Tag Archives: Characters in Fiction
No matter what genre of fiction your write – mystery, romance, science fiction or if you writer literary fiction – your characters are very important to your story and to your readers. Readers want to get to know your characters so they can connect to them – whether they like or dislike them. If you just skim the surface of your characters they become too superficial and your readers just won’t care about them. They may even stop reading your short story or novel before getting to the end. This does not bode well for the fiction writer.
How can you make your readers connect to and care about your characters?
One way is getting inside their head. The best way I know how to do this is by using another fiction-writing technique – Point of View.
Point of View is often misused, especially if you use more than one POV in your novel. And using more then one POV is not wrong. You just have to remember the cardinal rule. One character’s POV per scene or per chapter. So stay only in that character’s head during that scene or chapter. Otherwise you are doing what we call in the business – “jumping heads”. Perhaps if you think of lice doing that it will give you some incentive not to jump heads.
How can POV help you see and develop your characters?
Basically,if you are inside that character’s head, you have to think like him or her – not like you would think for yourself. For example, how does he react when things go wrong ? What makes him scared and what does he do because of it? Is he shy? Is he a bully? Is he being bullied? Reactions include actions, dialogue, inner thoughts and how others react to him? And these will depend on the character. For example if the character is a child, the reactions will be different than an adult. But adults also react differently to situations and that is based on their background, their characteristics – physical (are they short and fat and subject to a lot of derogatory comments about that? Do they cringe, hide inside themselves, stand up for themselves or bully the attacker – maybe punch him in the nose?)
All depends on your character and yes, doing a detailed character outline of your character helps. Just remember like real-life people, characters change and evolve – often because of what goes on in their life. So your character outline is fluid.
How do your characters react to being insulted? Frightened? To trauma?
Let’s look at one of my main characters in Beyond Faith – seven-year-old David Bowman. He was kidnapped in the previous book, Beyond Blood, and is suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder because of it. This affects how he speaks, what he does,what he thinks and what others, especially close family, think of him.
The best way is to use the writing axiom of “show not tell.” So here are a couple of short excerpts from Beyond Faith (published Blue Denim Press, fall 2017). Please note all copyright of all excerpts, is with me, Sharon A. Crawford, the author.
First, his mother’s inner thoughts about him. The first chapter is from her – PI Dana Bowman’s POV. She is walking up Main Street dreading returning home. Two short excerpts here:
THE WIND WHIPPED my back and the cold rain pelted my face. Hunching further inside my jacket, I pulled the hood tighter. Despite chattering teeth and an oversized purse sliding down my sleeve, I continued plodding forward.
Late November in Thurston Ontario could weave a wicked wind, leaving you out of sorts and gasping for life, a feeling I had experienced a lot lately. Couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. Bast said it was because we would turn 40 the end of next month and to get over it. But that wasn’t it. Just when I seemed to find the proverbial hole, something always kept me from crawling in. But what was really stopping me?………
I should be happy. Not only did my son David survive his kidnapping last year, but this July he finally started talking again after months of silence. First he wouldn’t shut up, then he took to following Bast around again like he did when still mute. Since summer disappeared into autumn, when not at school, David was spending more time alone in his room—drawing. I didn’t like what erupted from his crayons—devils, fires with heads sticking out the top, hands wielding axes or guns. Where did he get all these ideas? Had he not healed from the kidnapping? Maybe the aftermath was like grief—going back and forth and all over the place in uneven stages……
What’s happening here? How does this clue the reader in on David’s character? And on his mother’s too? What do these short excerpts tell you about mother and son?
Let’s hear from David now in another scene. A little bit of info first. Partway through Beyond Faith, Dana is attacked from behind, falls to the cement and suffers a concussion. This is part of the scene a few hours later in the hospital from David’s POV.
“Uncle Bast, can we go see Mommy so the detective can find out who hurt her?”…..
Bast turned to the doctor. “Very well, if you don’t have any objection, Doctor? I would like to see my sister, too.”
Dr. Richards scratched his cheek. “She is sleeping now. She should get more rest, no excitement.”….The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. But just family. And just for a few minutes.”
He led them back to Mommy’s room. The cop sitting outside seemed to be asleep on the job. David went to him and shook him. “Wake up. You’re supposed to be watching Mommy’s room to keep the bad guys out.”
Constable Biggs looked up, but before he could say anything, Uncle Bast was leading David into the room, behind the doctor. The doctor said something to the nurse about giving them a few quiet minutes alone with the patient. The nurse stood up and she and the doctor left the room.
Bast sat down in the chair on one side of the bed. David moved his chair closer to Mommy on the other side. He sat down and took her hand. And started to talk about school, Ms. Dugan, and Buddy. He was there and he wasn’t going to leave her. If he did, he knew she would die……
What does this excerpt tell you about David? What techniques were used to show the reader David’s character? And as this is a child character, are his thoughts and language appropriate for a seven-year-old boy?
If you wish to find out more about the Beyond characters, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are available at amazon.com, amazon,ca, and other online places as well as some bricks and mortars stores.
But I am also suggesting you read a variety of novels (or short stories if that is your writing area) to see how a variety of other authors handle POV and character. Two caveats: unfortunately a small portion of published fiction messes up the POV – blame the editor here. And don’t copy what another author does – reading is for your learning and inspiration. In the end it’s your story and your characters.
Sharon A, Crawford
I have a sequence of events where I am appearing with two of my Beyond mystery series in the next few weeks. One on my own and others with other criminal (I mean “crime”) writers. Fortunately, the snafu with Indigo and its chain of bookstores having problems ordering in Beyond Faith for the actual stores, seems to have been fixed by the distributor, Ingram Sparks. Let’s hope it stays fixed. The store managers and I were perplexed and frustrated by the problem.
Here is the first event.
We will not be reading from our books. Instead we will be doing mini-presentations about our latest books. In my case, will my nosey main character PI Dana Bowman show up? I am trying to contain her between the book covers of Beyond Faith. But who knows what that wily PI will come up with?
And what are the other authors going to do?
Maureen Jennings (Murdock Mysteries) will be announcing the short list for each category for this year’s Arthur Ellis Awards. We (and others present) will be listening with the proverbial bated breaths.
So, if you are in the area in the GTA or actually in Toronto, please drop by for an interesting evening. And it’s all free.
Meantime, you can click on the Beyond Faith book cover at the top for more info about it.
Sharon A. Crawford
Being interviewed on a TV show is a good way to get the word out about your book and, if you have a good interviewer, get out some information about you, the author. One sign of interest in your book, is interest in you, the author. How do you write? Why do you write? Or in my case – who wrote the book, Beyond Faith – PI Dana Bowman, the main character who insists she wrote it, or me, Sharon A. Crawford, whose name is on the cover?
All that and more (including non-fiction books versus fiction books) got covered last week when I appeared on the Liquid Lunch where I was interviewed by host Hugh Reilly and a newbie co-host. This is on the Internet channel thatchannel.com – the channel has been going since 2004. Not bigtime ( or small time) TV but TV is no longer just regular channels. Think Crave TV. Think Netflix. And think thatchannel.com
This was my third appearance in six years (one for each Beyond book) on Liquid Lunch. This time I have mixed feelings about the way it went. There wasn’t time for me to read a couple of pages from Beyond Faith because we chatted too much. “We” is mostly Hugh and meas the newbie didn’t say too much and she put her foot in her mouth about one thing she said. But I handled it graciously. Also it was a different studio room and setup from the previous two appearances.
But my biggest gripe was my bangs had been cut too short the day before. Clearly I’m reading too many celebrity stories online. I was able to carry on an intelligent conversation and even steer it back to Beyond Faith when it got a bit off track.
You can check it out for yourself here. Or you can click on the Beyond Faith book cover above and that will take you directly to the interview.
And something extra is coming out of all of this.
I am getting my own TV show on thatchannel.com. It will be about crime – true and fiction and PI Dana Bowman will be a part of it – if she has her way. Show will get going this spring
More info closer to the date. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted. Meantime, watch the video (it’s about 27 minutes) and please spread the link to it on your social media. Thanks.
Sharon A. Crawford
In last week’s fall finale of The Blacklist, Tom, one of the major characters was killed off in a very brutal way. Those following the British series Inspector Banks were jolted in one episode where a major character DI Annie Cabbot was killed. Blue Bloods killed (off screen/between seasons) a minor, but important to the series character, Linda, Detective Danny Reagan’s wife.
Near the end of last season, NCIS Los Angeles killed off Michelle, the wife of NCIS Agent Sam. Michelle’s roll wasn’t even as a regular, but as a recurring guest. But in a twist, the actor who played Grainger – Miguel Ferrier – a regular – died in real life. Instead of following suit, the writers and producers had Grainger quit NCIS and go off to some faraway place.
Perhaps the weirdest one is the actor who played the original Morse on the old Inspector Morse series. Yes, the producers had Morse die of a heart attack when they were killing the series. But not long after the segment aired, John Thaw, the actor who played Morse died also, but from throat cancer.
Lately, TV series seem to be in a killing mood. Want to delete a character from the series. Kill him. Actors playing the characters want more money than the new contract will offer. Kill off their characters.
So what does this have to do with fiction characters in novels? Maybe something as some of those series originated from books.
To me, killing off a character just to get them out of the TV series, out of the novel series, or even just out of a novel is a poor way to do it. If you are going to kill a character there must be a reason within the story itself, something with the character and his other relationship with another character or characters. Even in murder mysteries, characters are bumped off for some reason – maybe they were going to reveal something bad about the murderer, maybe they stood in the way for the murderer to inherit money, maybe revenge and yes even the so-called random killing spree where the killer kills for no apparent reason. there is always some reason even if just in the killer’s mind.
If a character in your novel dies from natural causes, it has to be worked into the plot. Let’s look at a scenario from Beyond Faith, my latest Beyond mystery. There are two brothers – Gerrard Olsen and Larry Olsen. Near the beginning one of them gets killed. Without giving any spoilers, I had to think which brother and why and of course, who killed the brother and what led up to the killer doing so. That doesn’t come out right at the beginning, but PI Dana Bowman and her fraternal twin brother PI Bast Overture, and Det. Sgt. Fielding are trying to find out. Like most of my mystery novels and short stories, it is not straightforward. It all rises from the characters – who they are – what they have gone through and are going through in life and would they cross that line to kill? That latter is very important for an author to consider. Some characters are such bad assess in what they do that killing is believable. Other bad ass characters commit a lot of crime and/or are mean and ill-treat the people in their lives, but draw the line at killing them. Then there is the so-called good character who is pushed beyond his limits to the point where they kill.
Iit really all boils down to the character and the plot – and the two go hand in hand and drive each other. If you want one of your novel’s major characters to exit the novel, killing them may not be the only answer. That often comes across as lazy writing. Tthat can happen in mystery novels too, although when you get to the end and the good guy confronts the bad guy (or gal – guys don’t have the monopoly on being bad asses), the author has to “get rid” of the bad guy, but shooting her dead is not always the best way. The author has to consider who the good guy/gal is and how she would deal with it. Would she arrest the bad one? Or shoot him? Torture him? Push him into the lake and let him either swim or drown? Having said that, sometimes the good guy (or gal) isn’t the trigger-happy person, but is forced into a situation where it is ether the bad guy’s life or his. Then he might have to shoot – but not always to kill. Be creative. Many authors are. They have killers disappear during one novel only to return in a later novel. Chances are with this type of scenario, the novel’s protagonist probably has had some kind of a relationship with the baddie – so he will have to deal with the before and after. Unless you are a sociopath, you will be scarred by the death of someone close to you. You will have to grieve.
Back to Inspector Banks and the killing of Annie. That does not happen in the books by Peter Robinson the British series is based on. And to me that is a disrespect for the original author. True, TV series don’t follow the novels they come from and often go off the novel’s track, often for a good reason. They can’t get all the novel contents in a movie or limited TV program. And series have to expand beyond the novel’s plot.
Killing a character on TV or in a novel shouldn’t be done just to eliminate him. There has to be a reason – beyond the character just being bad or leaving the TV series. Haven’t these producers heard of just getting another actor to play the part? It was done years ago with the comedy series Bewitched when the actor playing the husband died. And it was done recently with the British series Jack Taylor. A different actress now plays the part of Kate. Both work.
What are your thoughts and ideas on killing off characters in books and TV. Do you kill of any of your fiction characters? Why or why not?
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?
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.
Sharon A. Crawford and Dana Bowman have an announcement to make:
Book Launch for Beyond Faith is set up and here are the details so far.
Muskie and Murder
Book Launch for Beyond Faith by Sharon A. Crawford
Hunting Muskie by Michael Dyet
Presented by Blue Denim Press
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Location: Supermarket Restaurant & Bar, 268 Augusta (in Kensington Market), Toronto, Ontario.
More details as they come and more in a future post on Michael Dyet, the other author whose book is being launched the same day. For now I’ll just say Michael writes literary fiction and I write crime fiction and that is an interesting mix. Meantime, check out Michael’s website.
Michael is known as The Metaphor Guy.
Sharon A. Crawford
Hey, and Dana Bowman here too.