley behind a street of row houses where relatives used to live many years before present day. I walked up the street in front of the houses to see what they looked like today and then I went around the corner and into the alley behind and started walking there. I visualized the scene in the story (Missing in Action) and decided this alley fit the story. So when I wrote that scene this was the alley I was thinking about. Yet I didn’t pinpoint where it was in Toronto in the story.
In the story “Unfinished Business” I have the main character revisiting her childhood home area in Toronto with her 12-year old daughter because the daughter insisted. Something really bad happened to the mother when she was around the daughter’s age and she had only been back once just for a ride-through with a friend and she ducked down in the car so she wouldn’t see the place. When she came with her daughter, I envisioned where I grew up and had her drive in past buildings and on roads there up to the house (but I changed the street names). However, the whole street was in my mind as I wrote it as were most of the changes outside the house like for my house – except the rickety old garage at the back of the driveway. It had been replaced just before I moved back to Toronto in 1998, but I left it in my story, because it was crucial to the story. The people in the story and the bad thing that happened to my character didn’t happen in my life. (I had other things that happened instead). And for the record, I have a son, not a daughter. And also for the record, I took many walks along that street and even talked to the current owners before I wrote my story. Unlike my story’s main character, I don’t drive.
And how the latter happened is the “fault” of a couple of cousins visiting from Michigan, well, one of them. Here’s how that went.
My cousins, G and K and I were driving downtown from my place to meet my son for dinner. As we drove past the street where I grew up, big mouth me mentioned this. G turned onto my street, stopped outside the house (big mouth me again telling him which one). A man in his mid-fifties was hauling a golf set from the trunk of his car. G rolled down the window and shouted out “My cousin used to live here.” So the three of us had to get out and we got into a conversation with the man and his wife. Turns out they (particularly her) are interested in the house’s history and the street’s history too. And the garage came into the conversation. The wife asked me if the original garage was so far back and I said “no.” Some more comparisons of outside were made and I learned some of the history of the property from after I moved. And I saw more inside when a few months later (I had their permission to call to make an appointment for this) I visited the couple inside the house.
Unfinished Business did not take place inside the house, but it did have scenes on the street, in the driveway and the old rickety garage.
So research is not all boring and you can get some physical exercise doing it. Just remember to go beyond the Internet.
Sharon A Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery series.
No matter what genre of fiction your write – mystery, romance, science fiction or if you writer literary fiction – your characters are very important to your story and to your readers. Readers want to get to know your characters so they can connect to them – whether they like or dislike them. If you just skim the surface of your characters they become too superficial and your readers just won’t care about them. They may even stop reading your short story or novel before getting to the end. This does not bode well for the fiction writer.
How can you make your readers connect to and care about your characters?
One way is getting inside their head. The best way I know how to do this is by using another fiction-writing technique – Point of View.
Point of View is often misused, especially if you use more than one POV in your novel. And using more then one POV is not wrong. You just have to remember the cardinal rule. One character’s POV per scene or per chapter. So stay only in that character’s head during that scene or chapter. Otherwise you are doing what we call in the business – “jumping heads”. Perhaps if you think of lice doing that it will give you some incentive not to jump heads.
How can POV help you see and develop your characters?
Basically,if you are inside that character’s head, you have to think like him or her – not like you would think for yourself. For example, how does he react when things go wrong ? What makes him scared and what does he do because of it? Is he shy? Is he a bully? Is he being bullied? Reactions include actions, dialogue, inner thoughts and how others react to him? And these will depend on the character. For example if the character is a child, the reactions will be different than an adult. But adults also react differently to situations and that is based on their background, their characteristics – physical (are they short and fat and subject to a lot of derogatory comments about that? Do they cringe, hide inside themselves, stand up for themselves or bully the attacker – maybe punch him in the nose?)
All depends on your character and yes, doing a detailed character outline of your character helps. Just remember like real-life people, characters change and evolve – often because of what goes on in their life. So your character outline is fluid.
How do your characters react to being insulted? Frightened? To trauma?
Let’s look at one of my main characters in Beyond Faith – seven-year-old David Bowman. He was kidnapped in the previous book, Beyond Blood, and is suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder because of it. This affects how he speaks, what he does,what he thinks and what others, especially close family, think of him.
The best way is to use the writing axiom of “show not tell.” So here are a couple of short excerpts from Beyond Faith (published Blue Denim Press, fall 2017). Please note all copyright of all excerpts, is with me, Sharon A. Crawford, the author.
First, his mother’s inner thoughts about him. The first chapter is from her – PI Dana Bowman’s POV. She is walking up Main Street dreading returning home. Two short excerpts here:
THE WIND WHIPPED my back and the cold rain pelted my face. Hunching further inside my jacket, I pulled the hood tighter. Despite chattering teeth and an oversized purse sliding down my sleeve, I continued plodding forward.
Late November in Thurston Ontario could weave a wicked wind, leaving you out of sorts and gasping for life, a feeling I had experienced a lot lately. Couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. Bast said it was because we would turn 40 the end of next month and to get over it. But that wasn’t it. Just when I seemed to find the proverbial hole, something always kept me from crawling in. But what was really stopping me?………
I should be happy. Not only did my son David survive his kidnapping last year, but this July he finally started talking again after months of silence. First he wouldn’t shut up, then he took to following Bast around again like he did when still mute. Since summer disappeared into autumn, when not at school, David was spending more time alone in his room—drawing. I didn’t like what erupted from his crayons—devils, fires with heads sticking out the top, hands wielding axes or guns. Where did he get all these ideas? Had he not healed from the kidnapping? Maybe the aftermath was like grief—going back and forth and all over the place in uneven stages……
What’s happening here? How does this clue the reader in on David’s character? And on his mother’s too? What do these short excerpts tell you about mother and son?
Let’s hear from David now in another scene. A little bit of info first. Partway through Beyond Faith, Dana is attacked from behind, falls to the cement and suffers a concussion. This is part of the scene a few hours later in the hospital from David’s POV.
“Uncle Bast, can we go see Mommy so the detective can find out who hurt her?”…..
Bast turned to the doctor. “Very well, if you don’t have any objection, Doctor? I would like to see my sister, too.”
Dr. Richards scratched his cheek. “She is sleeping now. She should get more rest, no excitement.”….The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. But just family. And just for a few minutes.”
He led them back to Mommy’s room. The cop sitting outside seemed to be asleep on the job. David went to him and shook him. “Wake up. You’re supposed to be watching Mommy’s room to keep the bad guys out.”
Constable Biggs looked up, but before he could say anything, Uncle Bast was leading David into the room, behind the doctor. The doctor said something to the nurse about giving them a few quiet minutes alone with the patient. The nurse stood up and she and the doctor left the room.
Bast sat down in the chair on one side of the bed. David moved his chair closer to Mommy on the other side. He sat down and took her hand. And started to talk about school, Ms. Dugan, and Buddy. He was there and he wasn’t going to leave her. If he did, he knew she would die……
What does this excerpt tell you about David? What techniques were used to show the reader David’s character? And as this is a child character, are his thoughts and language appropriate for a seven-year-old boy?
If you wish to find out more about the Beyond characters, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are available at amazon.com, amazon,ca, and other online places as well as some bricks and mortars stores.
But I am also suggesting you read a variety of novels (or short stories if that is your writing area) to see how a variety of other authors handle POV and character. Two caveats: unfortunately a small portion of published fiction messes up the POV – blame the editor here. And don’t copy what another author does – reading is for your learning and inspiration. In the end it’s your story and your characters.
Sharon A, Crawford
It was a dark and stormy night. All right, cliche setting. But perhaps it’s overuse and familiarity has a reason. Settings are important when writing fiction. You don’t live in a vacuum, do you? Neither do your characters and their stories. Even if your character has disappeared to a remote island, there is still a setting. Think ocean, sand, trees, wild animals, an anonymous presence, etc. Even if your character is in prison, there is still a setting – albeit one limited in space.
Settings influence your plot and your characters’ behaviour. Don’t believe me. What about the late Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries? Wolfe, a middle-aged PI, lives in a brownstone apartment in New York City. He seldom leaves his apartment and prefers to spend his time alone in his big orchid room, commiserating with his large collections of orchids. Yes, the plants, in a room of their own.. Not your typical use for a spare apartment room. Wolfe is a loner and an eccentric. When he wants to see clients or suspects, he orders his employee, side-kick Archie to get them in. Any legwork outside the brownstone is Archie’s responsibility. And that is where the reader sees and experiences the setting – a New York City a few decades ago.
So you can see how setting is part of the characters and plot. Sometimes setting can even be a character. Think The Perfect Storm, although here I am treferring to the movie. In fact if you want to see setting, watch the movies and TV shows and see the variety of settings presented. There are hospital series such as The Good Doctor and Chicago Med. So you feel like you are there in the hospital. Or a fire with some of the firefighters stuck inside it in Chicago Fire. You can tell what I like to watch. Even the overdone car chase scene has setting. If you can get your eyes off the cars for a few minutes and just see their surroundings. A car chase on Hawaii Five-O is much different than one through the slushy, snow-covered streets in wintry Chicago PD. And the setting for the car chase influences just how the chase might go.
Back to books. In my mystery novel Beyond Faith, late the last night in November 1999, PI Dana Bowman is walking from a reception party to a midnight meeting with a blackmailer at St. John’s Church. Basically, she is walking from the industrial area of a mid-sized town to its downtown. On the way, I blend in the warm for November night with a car that seems to be following Dana. I’m not going to tell you what happens with that; instead I’m going to quote some of what happens when Dana gets to the church.
No one else was about, which might make it easy to spot the blackmailer as he or she arrived—if he or she showed up. Even the area of St. John’s was barren of people, but about half a dozen cars were parked in the parking lot. Overflow from the Beaver and Cricket, no doubt. Not the church, which appeared dark, and after climbing the stairs, I found that the door was locked. Odd. But then the time was pushing closer to midnight and St. John’s probably was the church that had been robbed earlier this year.
I walked down to the cement seat surrounding the fountain, and began pacing to and from the seat. My digital showed as five minutes before midnight. More pacing and time checking did nothing except move time forward to 11.58. The blackmailer was pushing it close. A breeze brushed my face and I wished to be wearing the usual wardrobe of jeans, sweats and warm jacket. I also wished the blackmailer would hurry up and get here. Just as I started to put on my fake fur coat something snapped nearby. A tree branch? I jumped and dropped the coat on the ground. Get a grip, Dana. Clutching my bag, I moved away from the fountain seat and looked at the other side of the fountain. (from Beyond Faith, Copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press, 2017)
And no, I’m not going to tell you what comes next. You have to get the book for that. (Hint. Click on the book at the top of this post.)
But from the Nero Wolfe scene descriptions and from the above from Beyond Faith, something else is going on. We don’t just get a bland description of the setting. The characters are actually doing something in it and the plot moves forward.
Plot, characters, setting – all part of a novel and they are intertwined, connected.
Sharon A. Crawford
I wrote the original version of the below a few years back when I was Writer in Residence for the Toronto Branch of the Canadian Authors’ Association. With a few updates, which I have now made, it is still relevant for us authors. So here goes.
Plotting Your Way Through Your Story
We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. — Kurt Vonnegut, science fiction writer
Vonnegut describes the fiction writer perched at the computer. The writer is ready to roll with the plot. Sometimes he soars, but sometimes his wings get clipped.
Let’s look at some baddies in fiction plotting.
A literary magazine editor once scrawled on one of my short stories, “This is not a short story. This is an incident.”
A novel that I evaluated contained quirky characters. However, they solved everything too easily and their relationships, including the love relationship, had no problems.
In another novel, the author tried to carry most of the plot with dialogue. Dialogue is good for showing the reader rather than overdoing the narration. But you can overkill with dialogue too.
In another novel, the author had created a certain atmosphere from the setting and characters. Unfortunately, the plot resembled those 500-piece jigsaw puzzles that you finally toss out in a garage sale.
Kurt Vonneget describes plot as
I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away — even if it’s only a glass of water. … When you exclude plot, when you exclude anyone’s wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do. You can also exclude the reader by not telling him immediately where the story is taking place, and who the people are. … And you can put him to sleep by never having characters confront each other.
The characteristics of a good plot are:
A protagonist or main character with a conflict to resolve. The characters drive the plot. Let them struggle to get there. Life may be a bowl of cherries, but the characters need to experience the pits.
The plot moves forward, usually chronologically, although some flashbacks can work. If you get lost, use Doug Lawson’s rule, i.e., figuring out where the characters would rather not go.
Events must be connected, not random and they must link from one event to another with some purpose.
The plot must be believable, whether commercial or literary fiction. Your story line may seem unbelievable, but you make it believable by suspending the reader’s disbelief. Think “X Files.”
Their must be a climax, whether it’s a moral one in the protagonist’s mind or the opposite extreme, such as a sword fight. Think protagonist and antagonist together at the edge of a cliff – for an analogy.
The plot must have some resolution in the end. With series mystery novels, something, perhaps in the main characters’ personal lives, is often left hanging for the next novel. But the main plot must be resolved or you cheat the reader.
And the usual, if you click on the Beyond Faith book cover at the beginning, you go to a link with more info including a bit about its twisted plot.
Sharon A. Crawford
I’m a writer as rarely as possible, when forced by an idea too lovely to let die unwritten.
– Richard Bach
Our story ideas may not be as esoteric as Richard Bach’s – he wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Where can we get story ideas and when we get them, what do we do with them?
Story ideas often pop into our heads when we are busy doing something else or more likely when our mind hits a lull. Or we are reading an article in the daily newspaper or the classifieds (online or in print) and our right brain, the creative side, suddenly wakes up. A conversation overheard on a bus, especially those cell-phone monologues, conversations overheard in restaurants can suggest several story ideas, often of the criminal intent. Brochures on community groups, art shows, and even the supermarket flyers can inspire. Take the old (former) Dominion supermarket slogan, “We’re fresh obsessed,” and try to look at a story angle that is fresh. Taking a shower or bath is also guaranteed to fill you with more than water. The Internet is full of potential story ideas. Don’t underestimate the power of dreams. Drugs and alcohol are not recommended as you will see from the following example.
Late one night a photographer friend once thought he had a brilliant idea. He scribbled it down on a piece of paper before he crashed for the night. When he woke the next morning, he looked at the paper. On it he had written, “I am very drunk.”
Another moral from this story is look at photographs. A picture is worth a thousand words, but before the words come the ideas.
What do you do when an idea hits? Grab it before it disappears into the nether area of your mind. Write it down. Keep a notebook (electronic or paper) handy. If you think faster than you type or scrawl, use a recorder for dictating your ideas. If the source is the Internet, bookmark it under the heading “Story ideas.”
Then let the idea rest for at least a few days. The idea will simmer in your subconscious and when you sit down at your computer, the act of starting to write will draw out these ideas. On rare occasions, a simmering story suddenly bubbles and you are compelled to write it right now. Do so – if you don’t you might not only lose the momentum, but the idea as well. Nothing, except maybe a blank screen, is worse than an idea gone stale because it was left in storage beyond its best date.
Follow the advice of Martin Woods, who said,
“Write great ideas down as soon…”
Sharon A. Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery novels – whose ideas came from all of the above.
And if you click on the Beyond Faith cover icon at the top, it will take you to the one of the online places the novel is available – as well as more details about the novel itself.
When you are overstuffed with turkey and Christmas cake; when you have had it with family cheer; when you are…well…bored with all the Christmas songs, sales, and noises, just write.
Shut yourself in your room, the rec room, your office – somewhere away from everybody, and start writing that short story, that novella, that novel, that personal essay, that memoir, that poem, that play, that… Well, you get the idea.
And speaking of ideas, maybe you have a story idea – plot or characters or both running around in your head, but you just haven’t had the time to do anything with it because you have been buried in Christmas paraphernalia. Once the hoopla of Christmas is over with and before you get into New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and all those new resolutions, get a head start.
That last paragraph describes me. Instead of visions of sugarplums dancing through my head, the next Beyond mystery novel is swirling around. I have an idea for a plot premise and new characters (and old ones, too this is a series, after all). Each time I think of it, more ideas run through my mind. However, unlike my other Beyond books, I can’t seem to come up with a beginning – what to start with and where to start it. Considering the ending for Beyond Faith (and you’ll have to read it to find out. No spoilers here), it is no wonder this is happening.
So, I’m going to get at it between Christmas and New Year’s. Not even going to wait for Boxing Day to pass. I hate crowds so don’t do Boxing Day (or week) Sales. And while I’ll get some things online, clothes aren’t part of that. I have to try things on first. So during that time I will start by getting some of these ideas in a Word file and maybe even do a rough outline. Maybe even get at least an idea of the beginning. I know some of the remnants from Beyond Faith will require some research, so I might also do that.
Sounds ambitious? I’ll let you in on something.
Starting tomorrow, December 19, I’m taking two weeks holidays (staycation or is that stayvacation?) but the first few days will be spent finishing Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, and spending Christmas Day with my son and his girlfriend. I am also hoping to get together with a few friends outside of Christmas Day.
What I am not planning to do is working on client projects, volunteer work, and answering any related email. Strong emphasis on the latter. My days seem to include too much time replying to email that is not from friends and family. And one of my new year’s resolutions will be to have set times to do emails and if they don’t get done that day, they sit in the pending file. I mean, even my client work time was suffering because of dealing with emails.
Just as long as the email accounts are working – there has been a bit of some accounts not working in the past month.
I’ll let you know January 4, 2018 how it went, because this is my last author post here for 2017. I am still posting to my personal blog next week and the next – because that’s personal. In case you are interested in reading those posts, here is the link. Not too much about writing, except memoir writing, goes in there, but…. I will still post to Facebook (my main account) and my author Facebook page, and Goodreads. I better post to Goodreads. I am still updating the list of books I have read this year and doing book reviews for some of them. Finally got off to a good start a couple of weeks ago and then got side-lined by…you guessed it…email. Well, also shovelling snow.
Meantime, have a happy and health holiday. And write.
Oh, yes, if you click on the Beyond Faith book above, it will take you to one of the online places where it is available. There is a New Year’s Eve scene in it and PI Dana Bowman, the main character, isn’t spending that time making new year’s resolutions.
Sharon A. Crawford