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Category Archives: Novel writing

Show not tell in fiction

The second beyond book.

How many times have you read (or written) a scene in a novel or short story that reads something like this?

John decided to tell Mary off and do it loudly.

“Mary, you are a disgrace to the club,” John yelled.

What’s wrong here?

It not only tells the reader what John is going to do,but then puts the same thing in dialogue.I call this overkill and is an insult to the reader’s intelligence. It is equivalent to hitting them on the head and slapping them in the face. Show, not tell the reader works better.

So, what can you do here? Delete the narrative where it tells what John plans to do and go right to the dialogue. Of course this is taken out of context (NOTE: not anything in particular – just off the top of my head  – before said head was hit, of course).

Besides the dialogue you can show John in action. Does he point a finger at Mary. Does he throw a book? Does his face contort into a red mass of fury? You can also show how John feels about doing this. Maybe he is scared to stand up to Mary as he may be on the shy side and Mary is a forceful person. So maybe his yelling and actions show this.

Having said all this, it is okay to have some narrative which can include telling your story, showing what characters are like and what your Point of View character feels and thinks.

Just don’t tell when you can show. And never do both around dialogue.. Readers don’t like being insulted.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The next book in Sharon A. Crawford’s Beyond mystery series, Beyond Faith (published by Blue Denim Press will be out this fall 2017. Meantime, click on the Beyond book at the top of this post and get more info about Sharon and her Beyond books.

 

 

 

 

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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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Let it rain – between your book covers

I hate heavy rain, especially large amounts, especially mixed with strong winds. Which we are getting today in Toronto,Canada. So, what am I doing about it? Besides staying in and checking the basement for any water getting in?

I put the rain in my third Beyond mystery book. Not the rain coming down right now. In one scene I have my main character, PI Dana Bowman, walking through a rain – heavy with blowing winds. Unlike me, Dana drives, but she has been somewhere near home so left the car in the driveway before the rain started. Now she is walking home, but the rain and what it brings – including the kickstart to the novel’s story- begin happening as she struggles through the rain.

In a nutshell, I took a re-occurring scenario in my life, a scenario I don’t like – and fictionalized it.

You can do that, too, but there are caveats.

  1. If your story occurs in another time – an that means not today – make sure you are accurate in presenting your story.. My novel takes place in late fall 1999 in a fictional town called Thurston, Ontario. Thurston is loosely based on Aurora and Newmarket in York Region, Aurora is where I lived for 23 years – although I got out of Dodge in 1998. Rain storms today are not the rain storms of 1999. In Canada and the United States we get way too many and in some cases they are of possible flood proportions. The winds now are stronger and more frequent. So I researched Environment Canada’s historical weather information for the lower half of York Region in  November 1999, right down to the day.
  2. You may think your memory of your situation is clear in your mind to the point where you are right there, but it might be a good idea to list its components – with the rain again – were there many puddles?   Did the wind turn your umbrella inside out? Was it daylight, dusk or night? What exactly from this scene do you want to use – its essence or something specific?
  3. Remember, the scene must have something to do with you story’s plot. Don’t just put in heavy rainstorms because you like or hate them and find them cool. Maybe your main character is chasing someone in the rain. Does he or she slip or fall? What is going on around her? I work in the cars splashing by and what Main Street, Thurston is like during a rain storm. But it is all part of the plot.
  4. When you get down to actually writing that scene in your story, keep writing and don’t stop. Hopefully you’ve done any research and have some idea how you want to morph it into part of your story. When you go through it to rewrite, you can check to see if it makes sense, if it is part of the plot.
  5. Make sure it doesn’t go off into a long expository tangent.Just work in some information with your plot.For example with the rain in my novel, I show the reader how heavy the rain is by how it affects Dana struggling to walk along Main Street and also the others she meets, including … well, that would be giving some of the plot away,

And don’t forget to enjoy, to get lost in the creativity of the writing. It can help get your mind off current problems – even if they include heavy rain. Speaking of which, it is time to check the basement again. And oh yeah, it was also our garbage pickup day today, so while we had a lull in the rain earlier, but not the heavy wind, I was continually running outside to right bins – mine and a few friends across the street. And of course, today was the day the city decided our street should have the new supposedly racoon-proof green bins for wet waste delivered. They may be racoon proof, but not extreme-weather proof. The bins were flying all over the place and mine came minus the scoop and instructions. I did grab the instruction paper as the wind blew it down the street. A very wet sheet, now drying on a kitchen chair.

But that’s for another story, another day. Dana Bowman wasn’t dealing with garbage bins.

How do you work reality into your fiction?

And as usual, click on the Beyond book icon at the top to find out more about the first two Beyond books.

Cheers.

Sharon A.. Crawford

Dana Bowman, looking for her umbrella before braving the elements?

 

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Three Author Snafus Editors find

I’m wearing my Editor’s hat today and the hat pin is keeping it firmly in place. There are several “concerns” (to put it gently) I come across when editing an author’s fiction manuscript. Today, I’ll highlight three of them with quick suggestions on how to avoid.

  1. Point of View does the lice movement, i.e., switches heads a lot. Sometimes this switch occurs many times within one scene and it is confusing for the reader. The scary part here is some of the POV switching occurs in published novels. Somebody was dozing at the wheel. Yes, you can have multiple points of view in a novel. Often, depending on the novel’s plot, multiple POV is very necessary. But the rule of thumb is to keep the same POV for the chapter, or a scene in the chapter. Get inside one character at a time. If it helps subhead the POV character’s name for the chapter or scene (you can remove that subhead later). Refer back to that subhead when you finish writing the scene’ or chapter’s draft.
  2. When detail becomes expository. This can happen with describing rooms, towns or history and when it gets out of hand can put the reader to sleep. Why? Because the prose is coming across as a lecture. Even putting it as dialogue doesn’t always help. Yes, put the character in the scene and if describing rooms or towns, beaches, etc. do it as the character goes into the room, etc. and what they see. If the room is untidy, maybe they trip over something. For history, keep it to a minimum – what actually is connected to the story’s plot – not the area’s whole history from BC. Yes, use some dialogue, but keep it short and have the characters do something while talking, have other characters ask the history teller questions or make comments. And have the conversation interrupted with something else happening. For example, if they are in a car, maybe the car blows a tire; maybe they are being followed (but watch the POV here); and maybe there is a sudden storm.
  3. Weird formatting in Word. I’m talking beyond what a copy editor would do – such as changing paragraphing to traditional style for submission to publisher. I have had hard returns in manuscripts, extra space suddenly appearing at the bottom of the pages, backward quotation marks. And my favourite for “the author is in the doghouse” – submitting a manuscript for editing when the manuscript has already been formatted in Word’s book form. Huh? Keep it simple and basic. If you can’t do this, hire a Word professional to type up your manuscript. Oh yeah, handwritten manuscripts are never acceptable.

These are just a few of the “idiosyncrasies” I have received from authors expecting me to edit their manuscript.and I have received worse.

Okay, back to wearing my author’s hat.

And as usual, if you click on the Beyond book at the top, it will link to more information. Teaser: there may be some news of another Beyond book soon.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Same old same old to twisted plots

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4If I saw one more TV mystery where the cops found the dead body in the trunk, I was going to do more than scream. And I did. I wrote “The Body in the Trunk” (from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012). Instead of a body being found in the trunk the story deals with getting a body into a trunk and the why behind it. I also, as I often do with these stories, wrote it as a satire, in the noir black vein.

At one point I was also getting bored with reading mystery novels where the main character, a private investigator seemed to be continually broke. So, in “The Couch” I created a young (mid-20s)  private investigator who has too many clients. The story, also a satire noir black, deals with how the PI tries to downsize the clients – first using standard legit means, and when that doesn’t work, turning to crime. The payback is unexpected. “The Couch” was first published in an anthology, before being published in Beyond the Tripping Point.

So if you hit writer’s block on creating a new plot – take a twist on an old one, but one that is overused to the point of boredom.

And let your creativity loose.

You never know what will surface. It is just criminal. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that).

Cheers.

Sharon

And as usual, click on the book icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books.

 

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Snafus getting in the way of your writing?

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

The actual “final” rewrite of my latest Beyond mystery is coming along and I am enjoying doing it because I get more creative insights, can fix inconsistencies, check the research and am really tightening up the wordage.

However, I’ve hit a few outside snags that are interfering with my writing time. And they make me angry. So, I’m doing something about them.

One biggie comes under the heading “My health ate my life.” So far since 2017 arrived I’ve been and am faced with two separate unexpected molar extractions. The dental surgery for the second is the day before my publisher’s deadline. As he has given me two extensions already and for health reasons, I do not want to push my luck – it would also not be fair to the publisher.

To get the manuscript and its synopsis (the latter rewritten this week with the word count part left open so far) done in time, I’ve arbitrarily given me an earlier deadline before the publisher’s and before the dental surgery.

It has also forced me to do something I had started to do this  year. Get rid of a lot of the stuff I do that isn’t really important and put some of the others in “pending”.

So far I’ve cancelled me going to a meeting tonight, limited what I get involved in within my community. Important are my East End Writers’ Group and keeping track of a nearby Light Rail Transit line being built as that will affect me in many ways. I am also a member of a local garden club and go to some of their meetings but no volunteering there this year. A couple of other community things I’m interested in I signed petitions and will let the persons organizing them do all the work – just keep me informed. At this point I am also careful of how many social and pseud-social events I go to.

And I finally found someone to shovel my snow when we get bigger snowfalls.

The big take-away point here for writers – whatever you are writing or rewriting – is you can’t do everything, especially what others think you should be doing. Figure out what is important and don’t be afraid to say “no” and/or put some of that on hold. Prioritize. Make the word “no” a big word in your vocabulary even if you have to post it all around your house and on your devices – maybe create an electronic file with a big “NO” and click on it sporadically. You can figure something out.

What I have kept in is family. Last Saturday I was to take out my son and his girlfriend for his birthday dinner (which is actually tomorrow but he will be out of town in the US for a tour with his band – Beams). Martin was sick last weekend. I wanted to see him and at least get his birthday present to him before tomorrow – the present, although not connected to music, is something useful for travelling. So, we arranged for me to make a “flying visit” to his and his girlfriend’s place in another part of Toronto last evening – if you can call buses and subway “flying.” He was feeling better. Dinner will be rescheduled when he returns home.

I know this isn’t exactly about writing, but perhaps if those getting distracted from their writing from whatever, can see one person’s way to deal with the problem, maybe it will help.

How do you deal with writing distractions?

Comments please in the comment section.

Cheers.

Sharon

And as usual, click on the book icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books.

 

 

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Creating suspense in fiction

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

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

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

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

Here a few tips to create suspense in fiction:

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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