RSS

Category Archives: Novel writing

When in doubt kill the character off?

 

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series. Still alive.

In last week’s fall finale of The Blacklist, Tom, one of the major characters was killed off in a very brutal way. Those following the British series Inspector Banks were jolted in one episode where a major character DI Annie Cabbot was killed. Blue Bloods killed (off screen/between seasons) a minor, but important to the series character, Linda, Detective Danny Reagan’s wife.

Near the end of last season, NCIS Los Angeles killed off Michelle, the wife of NCIS Agent Sam. Michelle’s roll wasn’t even as a regular, but as a recurring guest. But in a twist, the actor who played Grainger – Miguel Ferrier – a regular –  died in real life. Instead of following suit, the writers and producers had Grainger quit NCIS and go off to some faraway place.

 

 

Perhaps the weirdest one is the actor who played the original Morse on the old Inspector Morse series. Yes, the producers had Morse die of a heart attack when they were killing the series. But not long after the segment aired, John Thaw, the actor who played Morse died  also, but from throat cancer.

Lately, TV series seem to be in a killing mood. Want to delete a character from the series. Kill him. Actors playing the characters want more money than the new contract will offer. Kill off their characters.

So what does this have to do with fiction characters in novels? Maybe something as some of those series originated from books.

To me, killing off a character just to get them out of the TV series, out of the novel series, or even just out of a novel is a poor way to do it.  If you are going to kill a character there must be a reason within the story itself, something with the character and his other relationship with another character or characters.  Even in murder mysteries, characters are bumped off for some reason – maybe they were going to reveal something bad about the murderer, maybe they stood in the way for the murderer to inherit money, maybe revenge and yes even the so-called random killing spree where the killer kills for no apparent reason. there is always some reason even if just in the killer’s mind.

If a character in your novel dies from natural causes,  it has to be worked into the plot. Let’s look at a scenario from Beyond Faith, my latest Beyond mystery. There are two brothers – Gerrard Olsen and Larry Olsen. Near the beginning one of them gets killed. Without giving any spoilers, I had to think which brother and why and of course, who killed the brother and what led up to the killer doing so. That doesn’t come out right at the beginning, but PI Dana Bowman and her fraternal twin brother PI Bast Overture, and Det. Sgt. Fielding are trying to find out. Like most of my mystery novels and short stories, it is not straightforward. It all rises from the characters – who they are – what they have gone through and are going through in life and would they cross that line to kill? That latter is very important for an author to consider. Some characters are such bad assess in what they do that killing is believable. Other bad ass characters commit a lot of crime and/or are mean and ill-treat the people in their lives, but draw the line at killing them. Then there is the so-called good character who is pushed beyond his limits to the point where they kill.

Iit really all boils down to the character and the plot – and the two go hand in hand and drive each other. If you want one of your novel’s major characters to exit the novel, killing them may not be the only answer. That often comes across as lazy writing. Tthat can happen in mystery novels too, although when you get to the end and the good guy confronts the bad guy (or gal – guys don’t have the monopoly on being bad asses), the author has to “get rid” of the bad guy, but shooting her dead is not always the best way. The author has to consider who the good guy/gal is and how she would deal with it. Would she arrest the bad one? Or shoot him? Torture him? Push him into the lake and let him either swim or drown? Having said that, sometimes the good guy (or gal) isn’t the trigger-happy person, but is forced into a situation where it is ether the bad guy’s life or his. Then he might have to shoot – but not always to kill. Be creative. Many authors are. They have killers disappear during one novel only to return in a later novel. Chances are with this type of scenario, the novel’s protagonist probably has had some kind of a relationship with the baddie – so he will have to deal with the before and after. Unless you are a sociopath, you will be scarred  by the death of someone close to you. You will have to grieve.

Back to Inspector Banks and the killing of Annie. That does not happen in the books by Peter Robinson the British series is based on. And to me that is a disrespect for the original author. True, TV series don’t follow the novels they come from and often go off the novel’s track, often for a good reason. They can’t get all the novel contents in a movie or limited TV program. And series have to expand beyond the novel’s plot.

Killing a character on TV or in a novel shouldn’t be done just to eliminate him. There has to be a reason – beyond the character just being bad or leaving the TV series. Haven’t these producers heard of just getting another actor to play the part? It was done years ago with the comedy series Bewitched when the actor playing the husband died. And it was done recently with the British series Jack Taylor. A different actress now plays the part of Kate. Both work.

What are your thoughts and ideas on killing off characters in books and TV. Do you kill of any of your fiction characters? Why or why not?

Comments, please.

Cheers.

Sharon.

Sharon’s latest Beyond mystery links to Amazon

 

 

 

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Keeping the suspense in your novel’s plot

As an editor I have read and edited a variety  of fiction manuscripts. The creativity of many of the  writers and the wide range of story lines is very interesting. But one thing (among others) I sometimes find is the lack of sufficient suspense. The story drags; the story, well, it flat lines. Here are a few tips on creating suspense in your novels.

1. Leave your reader hanging – at the end of the chapter is a good place because it not only raises the reader’s interest, it gets him or her reading the next chapter. Here is an example from my mystery novel Beyond Faith.

“From what Sister Olsen had told me about her brothers, I had some idea what might be bothering Eli. Too bad neither Eli Foster nor I had all the facts.”

2. Ask a question. You know the old saying “questions are the signs of intelligence.” Questions also make the reader want to continue to get some answers. These are questions in the narrative, the character’s inner thoughts, not in dialogue. Obviously in dialogue, another character will usually answer the question although they might lie.

Again from Beyond Faith, “Who were they? And why did one seem familiar?” (all Beyond Faith excerpts, copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press.)

3. Don’t tell all at once. Keep some information from the reader. I do a lot of this in Beyond Faith. The idea is you build up your plot with tidbits even if the character knows more than she is letting on. This is just the opposite from the example in point one above.

4. Use foreshadowing.This is often in conjunction with another technique. Again, see the example in point one above. Another example of foreshadowing is when the character is heading for an encounter they don’t relish. Perhaps with someone they don’t like and know is a nasty person. Build up the tension by getting inside the character’s head. How does the character feel? Scared? Are they sweating? Do they try to avoid meeting this character or delay the meeting by driving the long way to the meeting place. If it is in a restaurant, do they drink a lot, drop the cutlery, knock over a glass of water?

5. Or as a twist, the person is overly confident about meeting someone – a piece of cake, the character thinks. Then, wham, when they get to the meeting place, something happens – a car runs her down; someone takes a shot at her. She finds the person there all right at the meeting place – lying dead on the ground. You can tell I write mystery novels.

6. One suspense-building technique that I use is to have two main characters both heading for the same place at the same time – maybe one knows the other is there; maybe not. But one or both of them know that there is danger at the other end. Each one is racing to get there and perhaps save the other. You flip back and forth between the characters in separate scenes or short chapters. Show the reader what each character is thinking and what is happening to them. And don’t make it easy. In Beyond Faith I have PI Dana Bowman following Eli Foster in their respective cars; then I flip over to her fraternal twin, Pi Bast Overture who is not following anyone, but he has found out vital information about another character and figures out what this character is going to do so he is off to stop it. And no, I don’t tell all to the reader. And I’m not telling you any more here.

There are many more ways to create suspense. The twisted plot is one. And you can get ideas by reading published novels, the ones that do build suspense. Yes some crappy novels get published and I am not referring to self-published here.

And keep writing and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting.

And join a writing critique group for feedback.

And when you have rewritten a lot, hire an editor.

Then you can do some more rewriting.

I just started reading Hunting Muskie, a collection of literary short stories by Michael Robert Dyet (Blue Denim Press, fall 2017 – yes, same publisher as me). The first story “Slipstream”, has many plot threads popping up – all connected to a theme. And it keeps you reading. It also breaks the idea that some people have (mea culpa sometimes here) – that all literary stories don’t contain suspense.This one sure does have suspense.

Happy reading and happy writing.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Your Fiction Characters take over

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series

Fiction characters taking over writing your novel or short story is usually seen as a good sign that your characters are developing.

But where do you draw the line?

For the past couple of years I have been dressing  up as my main Beyond mystery novel character, Dana Bowman, and do short comedy skits at libraries, cafes, etc. In the past few months, when rewriting Beyond Faith for my publisher, Dana has been taking over. It is like I am channeling her.

This isn’t the first time that was picked up. A few months after the previous Beyond novel – Beyond Blood – was published, I was interviewed on the Liquid Lunch on thatchannel. com. Sandra, one of the interviewers said it was like i was channeling my characters. Hmm. Around about the time I started doing skits featuring Dana.

But now Dana is claiming to have written Beyond Faith? What? We have internal discussions about that. Right now I’m letting her think she co-authored Beyond Faith with me. Really, it is my name on the book cover, although she gets mentioned on the back cover – in the book synopsis.

Internal discussions may be the key word to some sort of sanity. Or if out loud in the privacy of your writing space, your office, your home. You don’t want to be like the pour soul on the subway last evening.

He was a young fellow in a hoodie carrying a backpack. Which could be a red flag. He was running back and forth to the different subway cars – something not allowed on the old subway cars with actual doors between cars. As he entered the cars he would look at someone and carry on a conversation about something that made no sense. Then he would dance around a bit, grab the bar overhead and start swinging. After a few minutes of this, he went into another subway car.

I suspect he was high on something. But what if he was in character? What if he is an author and he was letting his character speak? What if?

Probably not. But it could serve as a guideline of how far not to go with your character acting out. Public transit and public streets no. But if you are a scheduled author presenting at a library or conference, yes, be your character.

And in the privacy of your writing area, yes – if it helps you develop your character, develop  your plot.

There is a fine line between madness and sanity and I’m not sure where authors can safely cross the line.

As for Dana Bowman, I’ll still channel her; I’ll still carry on conversations with her. I will sometimes listen to her.

But I wish she would listen to me sometimes.

The bane of creating characters.

If  you want to see how Dana is invading my life, see the comparisons between the two of us posted on my website here.

And please comment to answer this question. Are your fiction characters taking over writing your plot? How do you feel about that? Is it a help or hindrance to your writing?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Here’s the cover of the latest  Beyond mystery novel. Click on the cover to see one of the places the book is available. And as you can see Dana Bowman’s name is not on the cover.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Introducing Beyond Faith – the cover at least

It’s here – Beyond Faith, the third book in the Beyond mystery series. Well, the cover is. Take a look.

 

And here is what true crime author Nate Hendley has to say about the book.

Beyond Faith offers secrets, lies and death with a connection to the Catholic Church, set in small-town and big-city Ontario. It’s a great story with a great pair of unlikely protagonists (a brother-sister pair of twin investigators), twists, surprises and Sharon Crawford’s distinctive tone and shining dialogue. Recommended for any detective-story fans yearning for Ontario-based tales.

– Nate Hendley, true-crime author (Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice and The Big Con)

And here’s what I, Dana Bowman, have to say about it

I am thrilled. It perfectly illustrates my book. It…Oh, oh, I hear Sharon A. Crawford coming. She thinks she wrote Beyond Faith, but I have a thing or two to tell her about that.

Voice of Sharon: Dana, what are you up to now?

Dana, shrugging her shoulders: Just publicizing Beyond Faith – that cover is very intriguing. And very apt for the book’s contents.

Voice of Sharon: Which I wrote.

Dana: Really?

Voice of Sharon: All right, Ms. Dana Bowman private investigator. That’s enough. Get your you-know-what back in the agency office. Detective Sergeant Fielding wants a word with you.

Dana: Oh, all right. Coming.

Dana, looking up: Sharon is creating a Beyond Faith page on her website and it is rumoured to be going live soon. Meantime, check out hers and my upcoming appearances on that website under Books or under the Gigs and Blogs page here. See you next week.

Dana heads into the agency office.

Voice of Sharon: That Dana. Sometimes I wonder why I ever created her. But like she said…see you next week.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford mugshot

the real author of the Beyond mystery books.

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Beyond mystery Part 3 serialized here

BEYOND FAITH IS COMING THIS FALL

We interrupt this story for an announcement from Dana Bowman, the main character in the Beyond mystery series.

.

The next novel in the Beyond series – Beyond Faith is coming this October. No spoilers but there are lots of puzzles and murders which I have to solve. And.. oh, oh, my author Sharon A. Crawford is pointing her finger at me to continue with this ongoing weekly story. In a sec – first Beyond Faith takes place the last two months of 1999. And the below story occurs just just before that.Sharon is

Sharon is also saying to check out her website. Updates will be posted there about Beyond Faith

And now my continuing story…

The police have arrived – Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding from Major Crimes and Detectives Stewart and Tractor from Forensics. Dana, Bast, David and Ms. Dugan are sequestered in the Attic Agency Office, waiting for Fielding to question them. Outside the agency door, Tractor and Stewart are doing their forensic job.

Ms. Dugan, pacing around the room: Oh my God, my brother, Wayne, I can’t believe he’s dead. Who would do this?

Dana: Really. He was involved in some questionable activities.

Ms. Dugan: Not now. He was not doing those break and enters. He was going to fix my door hinge.

Dana: Well, maybe or maybe not. He still had some questionable associates as the police would say. I mean he is now dead…

David: Mommy, Mommy, you gotta help Ms. Dugan.

Dana: That’s what we are trying to do here, David.

Bast: Dana, let’s not be harsh. Ms. Dugan

Ms. Dugan: Emily, please.

Bast: Emily’s brother has just been murdered.

David: Mommy, Mommy….

Dana: David, quiet please. Maybe you should go back onto the balcony.

David: Mommy, we gotta help Ms. Dugan. We…: David is shouting now and stands up.

Dana: David. Do you want the police coming in here now? They are going to separate us soon. I’m surprised they didn’t do it sooner.

Bast: There is a body outside the door.

Dana: Right. Okay. So, Ms… Emily, do you recognize that voice from the other side of the door?

David: It’s one of his friends. He did it. He..

Dana: David. Okay, that’s it. (She points to the balcony). Out onto the balcony.

David: Aw Mommy.

Dana: Now.

David pouts and stomps towards the balcony.

Dana; Leave the door open but keep quiet. Now Ms…. Emily. About that voice outside the door.

Ms. Dugan: Not Wayne. He would have been dead. I didn’t recognize the voice – it didn’t sound natural;

Dana: But it could have been one of his assoc… friends disguising his voice. Okay, we need you to give us Wayne’s friends names and their contact info.

Ms. Dugan: There’s Doug Pinchard, Mike Green, and Steve Sumach. They all went to school together and hung out then and afterwards.

Dana: And got into trouble together?

Ms. Dugan: Yes, juvenile stuff – vandalism, joy riding.

Bast: And as adults?

Ms. Dugan: No!. Oh all right. They did do a few break and enters – but that was three years ago and they did their time in prison for that. And Wayne was going straight. He even just landed a job at fast-food place and was to start next week.

Bast: And the other three? Did they find jobs?

Ms. Dugan: I don’t know.

Dana: Come, come, Emily, you say you are close to your brother..

Ms. Dugan: Wayne didn’t tell me everything.

Dana: But he was living with you so you would know if his friends came round.

Ms. Dugan: Not necessarily. Not when I was teaching.

Dana: Wouldn’t you see evidence of them being there when you returned home?

Ms. Dugan: What do you mean?

Bast, interrupting: Dana means evidence of eating – maybe empty potato chip bags, dirty glasses, cigarette butts.

Ms. Dugan: Yes, I suppose so.

Dana: Come come Emily – either there was evidence or not.

Ms. Dugan: Oh all right. I did find a few dirty glasses – once – and cigarette butts, but Wayne smokes…smoked. Oh, I can’t do this. My baby brother is dead. Someone killed him. (She starts sobbing).

Bast: Take it easy. Do you want some water?

Dana: She might want something a bit stronger, Bast.

Ms. Dugan: Water is fine.

Bast pours some water into a glass from the pitcher on the file cabinet and hands it to her. Dana hands her a writing pad.

Dana: Start writing Wayne’s friends names and contact info – what you have. Also your impressions of each. It might help us figure out what happened.

Ms. Dugan: Okay. (She starts writing)

David charges into the room.

Dana: David, what did I say?

David: But Mommy, someone is climbing up the tree to the balcony.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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

The second beyond book.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Getting your novel ending right

The second beyond book.

Five rewrites later for the publisher I finally got it right. Sure lots of changes and improvements throughout Beyond Faith. But the one giving me the devil of a time was the ending. No matter how many rewrites of that, the editor at the publisher came back with what basically amounted to that it wasn’t quite right. And he did make suggestions which I did not ignore.

In retrospect I was probably being too flippant in part and it wasn’t getting serious enough, wasn’t making sense. In the end, my change must have been inspired by something he emailed. Or maybe that he said he could rewrite the last page. And the time ticking. So, I said I wanted one more crack at it and he agreed.

So, I suppose I got really into what the ending was all about and just wrote. When finished (including some rewording here and there before it went back to the publisher) I discovered something I wasn’t even thinking about in the main part of my brain. But my subconscious must have been tuned in, because there it was.

The ending actually tied back to the beginning.

And it made sense. It also provides, shall we say (no spoilers wanted), an opening for the next Beyond book. In fact, there are a few things happening in the latter part of Beyond Faith that could be carried forward into the next Beyond book, story lines that could be developed further and used in the complex mix of plots and characters I use in my stories.

So, why hadn’t I thought of that tie-in to Chapter One  before?

Many reasons. Perhaps the rush to finish the rewrite to meet a deadline (as it turned out, several deadlines). Perhaps because I had client work to do as well (no offence to the clients. I try to balance client work with the novel-writing and all the PR work for it involved.) If it were just Beyond Faith and client work to balance, I could manage.

I think I have to put a big share of the blame on much of the other stuff in my life, such as income tax filing and the CRA messing up despite me filing on time, health issues (that one will eat up your life no matter what. Guaranteed.), house and property problems, etc. Perhaps one of the biggies is others expecting me to do this and that for them and well, just bugging me to do so. Now, I’m reining back, even being slow to return emails if it is something that can be dealt with later. Some things I’m dumping and some things I’m saying “no.” to. My new motto is to prioritize and to focus on what is important to me.

That includes my family, too and some property and financial stuff, and especially the garden. My garden is therapeutic.  So is my writing

What can we learn from my experiences above to get the right ending for your story?

Don’t rush it.

Better time management – ignore the unnecessary and/or not important at the time. If those demanding your time to do something for them balk, too bad.

So, prioritize.

Think of your story’s beginning. This works for novels, novellas and short stories. A long time ago I learned from a writing instructor that the ending has to tie in with the beginning somehow – perhaps a resolution. In today’s mystery series novels, which mimic TV series, there is often a cliff-hanger at the end. Don’t be afraid to use it. Linwood Barclay and Julia Spencer Fleming use that tactic very well. In fact, I’m currently reading the third (and I think final) in Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls series. This third one The Twenty-three starts just days after the second one. I suggest you read some of their books as well.

And don’t be afraid to rewrite. That may include several endings to see what works best. This might be the time to get somebody (besides a biased family member) to read the beginning and ending and give you some feedback. I know it could have spoiler potential, but you do want to get it right, don’ you?

The cover of my previous Beyond book Beyond Blood is up at the top with links to amazon. And yes it’s ending ties in with something in Chapter one, and also has a hook into Beyond Faith.

The publisher now has his book designer designing a cover for Beyond Faith. When that’s done and I get a copy, I’ll be putting it at the top of these blog posts.

Meantime, starting next week, I’ll be writing some special blog posts, a sort of mini-Beyond series for the summer.

Keep writing and rewriting.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: