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Fitting dialogue to fiction characters

 

David’s Mommy, PI Dana Bowman

You may have written your story with a three-dimensional  character. The reader is enthralled with your narration – the character’s background, what they think and what they do. Then your character opens his or her mouth and speaks.

The character,  is a 20-something immigrant to say Canada, Great Britain and English is his second language. But he is trying and when he masters English better he will be bilingual. But now he is speaking like a professor of English Literature. What’s wrong with this?

Or your character, a seven-year old boy speaks like he is 27 or older. He has average IQ for his age and your description of him includes a reference to that. Even if you hint at that the normalcy of his life will soon change with events, he is still a seven-year old boy.

Fiction characters’ dialogue must be realistic to their age and life situation.

The first situation was something unpublished I read. My take on that was to have the character speak in some-what broken English in parts, keeping in mind he is learning to speak English. So you would cut out all the “a’s:” and “the’s” as many people learning English as a second language do this. For example instead of saying “The car won’t run,” you say “Car not running.” That also covers another area. When learning English, the person does not use contractions. I also would interject  this phrase or something similar a few times during the person’s conversation “How do you say it?…”

The seven-year old boy who sounds like he is 20 years older is from one of my Beyond mystery novels – Beyond Faith. David, PI Dana Bowman’s seven-year old son, David may have been kidnapped, but coming back from that doesn’t make him act older. He may do some things he wouldn’t otherwise do, but in keeping with his age as well as his experience. My publisher picked this one out in one of my rewrites before the book was published. I had David traumatized by his kidnapping in Beyond Blood which had him doing things like drawing  demons.But he doesn’t go out and investigate what is happening in BF. He does become tuned-in to what is happening (what he comes up against), but in my changes in the rewrite I had him use his fear to show how he reacted. He had become protective of his mother and so he kept things to himself, even when he and Dana were in a session at the therapist’s. And to show he is still a boy, I have him mix up the meaning of words he overhears. In this scene he and Dana have had an argument about an incident when Joanna, the babysitter took David and Buddy (the dog) for a walk. Joanna went into a drugstore, telling David to stay outside. During that time one of the murder suspects shows up; David is frightened, lets go of the leash, Buddy goes after her. David runs after Buddy, and things happen and almost happen. Back home Dana is furious at Joanna for leaving David alone and at David. Here’s  the argument. It is from David’s point of view.

“Go to your room, David. I don’t want to talk to you now,” Mommy said. “And you too, Buddy. You’re as much to blame as David.”

As he headed towards the stairs he heard Mommy yelling at Joanna for leaving David outside the drugstore. Joanna was crying and saying she thought he would be okay with Buddy and she couldn’t bring him in when she had to buy those famine products.

“What are famine products?”

“David, upstairs,” Mommy shouted at him.

(From Beyond Faith by Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press, 2017, copyright 2017 Sharon A, Crawford).

Notice, Dana is called “Mommy” with David’s point of view. Often when he addresses her he says “Mommy, Mommy…”

So how can authors have their characters talk like well, the characters they are:

1. Get inside their head.

2. Listen to characters around the same age and life situation as your character. I knew a writer who at age 30 was writing a book about and for teens. She figured she was too old to remember how teens spoke, so she sat in a park where teens congregated and eavesdropped. This was before Smart phones. You can probably come up with other ways to listen in. If family dynamics and your main character is a mother – go to a grocery store and watch for moms with kids. You can get great insight on parenting and how their kids act in grocery stores.

3. If you do character profiles or descriptions before you start writing, add some dialogue.

4. When you have some dialogue written, read it out loud, or better still, record it and play it back. Does it sound realistic?

5. And read novels with diverse characters of all ages and situations.

These are just a few ways to get your characters speaking in character. But it will get you started thinking.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery books.

 

 

 

 

 

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Avoid the tourist approach describing story settings

So, you are sticking with you Point of View writing your short story or novel. The story is from one person’s point of view or perhaps two or three. You have each chapter, and scenes from chapters in only one character’s point of view – no POV change until you are in another chapter or scene. Then you hit some geography.

Maybe it is a particular town or city you character is in or maybe even the inside of a house. Suddenly it is reading as if a another “person” has shown up – somebody called the narrator. But you aren’t using the narrator as a separate person. Your main character or characters are doing all the narration.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Your main character is a young woman, aged 30, named Caroline. She is returning to her home town after many years away and is driving into the town. Let’s call it Whistletown. And the author is starting the chapter like this.

Whistletown has a population of 22,500. The entrance to the town is on Highway 55, which winds its way into the downtown. Main St. has a grocery store, drugstore, cleaners, bookstore, Lulu’s Diner, a couple of gas stations and the obligatory MacDonalds.

Whoa! What’s happening here? Where is Caroline? Has the area’s tourist bureau suddenly taken over?

There is a fix for this and you can keep in your description of the town. The key is to put your character in it.

Has the population increased since Caroline was there last? Why did she leave? When was she there last and why is she suddenly returning? How does she feel about that as she comes into Whistletown? And how does she drive in? Is she hesitant about returning home? Or does she just speed into the town? What has changed on Main Street and what is the same?

Here’s a possibility for the rewrite of the chapter beginning.

As she drew nearer to Whistletown, Caroline slowed down. Not because of the traffic; there wasn’t much here on Highway 55, just an SUV far enough ahead of her that she couldn’t see its license plate. The other way, nothing. Wait a minute. A big Wal-Mart delivery truck was speeding out of town. Don’t tell me Wal-Mart had come to Whistletown? Things must be expanding. A honk sounded behind her and she realized she had almost come to a stop. She sped up, but apparently not enough for the car tailgating her as it passed her and continued on at race driver pace.

Sheesh.

Now she was passing the sign reading “Welcome to Whistletown, Ontario’s home of the Blue Danube Orchestra. Population 22,500.” That was a big jump. It had been only 6,000 when she had hurried out of town, hell-bent in getting away from Josh, after he had broken their engagement to marry Janie, her younger sister. Now Janie was dead and she suddenly regretted their 10-year silence. At least Mom had kept in touch occasionally, by letter and email and the odd brief phone call. She wondered if Mom had forwarded her emails to Janie.

She was now at Main Street and slowed down a bit, forcing herself to look at her surroundings. Lulu’s Diner where she and Josh had spent hours just hanging out, drinking sodas, was still there. And darn if it didn’t look the same. Murphy’s Hardware Store, Samuel’s Grocery Store, Hamlin’s Pharmacy were still there, the hardware store looking a little shabby. But Hamlin’s was now part of the PharmaSave chain and where was the cleaners and…what was that up ahead?Was that a MacDonald’s. Well, that was obligatory these days, she supposed.

She continued driving through Main Street until she had passed the downtown core. Suddenly she had to know if there was a Wal-Mart in town. There was – in an open mall up ahead. As she passed it she noticed a Canadian Tire, a No Frills Grocery Store, a Shoppers Drug Mart, a cleaners, although not the one she remembered from Main Street, and at the far end a huge Wal-Mart. 

As she turned onto Robinson Street for her mother’s home, she wondered what else had changed. She had the impression that her mother’s phone calls and emails hadn’t told her all.

 

That’s one example. We get the outline of the town, its changes, how the main character sees it all and how it affects her and how she feels about returning home after 10 years away.

How do you work “geography” into your fiction so it doesn’t read like a travel piece?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series. And yes, my main characters are right there for “geography” including Lilly, the main character in “Unfinished Business” (short story in Beyond the Tripping Point) who is returning with her daughter to her old neighbourhood in Toronto where something terrible happened when she was a child.

 

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Get creative promoting your book

Sharon reads from Beyond the Tripping Point

Author readings have been standard for authors to promote their books, but they can be boring. The operative word here is “can” which means you can turn your author reading into something different, something individual. Below are a few twists (and turns) I’ve tried.

1. Have the main character in your book dominate your reading. My main character in my Beyond mystery books is PI Dana  Bowman and I’ve made her into a real person (well, almost, although she thinks she is real). I have created an antagonism between Dana and me. Part of this antagonism is who wrote Beyond Faith – Dana or me? So I delve into that when I read.

2. Dana has a tendency to crash my readings. She hides at the back of the room or just outside the door of the room or in the case of a bookstore, behind a bookshelf. I warn my reading audience about her, including holding up an enlarged coloured photo of her,  and at the end, pretend to see her poking her nosey nose (well, she is a Private Investigator) at the back of the room, so I abruptly end my reading and go chase her.

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series.

3. Read with another author – literally. You read from each other’s fiction and take the part of the main characters in the excerpts read. I’ve done this with literary author (nothing like mixing up the fiction genres), Michael Dyet and his short story collection  Hunting Muskie. We pick a theme and pick passages from there. With his short stories the passage has two characters. With Beyond Faith, sometimes more. And to make it interesting, Michael sometimes takes Dana’s part so I can read her seven-year old son, David’s part. And it works.

Michael and Sharon – Muskie and Murder presentation. Shane Joseph photo.

4. Use humour. Do skits with another author using two or more characters in your novels and expand what is going on in one novel into a comedy skit. Michael wrote a skit for us where Dana became the PI (instead of the cop  in one of Michael’s short stories in the collection. And when the two met, it did not go well to the point of being ludicrous. In another skit with prolific literary author Shane Joseph, I wrote a skit where Dana seeks out one of his book’s characters (George in the novel In the Shadow of the Conquistador) to find a possible relative of Sharon’s – Shane had one of his character’s last names the same last name as Sharon’s maiden name – without knowing this when he wrote the book). The skit turned into a free-for-all, especially when the Blue Denim Publisher arrived on the scene to scold the feuding characters. Shane played two roles, but the skit worked.

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5. I’ve had Dana appear instead of me to promote Beyond Faith. Below she is with a bunch of other mystery authors from Crime Writers of Canada at an annual Ontario Library Association annual convention in downtown Toronto.

 

6. And you can take your author PR beyond readings to appear on panels, which I have done many times. I also host an online interview show Crime Beat Confidential on thatchannel.com where I interview people involved in some way with crime and mystery. Dana starts the show off, doing her usual Dana – dissing me and claiming she wrote Beyond Faith. But she also mentions the show’s guest and when it was a real life private investigator, she interviewed her for part of the show. Usually I do all the interviewing.

A link to the PI guest episode of Crime Beat Confidential is here.

And all this is a lead in to my Author Reading as part of a round of 11 Toronto Sisters in Crime reading each briefly reading a short excerpt from their published fiction. I will be focusing on a theme in my short passage and that’s all I’ll say. Except to add the details for these readings. So, if you are in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area Thursday, January 16, 2020, here are the details.

Date and Time: Thursday, January 16, 2020, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Location: Northern District Library, 40 Orchard View Blvd., Room 200, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

If not, maybe you can get some ideas from what I do to enhance author readings for your own author readings. Happy readng.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series.

 

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Using bad life events in your writing

Pi Dana Bowman holds Beyond novels

When I was a journalist, often something happening in my life triggered a story idea. Not necessarily something personal in my life; it could have been something in my neighbourhood or  someone I knew or had just met. A big one was when I went through a few years of suffering from debilitating migraines. That one generated several stories published in several newspapers. The stories weren’t about me, but about migraines, headaches, and dealing with pain, including a story on the migraine sufferer who started The Migraine Foundation.

Fast forward to several years later when I am writing the Beyond mystery series. I made one of my re-occurring main characters, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding a migraine sufferer, who was the main character in a short story “The Headache Murders ” (Wordscape 5 Anthology, 1999 MTB Press), and also a main regular character in the first novel in the Beyond Series – Beyond Blood. It is the novel where my main character PI Dana Bowman meets Fielding when there is a weird Break and Enter at her house. Then her son is kidnapped and a murder is committed. You guessed it – Fielding comes down with a migraine and Dana, being Dana, tries to help Fielding in her in-your-face way. Here I use some of the tricks of the migraine suffering “trade”.

For me it was at a party at my house when I got a migraine. The stress of the party, coupled with dealing with a boarder co-organizing the party (and getting on my nerves). One of my friends sat me down in the kitchen, asked for a brown paper bag and told me to hold it over my nose and mouth and blow into it. as I recall, it didn’t completely get rid of the migraine.

But I thought it would work in Beyond Blood for Fielding and Dana to connect as they had started off getting on each other’s nerves (and continued and still continue to do so). I decided to put it in a bedroom scene – no, not what you are thinking. Dana and her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture are bunking overnight  in spare bedrooms at their next door neighbours’ house, because the twins’ house is a crime scene and they have to get out for now. The next morning Fielding bangs on Dana’s bedroom door to question her further and brings her a change of clothes that Constable Nivens (female cop) had gathered. Dana was still in her dress-up clothes from the reception opening for her and her brother’s Attic Investigative Agency the previous evening. Some of the conversation goes like this:

Thanks.” I grabbed the bag. “You look like hell. No sleep?””

“Just a migraine. I get them all the time. It’ll pass.”

“Migraine. Here come in and sit down on….” A quick look around the room showed an ironing board piled high with clothes standing beside a chest of drawers. A basket of clothing sat in the only chair.:..the bed.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t. Migraines are awful. My mother used to get them, but thankfully I don’t. She used to blow in a a paper bag, to get rid of the pain, I mean. Maybe there’s one here.” I started rummaging in the dresser drawers.”

Ms. B…B…Bowman, it’s all right.”

“Here we are.” I shook a scarf from a Fashion Shoppe bag and shoved the bag at Fielding. He ignored it. “Put it over your face and blow.”

He stared at me, for once speechless, took a deep breath and sputtered.

“Take the damn bag and blow. And go and sit down. I don’t want to have to deal with a cop passing out in a bedroom.”

A little colour hit his face for a second. He staggered over to the bed, plunked down on the edge, leaned over and blew. (From Beyond Blood, copyright 2014,  Sharon A. Crawford, published 2014, Blue Denim Press)

You can see how this pans out – and based on personal experience as mentioned previously. And there is something else different about Fielding from your usual police officer characters.

He stutters. Also from my life, but not me – a classmate from grade school. Not to be disrespectful to my classmate, but it triggered another different character trait to use.

So, the take-away idea is: what can you take from your life to use in your short story or novel? Something a little different than falling down drunk or an argument – although those could be used with a twist.

One piece of advice for writers is to write about what you know. I prefer to use that as the bare basis and go from there. You may also find (particularly in non-fiction where you write fact, not fiction), you will become involved in a lot of research, including interviewing several sources. And in fiction, you may also need to go beyond your own experience as I had to in Beyond Faith when Dana is pushed down onto the cement and suffers a concussion.

And not I did not fall down on the cement or get someone to push me – although I have tripped over weeds and plants in my garden, and fallen down a few stairs – but those are for other stories.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The former migraine sufferer – real life

 

 

 

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Behind the scenes at Crime Beat Confidential

Usually taping my TV show Crime Beat Confidential goes fairly straightforward. The latest taping had an unwanted and unexpected guest – Mr. Murphy – he of Murphy’s Law.

I should have expected something like this when even getting my guest interviewee didn’t go smoothly. My guest-to-be is a very busy writer, but very interesting. I had met her before so I’m not talking through the proverbial hat. She was out of town most of the summer and when she finally was back she had one day she could tape the show. So I booked the time for taping at That Channel, sent my guest an outline of the show. (This is not investigative journalism, but informative and entertaining and always focusing on something in the crime area.)

The day of taping was a sunny fall day – not really cold, and not rainy so no worries about water getting into my basement. So what could go wrong?

Almost everything. When I arrived early at the studio I found they had no Internet access (this is an Internet TV station) and they couldn’t tape the show on time. But someone was working to fix the technical problem. Everyone was friendly and there were lots of people in and out, so that when my guest arrived, she was having a lot of fun meeting everybody and seeing what all was going on at the station. Story idea popped into her head for the newspaper where she once worked as a staff writer. I’m used to all this going on (except the technical problem) so I take it all in stride. Meantime, I got ready for my main Beyond book character, PI Dana  Bowman to do her introduction. We were then  given an update when we would be able to start taping and finally got in the studio close to 5 p.m.

We took our places – my guest, Cathy Dunphy, former staff writer for the Toronto Star newspaper and now the president of a group of mystery writing women and two men called Mesdames of Mayhem, in the sidelines as Dana took her seat in the interview setting. Chris, the technician gave her the cue to start and so Dana went full throttle into her combination rant and intro about the guest. She finished and Chris said, “That was great, but it didn’t tape so we have to do it over.” So, we did, without mishap.

Here featuring PI Dana Bowman doing the intro

Cathy had to be somewhere else in another part of Toronto by 6.30 p.m. so I was filled with rushing to get back on the set and get going. Translation. I changed from Dana to me without doing something I usually do – look in the mirror to see if my hair was okay. And so, Cathy and I sat down in the set area; Chris tested the mics and then went behind the curtain to do his technical  magic. He gave us the signal to start and we were off to the races.

Sharon hosting an earlier episode of Crime Beat Confidential

The actual taping went well – no technical difficulties and we were able to leave in time for Cathy to make her 6.30 event only two minutes late and that is after she stopped at Valu-mart to pick up a sandwich for her “supper”. And then pick up her car to drive the rest of the way. I bought a few groceries and returned home by public transit.

A few days later Chris sent  me the video to peruse and come up with a title and blurb. So I started to watch. Dana was fine and so was Cathy. But my hair looked as if I had collided with a windmill – bangs all askew. And for some reason only on TV the colour doesn’t come through as it really is. I know that latter because not only does my mirror tell me so, photos taken of me also show it as so. Outside of a bad hair day, the show went very well, especially with two mystery reading addicts talking to each other. See for yourself in this photo not with Crime Beat Confidential

And see the Crime Beat Confidential Show with guest Cathy Dunphy here.

What do you think of the show?

Sharon A. Crawford and PI Dana Bowman signing off.

 

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New Beyond appearances for Sharon A. Crawford

I haven’t disappeared – being kept busy with current and upcoming appearances and writing. More on both in future posts which starting this week will be at least every two weeks.

For now, I have a couple of links for you to see the mystery mayhem I am currently creating and those in the works.

There is a Gigs and Blog Tours Page connected to this blog and I keep it update with what I’m up to in all things mystery and mystery writing. That includes PI Dana Bowman. The link to this page is here. Pay attention to the December 3 event with four other Crime Writers of Canada authors. We deal with Toronto the Good? or maybe that should be Toronto the Foul?

And Episode 6 of my TV show, Crime Beat Confidential was taped this week on thatchannel.com. It is currently being edited. This current show has both Pi Dana and I hosting, but I do the actual guest interview – if you can call it that when two mystery reading addicts who are also former journalists get together and talk about crime and crime books.  The Youtube link to the five previous episode is here.

Below, PI Dana Bowman does her Introduction at the show’s beginning.

 

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Sharon and Dana at Word on the Street

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It’s PI Dana Bowman here and I’m so excited. The annual Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival rolls into Toronto this coming weekend. And I’m going to be there at two booths. I am front stage and centre at the Toronto Sisters in Crime Booth and share space at the Crime Writers of Canada booth with authors Lorna Poplak  and what’s her name who says she wrote Beyond Faith and I didn’t. We’ll see about that. This will be my opportunity to set some things straight to everybody who comes by the SINC booth. I can show them parts of Beyond Faith and ask them.

Who wrote the book?

Oh, what’s her name is here. I better scoot.

 

Hey you, Dana Bowman. Get your nosey nose (and the rest of you) back inside Beyond Faith. Oh, hello from the real author of the Beyond mystery books, including Beyond Faith. If you look a the book cover below you will see it doesn’t say “Dana Bowman” as the author, but me, ” Sharon A. Crawford”. Do I try to stick my nose into Dana’s life?

Don’t answer that. Of course, I do, as an author.

The latest Beyond mystery. (2017).

Now, down to business.

Word on the Street (WOTS) appears every year about this time somewhere in downtown Toronto, Canada. For the past few years it has been at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre by Lake Ontario. And that can give a real meaning to “jump in the lake”..WOTS covers pretty much the gamut of books and magazines; hence its title.And it doesn’t matter if you are publisher, author or reader (or some or all of those); it doesn’t matter if you read only print books or e-books; it doesn’t matter if you write prose or poetry or plays, there is something (or several somethings) for all. Yes, even a kids section. Children’s literature is big business these days, especially Young Adult books. So are romance and mysteries. Whatever you like to read is there. And a word of warning. The festival may be free to get into, but all those books and magazines. You’ll need to bring money and some canvas bags..

Take a gander over to the Toronto Word on the Street 2019 website and browse. You’ll be doing more than just browsing. With all that is going on ast WOTS, you will need to plan your visit down to the last second. But, this time there are events on the Saturday as well.

Dana got one thing right. Two appearances – but for me. She”ll be there inside the books and if I catch her trying to take my place, I’ll…I’ll

Well, maybe I’ll let her out if she sells some books.

Anyway, Dana Bowman (from wherever) and I look forward to meeting you and talking to you at WOTS on Sunday, September 22, 2019. The three Beyond mystery novels   – Beyond the Tripping Point, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith will also be available to browse and purchase.

Here’ my (er, our) appearance info.

Sisters in Crime Toronto Chapter

Booth #WB5

11 a.m. to 12 noon

 

Crime Writers of Canada

Booth #WB4

Times and Date.

3.30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, September 22, 2019

Location:

Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ontario

Please note the whole festival for the Sunday runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And let’s hope the weather and public transport co-operate. We don’t want any rain to fall on our “parade”, especially if we are waiting for a bus to get there.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mysteries.

And PI Dana Bowman, the books’ main character.

 

 

 

 

 

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