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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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Beyond Faith is here – some author thoughts on writing, rewriting and publishing

Beyond Faith has arrived at Blue Denim Press – my publisher. Soon I will get some print copies in my hands; soon it will be available on both the main Amazon site and the Canadian Amazon site. Check these current links for when. The book launch is still scheduled for October 22 at Supermarket Restaurant and Bar; I’m headed for Bouchercon the big mystery writers conference Oct. 11 to Oct. 15, and etc.

Whew! I need to take a deep breath and think. Think about how an author gets to this stage – at least this author – and how it feels.

This is my third Beyond book but still the elation, wonder and gratitude is there – just like  with the first book, and the second book. Although supposedly I am an old-hand at all this (and that is a myth – you always learn from each book’s writing, each book’s marketing – the whole she-bang). Among other things, with Beyond Faith, I learned a lot about revisions and working with the editor at my publisher’s. Some of you may know that I am also an editor, albeit a freelance one. Sometimes experience on both sides of the fence can be a help; sometimes not. The main thing is to remember which side of the fence you are on at that time. Sure past editing experience may help you with rewriting, but you are not the editor. Having said that, the book editor and the book author must not work at cross-purposes. You have to work together to create the best book possible. I like to think that’s how Shane and I brought Beyond Faith to publication.

The little voice in my head is whispering, “I should hope so – after eight revisions requested by Shane since the first submission. And that’s not counting all the revisions pre-submission and when I made all the changes, additions and deletions with each revision. It doesn’t come with the first try. Revision 1, Revision 2 and so on required several rewrites, only to go back the next day to make more changes to that revision.

In between all this and even during, my mind was whirling around with ideas of what and how. Sometimes I had to go out to my garden and pull weeds; sometime go for a walk, sometimes sleep on it. I don’t think I dreamed up any ideas, but sometimes when I woke up, an idea was there in my mind.

Shane would make suggestions for what needed changing and even say something had to go because it didn’t work. One example is in a scene I  had with David, Dana Bowman’s seven-year-old son, who was out walking the dog, Buddy, with his babysitter. The sitter goes into the drugstore and David and Buddy have a confrontation with a couple of the other characters. Shane pointed out that a seven-year-old, particularly David, wouldn’t talk like that. So, I had to do some rewriting to keep the plot intact but make David, well David. Usually I can do this, but something was definitely off. I was also told to put in more menace to have something frighten David then. And I did.

So while waiting for the publisher to deliver the actual print book author copies, I feel a sense of accomplishment, relief but also some trepidation. Because Beyond Faith now has to sell. And while I love doing book promo, there are never enough hours in the day to do all that I think is needed for that. And I am still learning how to do many of those things.

And do you know what is high on my list of impediments to doing book promo? Same as gets in my way of writing.

Screw-ups and other problems in other areas of my life – especially those caused by what I call “outside” – others screwing up, bad weather and the like. Things like unexpected house repairs, health issues, other people wanting me to do things for them now, late and delayed public transportation, bureaucratic and bank errors – all things that steal from my time.

And yes, they all make fodder for future stories. Some of them are at the basis of some of the happenings in Beyond Faith – all fictionalized, changed to be more menacing than in real life. Sorry, folks, not telling which happenings or even which characters fit that category. I will say that I do have an axe since 2014, but it’s used for chopping the ice that sometimes forms on sidewalks in the winter, not for chopping up people.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

author of the Beyond mystery series

Sharon holding up the previous 2 Beyond books at WOTS

 

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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 book character Dana Bowman dives into new mystery

Dana Bowman escapes from Beyond Blood again.

Note from Dana: We are a day late here because Sharon and I were busy going through proofs of our new Beyond mystery novel –Beyond Faith. But I really have to leave the rest of that for now and see what’s what with Carla Dugan, David’s teacher. So it’s back to late fall 1999.

Dana: You better come in. And David, we’ll talk later.

Dana takes Ms. Dugan and David upstairs to the Attic Investigative Agency office and after introductions with Bast are made, gets right on it.

Dana: Okay, Ms. Dugan why did you take my son out of school?

David: Mommy. I took her out. She looked sad so a recess I asked her what’s wrong and said my mommy and Uncle Bast could fix it.

Dana: Hm. Very well…for now. So tell me about your brother Wayne.

Ms. Dugan: He didn’t do those break and enters. He wasn’t even in town when some of them happened.

Dana: Then why do the police suspect him?

Ms. Dugan: Because the suspects are his friends.

Dana: So guilty by association?

Ms. Dugan: I suppose that’s what the police think.

Dana: Well, that is often true.

Ms. Dugan: Not if you don’t see them anymore.

Dana: Wait a minute. You just said the other suspects were his friends and then insinuated they are not. I’m confused.

Ms. Dugan frowns: Oh all right. They are three old school friends of Wayne. Back in high school they were known as the Four Avenging Amigos because they used to help people, well, their friends in trouble. That wasn’t always exactly legal. Well…they were teenagers.

Dana: Did that help include any break and enters?

Ms. Dugan shrugs: Sort of. One or two when one classmate stole something belonging to another, they would break into the thief”s house and get the item back. And sometimes if they thought parents were being er, unreasonable, they broke in and did a little vandalism. But they didn’t take anything.

Dana: So that makes it all right?

Bast: Dana, let Ms. Dugan finish…

Dana: Fine. Go on

Ms. Dugan: Not much else except Wayne hadn’t seen these friends for a few years. He’s been living in London Ontario and had just moved back to Thurston for a new job. He has been staying with me until he gets his own place. Money, you know.

Dana: I see. So tell me about this screwdriver business outside the hardware store.

David: Ms. Dugan’s brother was buying them to fix a door.

Dana: David, what did I say?

David: Mom. Okay. Keep quiet.

David makes the zip-the-lip motion.

Ms. Dugan: The screwdrivers were really to fix a door hinge. It still needs fixing as the cops took the ones Wayne bought. We were only getting new screwdrivers because mine seem to have disappeared.

Bast: Disappeared? Just recently?

Ms. Dugan: I don’t know. I don’t do my own home repairs.

Bast: Then, who does.

Ms. Dugan: Stan, my next door neighbour. But he’s in hospital now so I asked Wayne to fix the door. It is off one hinge and when you open and close it, I’m afraid it will fall off on someone.

Bast: Which door is that?

Ms, Dugan: The front screen door of course.

Dana: You were in a bit of trouble last month, when that maniac tried running you off the road. (See  * below after this post).

Ms. Dugan: I was a victim.

Dana: I know. I saw it happen when I was picking David up from school. Remember?

Ms. Dugan: Right. And you two did find out who the culprit was. That’s why I’m here… and at David’s insistence, too.

Dana: I was wondering if all this pointing the finger at you and possibly Wayne has something to do with that.

Ms. Dugan: Oh, so you will take my case?

Bast: Let’s say we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for now.

Dana: But we will look at all possibilities. Now, we will need to speak to Wayne and we will need the contact info for his friends to talk to them, too.

Ms. Dugan: Okay, Wayne is of course..

A loud sound like a thump comes from downstairs. Then the sound of glass breaking.

Bast: Stay here. Dana, call 911.

Dana grabs her cell. As the twins head for the main stairwell, they hear footsteps coming up the other stairway – the one for the Attic Agency. And footsteps right behind them.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

*From “Road Raging” in Beyond the Tripping Point  (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Ms. Dugan and the TD bank manager were targetted for  allegedly causing an accident which rendered a five-year old girl a vegetable existence.

 

Click on the book for more info.

 

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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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Beyond Faith new novel

The second beyond book.

The contract for Beyond Faith, my third Beyond mystery book is signed and yesterday I completed the second last rewrite for the publisher. There will be one more kick at the … no, not cat – no cats in Beyond Faith – there is a dog,but I do not kick dogs, or cats either. I will get one more chance at any rewrite after the editor at the publisher has another look at it.

He and I have worked together to get Beyond Faith ready for publication this fall and once the last rewrite is done, I will pull our the book promo ideas now running round in my brain (and some no doubt taking a nap), and what I have read in emails and social media and get them going.

But the rewriting has been intense. Shane, my editor has pointed out things that are unclear, silly and inconsistent, and like all editors (myself too when I wear my editor hat), things that can just be deleted. I found a few of all those on my own. From there I was able to rewrite a better story, make my characters more interesting and realistic and hint at what’s to maybe come in future Beyond mysteries.

It is an experience for me to be the one whose novel is being edited instead of the other way around. I do say that I work from both sides of the fence – writing and editing. This full fence position (positions?) gives a wider perspective of the writing and rewriting process.

I like going deep deep into the story with its rewriting. Sometimes I get so carried away I forget to get up and eat lunch at a reasonable time. And I find myself acting out scenes – although many times it is to get the logistics of what is happening. Without going into a lot of details to spoil it, Beyond Faith has a whole lot of pushing going on (and I don’t mean the drug-dealing kind). Trying to see how someone would fall when pushed (as opposed to tripping and falling) isn’t as easy as you think.

What do you do? Get a friend to push you or persuade them to let you push them so you can see it from behind? It is important to get these details right, but at what cost? No, I didn’t get friends involved, but I did some research online and I moved around inside and outside to get a better idea.

This going inside your novel’s story and characters and seeing where it takes you and then having it make sense and flow, but be interesting and different is what I like doing. It is like going into another world, although it is debatable who controls it – you or your characters.

But if I didn’t do it, the novel would be superficial.

And while I’m doing it, God or somebody else help anyone who phones or comes to my door; If jerked suddenly out of this intense creative state, there is no telling what I will do. Although I seem to be more mouthy (as in “what do you want?”) instead of pushy.

What about you? .

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

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