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Creating Credible Fiction Characters

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series

Creating characters that resonate with your readers, characters that are three dimensional – in other words credible characters – is not always easy. But it can lead you down interesting and unexpected pathways and forge a bond between author and character. Sometimes that bond means the character thinks he or she is writing the story.

That’s what happened with the main character in my Beyond mystery series – PI Dana Bowman. Maybe it’s because as part of my book promo she comes to life when I dress up as her for presentations in libraries,cafes and the like.

I have to keep reminding Dana that is is my  name, not hers, on the book cover as the author.

And we really are not alike, so not the same person – as I keep telling Dana.

Here’s a  character comparison of us on my website

So how do you create credible characters? Do they suddenly appear in your head? Sometimes. Sometimes you get your plot first

Characters can come from real life, your imagination or by osmosis. Here are a few pointers

  1. If you create a character from real life, make sure you use the real person as only a kicking-off point – perhaps how they look, perhaps one distinctive characteristic and create from there.

  2. Don’t steal other authors’ characters – evenly loosely disguised as your so-called character.

  3. Personal experience and knowledge can help in creating and developing characters. but remember you are creating fictional characters for fiction, not writing a memoir.

  4. An oxymoron – fictional characters must come across as real characters, real people, so readers can connect to them.

  5. Once created, characters don’t remain static – they evolve; they change, even in just one short story, and more so in novels, especially series novels.

I have lots more info on this and will be teaching a workshop on Creating Compelling Characters this Sunday, November 5, from 2 p,m. to 4 p.m. with the Toronto Writers Circle at the Toronto Reference area. It is free and open to the writing public. Here is the library info about the group and location. If you live in the general area you might like to join us.

And here is my latest Beyond mystery book. Click on it for more info

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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The kindness of strangers

The offending shopping trailer

Those who know me well know that I don’t have a partner and that for the most part I have to get through the crap in life on my own. To clarify, I do have a son and a few close friends who help where they can and for that I am grateful. But often I am facing a lot of problems that I have to deal with on my own. I divide those into constructive challenges and I try to get through those myself and consider them positives. It’s the destructive ones, often coming from left field that I resent having to deal with alone. I consider them negatives. I can’t just ask a non-exiefstent partner for help.

That is why the unexpected help spontaneously from strangers is so wonderful. I am so grateful when that happens I try to pass it along, i.e., help someone else, even if a stranger.

Last week I had a string of help from strangers – and all related to trying to maneuver one of those bloody push trailers/shopping carts.

I never liked them and preferred to cart groceries and books around in bags I carry on my shoulder.

However, last week I had to bring books to a bookseller at the Bouchercon Mystery Writing conference in downtown Toronto so decided to buy one of those trailers. I loaded it with copies of my three Beyond mystery series books. It was heavy. So when I phoned a close friend to invited her to  my book launch Oct. 22, I was talking about this trailer and she offered to drive me part way to the location. She had to get her husband to put the trailer in her van. She dropped me off at a taxi stand. As it turned out, it would have been a nightmare going through  public transit entrances and exits with the trailer. The cab driver was very friendly and helpful.

Books got delivered okay. But unfortunately not as many sold as I had hoped (and I had brought less than the bookseller had suggested). The day before I had to pick up the books I did the public transit route just to check it out, but as suspected too much for a short skinny woman with a heavy trailer of books.

And did I mention that this bloody trailer collapsed after I got it home empty after dumping the books off at the bookseller’s booth? It was still fine then, or so I thought, but two days later I was moving  it around in the house and the top canvas part disconnected from the steel bar near  the top. It its fastened by velcro – which would be fine if the side parts of it had been originally put in the steel bars going down when it was  at the manufacturer’s. It had looked okay to me and after I closed the velcro part I did notice the bag wasn’t too sturdy from then, but what do I know? I’ve never used the damn things before and only got one because of no other choice to get the books to where I was going.

Sunday morning on the way down, pushing the empty trailer into the subway station, my discomfort must have been visible, because a young fellow offered to carry it down the three flights of stairs. When we got to the bottom, he noticed that the canvas bag was out of the steel side bars and said if he had a screwdriver he would fix it. He said the bag should be in the bars but the top part was screwed in.

To come home, after collecting the unsold books, a hotel employee, I think a bellhop, got the trailer out the door and got me a cab and put the trailer in the trunk. The cab driver was again a helpful and friendly fellow and lifted the offending bag out of the trunk. I did have to drag it up the veranda stairs and into the house.

After I removed the books, it clicked what the fellow at the subway station had been getting at. When I checked the photo of the trailer in the sheet that came with it ( a sheet with little info) I noticed the sides of the trailer were indeed over the sidebar.

Not on my trailer. It’s going back to Canadian Tire today and if they don’t give me my money back I’ll be raising unholy hell. I do not want to cart that trailer around with me today because I have to check out the last part of the trip to where I do a guest breakfast talk on Saturday. The walk after I get off the subway for that is short but tricky and confusing and I sure don’t want to have to figure it out early Saturday morning. You can bet I’m not using a trailer any more. New rule of thumb – I only bring what books  I can carry in bags on my shoulders. And hope I have enough books for sales.  It has happened once that I didn’t.

I may have to take a cab from the subway station on Saturday morning though if it I feel the route is bad after today’s venture, I’ll see if the organizer can get one of the writing group members to pick me up at the passenger pickup at the subway station.

I am spending too much on cabs here. I never take cabs unless from the train station after a visit with cousins in southwestern Ontario. I live at the poverty level so cabs aren’t really in my budget.

Cheers (I think),

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series. Book Launch for Beyond Faith is Sunday, October 22. See details on flyer below.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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

 

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Creativity from the Stacks June 28 – more talented performers

As promised I will introduce the rest of the creative talent from the East End Writers’ Group who are performing/presenting at our big event Creativity from the Stacks. We meet in a library branch in Toronto which is also where the presentation takes place, hence the title created by Paola Ferrante one of our performers. You met Paola in last week’s post.

Date and Time: Wednesday, June 28, 2017, 6.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.

Includes mix and mingle, light refreshments, sample writing critique, authors’ books for sale, and presentations by EEWG members.

Location: S. Walter Stewart Library (auditorium), 170 Memorial Pk. Ave., Toronto, Ontario

 

 

 

We are also partnering with the library branch for this presentation as we do with our regular writing critique evenings. More info about the East End Writers’ Group here.

We also are partnered for this event with East End Arts.

More info about them here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now – drum roll…

Here are the rest of us who are presenting.

Nick Nanos – Musician, Composer, Fiction Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gail Murray – Poet and Creative Non-fiction author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Parpart – Poet and Fiction Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shane Joseph – Literary Fiction Author

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Sharon A. Crawford – Mystery Author, Memoir Writer, Writing Instructor

 

More info about the performers and the  presentation here.

Of course to get the full flavour, the full experience, you have to come to the event.

See you there.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More info about all the performers and the presentation here.

 

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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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