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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

 

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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.

 

 

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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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After the book launch of Beyond Faith

The book launch for Beyond Faith was held by Blue Denim Press on Sunday and while not attracting large crowds, we had people there. And we all enjoyed ourselves. My main book character PI Dana  Bowman and a few more of the quirky characters  – Bast Overture – Dana’s fraternal brother and PI partner, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding – head of Major Crimes, David, Dana’s son, and a couple of new characters for the novel – Eli Foster and the nameless one all appeared from my reading. And I only read a couple of short excerpts within 15 minutes. But I read as l like to say – putting myself into the characters’ heads and shoes.

 

Photo courtesy Martin Crawford

At least I was awake then (Don’t let that photo here mislead you. I am listening to my friend and apparently trying to sign my book which she bought and looking at something not in the photo.) Unlike now, when I feel like I’m one of the walking dead and Halloween isn’t quite here as I write this. But it was worth it at the book launch.

So what have I learned from this book launch?

Good side – people invited will come – most let you know they are coming but some just show up. And they buy books – some even bought a copy of the previous novel Beyond Blood.

Bad side – those who RVSP’d they were coming, and didn’t bother to let me know that they couldn’t make it after all. Let’s put it this way – I know who you are and my take on you has gone down a notch.

Good side – those who RVSP’s they were coming, then couldn’t at the last minute and let me know. I can understand and accept that. Stuff happens at the last minute. And I won’t bite off your head because you did tell me.

Good side – Meeting and reconnecting with friends including a fellow I worked with in both our first jobs as teenagers (well late teens) for the Ontario Government. I first contacted him via Linked In. So don’t be too quick to complain about Linked In. Thanks to Linked In, I have reconnected with a former editor, a cousin who is now living in Asia. And I have found editing work via Linked In.

Bad Side – More people would have been nice. Beyond Blood and Beyond the Tripping Point brought in more people. But from what I’ve seen with other book launches I’ve gone to this year, evening launches seem to attract the largest number of people.

Good Side – some of those people who couldn’t make the launch because of previous commitments want to buy a copy of Beyond Faith – one already has.

And so the book promotion will continue.

But first I need to catch up on some sleep.

And then start kicking things I “have” to do; things others want me to do – out the window.

But I’ll open the window first.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Here’s the book. Click on it for a link to one place the book is available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Beyond gang head for Word on the Street Sunday

Dana Bowman PI from Beyond Faith and Beyond Blood

Dana Bowman PI from Beyond Faith and Beyond Blood

It’s official – Sharon A. Crawford and Dana Bowman will be at Word on the Street – the big annual book an magazine at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Still up in the air is if Dana will be kept inside the covers of Beyond Blood or if Sharon will let her out. Sharon is set to appear at the Crime Writers of Canada booth from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the company of four other crime authors. All will have copies of their books to sell, but also to talk about Crime Writers of Canada.

Dana will need a briefing if she is to do some of this. And Dana likes to follow her own ideas. She is a private investigator after all. But Sharon is a former journalist and she also like to stick her nose into things.

The other appearance is one author and one other volunteer for Sisters in Crime Toronto’s booth from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. – perhaps more to Dana’s liking to appear here.

That will have to be sorted out on Sunday. For now, let’s talk a bit about Word on the Street, CWC and SinC Toronto.

Sharon here….

I’ve been going to Word on the Street almost since it started in 1990. The first few years the location was Queen Street West from Spadina to Bathurst St. – not a particularly long stretch. But it sure seemed like it if you wanted to go to a specific booth at one end and another one at the other end, particularly if you were on a time-line to get to a workshop or reading or signing in a particular tent. The booths lined up in the street on both sides, plus the crowds moving through, made it difficult. And the availability of washrooms was limited to coffee shops and restaurants with long lineups – unless you wanted to use the portable toilets.

Fast forward to September 2007 and WOTS was now being held at Queens Park – no not in the legislature building or other Ontario Government buildings, but in an actual park, a circular park with booths positioned all along the east and west walkways and at the front and bottom. You could cut across the park to get to bootha on the other side – or walk along the circular walkway. Some tents were in the actual park. The setting was very relaxed and yes, there were portable toilets but also washrooms in nearby Victoria College on the University of Toronto campus. The college also held their annual book sale the same day, so it was a big day for books – the print kind.

At the 2007 WOTS I did my first appearance in a tent talking about freelance writing – interviewing techniques and the like. I was also running a course (in my house no less) a couple of weeks after and this WOTS talk was a great opportunity to get participants for that. It was also a lot of fun as I called people up from the audience to be the interviewee while I played interviewer for role playing. And my son and his then girlfriend, dropped in to watch the proceedings.

In future WOTS at Queens Park, I appeared at the Crime Writers Canada booths to promote and sell the Beyond books. One year the CWC booth was facing the sidewalk instead of the street, so it attracted less people. The location had some personal history with me. The CWC booth faced the Ontario government building where i had my first job at age 18 and 19 when I was a secretary (in another life, of course).

This Sunday, September 24, WOTS is in its third year in its third location- Harboufront Centre on Queens Quay West on Toronto’s waterfront. I have mixed feelings about it. On the plus side you are on the waterfront and the events are outside and some indoors. Some areas seem a bit crowded and the first year I was there, the SinC booth was at the end side of a long group of tables of various organizations. To get to the SinC spot you had to go in at the other end. At that end one of the poetry societies held were readings. The poet stood on the table and performed his or her poetry.

We’ll see how it goes this year and what Dana does and says if she doesn’t stay between the book covers.

Beyond Faith won’t be there – it’s still at the printers. But the flyers for the book launch will be and so will copies of Beyond Blood and Beyond the Tripping Point.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Look for one or both of us – Dana’s photo is at the top and mine is below here.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

and

Dana Bowman

 

Sharon A. Crawford author of the Beyond books

 

 

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Beyond Mystery Serial Part 6 and words from Dana and Sharon

The arrival of Beyond Faith, the third book in the Beyond mystery series is getting closer.

Dana Bowman here. And Sharon A. Crawford, the real author, always here.We have an update. Beyond Faith’s appearance is coming closer.

Dana: Sharon has negotiated for Beyond Faith and Beyond Blood to get into the Dealers’ Room for Bouchercon 2017. New business cards are in the works.

Sharon: And sorry, Dana, you aren’t on them – like my editor would say – no space.

Dana: That’s okay…at least for now for this serial story which could be called Beyond Reason features me . Part 6 follows.

Dana: Fielding, what do you mean some of the characters here don’t exist. David certainly does and so does Ms. Dugan.

Fielding: Look on the floor and tell me what you see.

Dana (looking down): The floor.

Fielding: But what is there on the floor?

Dana: Nothing. Hey, who stole the hooded guy? Oh wait. Sharon made him disappear.

Fielding: Sharon? I  don’t see any Sharon. . .

Dana: Sharon A. Crawford, the author of the Beyond books.

Voice of Sharon: Ah, hah. You are finally admitting it.

Dana: Yes. No. What the hell?

Dana, turning around and looking at Ms. Dugan and David sitting on the office couch: Well, you two are still  here. So you must have seen Sharon make it disappear and then disappear herself?

David: Mommy, Mommy what do you mean? Sharon. She just disappeared. Maybe she took the dead guy?

Ms. Dugan: What dead guy? There is just us here.

Dana, looking around: Where’s Bast? He was just here too.

Ms. Dugan: Never saw him. Just you, David and me, and of course, Sharon.

Dana, scratching her head: What the heck. And I suppose you didn’t see Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding either?

Ms. Dugan: Who?

Dana: The detective who was investigating your brother.

Ms. Dugan: I don’t have a brother.

Dana: Yes, you do.  He was banging on the door here and he was caught coming out of a hardware store carrying a screwdriver which he is alleged to have used in some break and enters. And he was living with you for now.

Ms. Dugan: I live alone.

Dana: Well, if all this is true, then tell me what the hell you are doing here and what have you done with my brother? I… oh my head hurts.

Dana falls to the floor.

TO BE CONTINUED…. MEANTIME:

Check out my website to see what Dana and I  have really been up to. And yes, Beyond Faith is a reality .

Sharon A. Crawford

and

Dana Bowman

Sharon A. Crawford mugshot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dana Bowman mugshot

 

 

 

 

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Beyond mystery serial Part 5 and Dana Bowman on Beyond Faith

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It’s coming. Beyond Faith, the third book in the Beyond mystery series, this October 2017. Dana Bowman, Private Investigator here. Yes I’m out from between the book covers. And we do have a book cover now. Sharon A. Crawford, the author has made her choice. Stay tuned for a sneak look – coming up soon in a post here. Meantime Sharon is frowning and standing here in front of all of us in this ongoing seat-of-your pants story.

 

Voice: I’m Sharon A. Crawford, the author of the Beyond books and I want to know why you Dana are pulling characters out of Beyond Faith.

Dana: I’m not. They are just appearing.

Sharon: No, they’re not. You’re doing it.

Dana: I am not. Look here, just whose story is this anyway?

Sharon: That’s what I’m wondering.

Dana: Well, you may have something to do with the Beyond mystery books but this online story is MY creation.

Sharon: Really?

Dana, pointing a finger: Yes, really.

Ms. Dugan: Hey, what about my brother and what about me and that…that hooded person on the floor over there?

Sharon, waving her right hand and arm around like a want: I can take care of that. Begone.

The figure disappears.

David: Hey, it’s magic. You are really a cool author.

Dana: David.

David: Aw Mom, so are you.

Ms. Dugan, frantically waving her arms: Hey, can I get your attention, please. What about my brother? What about my story?

Sharon: Well, what about i?. Dana, you said you are writing this one. So, go through it. But no more characters from Beyond Faith.

Ms. Dugan: But I’m in it.

Sharon: You get a few brief mentions. So don’t exaggerate here. Now, I’m out of here…for now.

Sharon strides out of the agency office as Detective Sergeant Fielding walks in.

Fielding: Dana, I need to talk to you. We have been looking into this matter and some things don’t add up.

Dana: What do you mean?

Fielding: It seems there is some question about some of these characters.

Dana: What?

Fielding: Some of them don’t seem to exist. Can you explain that, Ms.Dugan?

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 in the series

 

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