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Category Archives: Series Characters novels and short stories

Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 3

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

I have so many different projects, I hear voices in my head – the characters talking all at once – and I have to write to make them stop.
– Eli Roth

When transitioning series characters between novels and short stories, you need to keep the timeline and events straight. We touched on this issue two blog posts back. Remember that your mind will carry all the information to date about your characters, including their actions, including relationships. Your readers’ minds don’t.

Especially if your reader is not reading your short stories and novels in chronological order. As readers we (and I count myself in here) don’t always read series books in order. So, in the first novel in the series you read Alice is having a baby with Jack. Later you get to the first novel where Alice meets Jack. I’m doing this with the Deborah Crombie mystery series. I still haven’t read the book where the main character and her boss change their relationship from just business to personal but I’ve read books where they are living together and ironing out the kinks with a blended family, plus dealing with their respective outlaws, I mean in-laws, although sometimes they may act like the former.

Take this a step further with your series characters hopping in and out of short stories and novels. Which came first? And if you write a novel, then some short stories, then another novel, etc. with the same series characters, be careful. A character in a short story set in 2000 would not know what will happen in the following years, unless you want him or her to be psychic.

A character in a story set in an earlier time would not be as fully developed as in a later story. This can get a little confusing if you are back and forth in time with your story. Sometimes taking your character’s traits outline (remember that suggestion from last week’s post?) a little deeper by listing how they were then and later can help. Also listing the trigger (another character’s actions, something they experienced, etc.) that changed them after the first story, can help.

Again, you may not use all of this in your stories, but after writing out all the information, it is embedded in your mind – somewhere. The trick is to pull out the right characteristic for the right story.

This brings up another question. How much do you reveal about your main characters (and plot for that matter) in novels and short stories that has occurred in a previous novel or short story? You don’t want to give away character and plot from the previous. Yet you don’t want your reader kept wondering if your characters seem to appear out of the blue. Or family and friends and situations are mentioned briefly and in a way that leaves your readers scratching their heads and muttering, “Huh?”

With two of the linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) I am right upfront about what happened to David, Dana’s son in the prequel novel Beyond Blood (to be published by Blue Denim Press in the fall of 2014). I have to be, because in those short stories David is psychologically mute. Otherwise the reader will wonder why and if he has always been like that. So I state it but blend it into the main plot of the short story. Here’s an example from the beginning of “Gone Missing.”
The police can’t find her, Ms Bowman,” Robin Morgrave says.
Rosemary Morgrave has gone missing and I’m putting on a brave smile for her twin brother. Robin sits on the other side of the desk in The Attic Agency’s third floor office. Only my twin brother, Bast, nodding, stops me from losing it. Ever since David, my seven-year-old son, was abducted last August, I’ve been living in Panicville. Sure, we got David back, but how much of him returned? He follows Bast around like an investigator-in-training. His brown eyes stare right through my soul. I wish he’d just say how he feels. But since his return, David hasn’t opened his mouth except to swallow liquids and food. He doesn’t even cry. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012, copyright Sharon A. Crawford).

Next week we will talk more about plot consistency and how much to reveal without giving it all away.

Meantime, read any of the mystery series novels by Peter Robinson and see how he handles continuity and consistency in character and plot.
Also, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.
Cheers.
Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 2

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.

– Larry Niven

 

After all my time-line tips last week I goofed. I put the wrong year for the four linked short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point. Ditto for the related series novel. It should be 1999 for the short stories and 1998 for the novel. At least I had it correct which came first. The years are now corrected on last week’s blog post.

Mea culpa, mea culpa.

This post will deal with length of short stories versus novels and start the discussion about series characters for both. The latter is complicated and we won’t cover everything today.

First length.

Short story length can be anywhere from the flash story of 50 words to longer stories of 8,000, even 10,000 words. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine stories tend to run in the upper word count limit. However, some authors take the short story up to 18,000 words. In this case, many are self-publishing – either e-copy or online or in print or all of those. To me, this is a variation of the traditional poetry chap book publications. This is all good. The only caveats I offer here are: if submitting to publications or short story contests, follow the submission guidelines; and watch you don’t make the stories too long or you will be writing a novella.
Novel lengths vary from 65,000 words to 120,000 words (think Elizabeth George for the longer novels). Most novels are somewhere in between and it depends on the publisher or the author if self-publishing. My publisher, Blue Denim Pressm tends to go for the lower page count. Personally I like any length as long as the story flows and doesn’t read as if it is padded with plot lines, character development and points of view that are way too much and detract from the story. Shorter novel requirements sure make the author learns how not to be overly wordy, as I’m finding out. But as a former journalist, I always wrote long and then rewrote to fit the editorial requirements. Writing too short here would create the dilemma of insufficient information and it is harder to add than to subtract – believe it or not.

Characters in novels versus short stories

This is a loaded one. Novels and short stories written in the literary vein are more about the characters than the plot. However, the trend today in commercial fiction (including genres such as mystery and romance, particularly in novels, is to develop characters more). While I like Agatha Christie mystery novels – they were what I grew up on, what got me interested in mysteries (along with the old Perry Mason TV series), her characters, although intriguing and original, were not fully developed. The exceptions are her two main series characters – Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.

So, how many characters do you put in a novel and in a short story? Obviously because of length, you wouldn’t cram many characters into a short story. War and Peace crunched down to a short story it is not. Take two or three main characters and a few minor characters and go from there, i.e., you will develop the three main characters fully but not the few minor ones. By “develop fully” I mean it wouldn’t hurt to do an extensive character sketch of your main characters before you start writing – with the caveat that they are not sealed in cement, granite or avalanche. When writing stories, characters sometimes take over and you as a writer have to respect that. Key question to ask here: is what this character is doing characteristic of him or her? That’s when you may have to return to your character sketch.

And you won’t use everything in your character sketch in your short story – or even in your novel, but you will use more in your novels. With a short story, every character element and development has to tie in with your basic story plot. With a novel you can add in the extras, although they have to tie in with the plot, but you have more leeway.

For example, in my prequel novel Beyond Blood, Dana Bowman has more space to show how she feels about a certain situation with her son as well as the conflict she has with being a mother of a six year old and a private investigator, especially when the two collide. If I didn’t do this, Dana would come across as shallow, one-dimensional and unbelievable. In the four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (remember these are the year after the novel occurs), Dana is still reacting over what happened to David, but in the interest of space and plot, the whole story can’t be about her reaction. So I weave it in with the case she is investigating. In “Saving Grace,” while she is following a lead on a country road outside Goderich, Ontario, she stops the car and has a mini-break-down. But it doesn’t last long; she has to pull herself together and get on with it.

In the novel Beyond Blood, after the actual event that triggers all this has happened, Dana has many instances of having difficulty dealing with the situation. In one scene (without giving it away), she wakes up and is somewhat disoriented and depressed so she acts a bit strangely. She also has nightmares that act as a sort of premonition of what will happen. The time she spends with her son and her feelings about him there, as well as developing a possible relationship with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding, all tie in with the plot. Without this character development, some of the future plot lines would have the reader saying, “This doesn’t make sense. How would she know how to do that? This action is not credible.”

These pointers are more for commercial fiction than literary fiction.

Next week we will delve more into the makings of series characters appearing in novels and short stories.

Meantime, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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