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Writing an outline or not for your novel?

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Do you painstakingly outline your characters every move and every plot development in your novel before you write it? Or do you jump right in and write from your idea of plot and characters? With a series (like my Beyond Blood series) the second option is modified as you already have your main characters – they just need further development.

I do a little of both and by that I don’t mean outlining to the last detail what is going to happen. I start with an idea and some new characters and start to type in an outline. But something happens as I do this. The darn story wants to be told so I involuntarily switch to writing mode.

Not that I’m through doing outlines. Far from it. I have had to stop and think between writings what could happen next. I say “could” because characters and situations change (like people in real life situations). And being anal and sticking to the original plan is often not in the best interest of the novel. This is creative writing – fiction.

Because a few things happen when you are in creative writing land. You get better ideas and characters like to take over. Listen to them. Some original plot ideas may not work out. Some characters need fleshing out and/or need to be connected to the story more, particularly what I call the “guest characters” as opposed to the series regulars.

I tend to write complicated plots and am constantly going up and down the screen to fix inconsistencies. I do have a list of inconsistencies and also a list of what I call “Balls being juggled in the plot.” The latter refers to what evolves as I write, but they must be worked out in the story telling. Let no story thread be left well, unthreaded.

One thing readers hate is if some plot development is left hanging at the end of the novel. I’m not referring to continuation of series characters’ private lives – for example relationships that have formed in the novel and may continue in your next novel. If Alice and Joseph start dating in your novel, you don’t have to marry them off at the end of the novel. Leave that open-ended one way or the other as anything can happen in the next novel. But if you have a subplot that is a red herring (part of the criteria for mystery novels), you better resolve that one.

So I ask you again – how do you write – from an outline or by the seat of your pants?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Click on the Beyond Blood cover at the top to find out where copies are available.

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Changing your story mid-stream

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

As I continue writing my third Beyond mystery book, things are changing with the plot and the characters. That is the big reason why I don’t pre-plot down to the last T. Characters, like real people, change over time and that includes perspective – mine and my characters.

Yes, you read that right – my characters are changing and I’m letting them do so. The main characters of the Beyond series – fraternal twin PIs – Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, Dana’s son David and Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding – have to change and grow. If I want my characters to be real life, they can’t stagnate. This third book has to reflect consequences of what happened in Beyond Blood (the novel) and the four Bowman/Overture stories in Beyond the Tripping Point. BB takes place in summer 1998; those four stories in BTTP from May 1999 to mid-October 1999. The current Beyond book takes place from November 1999 to the beginning of January 2000.

So, I’ve been sitting at my computer almost every weekday, writing, some of the story pre-thought out, much “by-the-seat-of-my-pants.” At the end of the day’s work I type up a few notes about what to cover the next day – not that I will stick exactly to it.

Something just wasn’t working out. I do choose who the murder is before I get going on a novel. But the who and the whys just weren’t making sense here. And there would be some similarities to Beyond Blood. I’m supposed to be continuing the characters’ stories, not copying them.

So, on Tuesday I woke up brainstorming and later put down some changes in writing. Yes, I changed the who-dunnit and of course the why. This made sense and provides a real twist in the story. The other person who I had pegged for the murderer will not be lily-white and will figure into the plot line – not just as a red-herring, but also in a subplot that ties in with the main plotline. I love complicated. And yes there are more twists and turns going on.

But I’m not telling what. I just might change my mind. Or the characters might.

Sometimes I wonder just who is writing this novel.

And it’s not just me that thinks that. When I was interviewed about Beyond Blood a few months ago on the Liquid Lunch for thatchannel.com, one of the interviewers, Sandra Kyrzakos, said I was channelling my characters. Perhaps she is right. See for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2bBaePIWgY&feature=youtu.be

 

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com – my publisher – you can also purchase e-books – both Kindle and Kobo from Blue Denim Press. Click on the Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post.

 

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Let your fiction characters evolve

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

How relevant is your original concept of your fiction characters? You do an outline of their traits and how they act, talk, etc. Then as you write your novel something happens.

Your characters have the nerve to change. They don’t act according to your plan, your concept of them. And worse, the little devils want to take over your novel.

Excuse me. It is their novel too. Without them you don’t have a novel or at the most, you have a bare bones plot with some iffy and maybe characters.

If you remember, last week’s post dealt with guest characters wanting to take over https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/2015/04/16/fiction-characters-who-want-to-take-over-the-story/ so let’s take that a step further. But first we have to step back. You and your friends and family did not suddenly stop changing and growing (and not just physically here) at age five, age 20 and so on. You evolve; you change; things happen.

Same with your fiction characters. As you write your novel, no matter what you put in your outline for characters and plot, something is going to change if for no other reason than the original idea, the original concept, just won’t work.

I’ll give you an example from my recently published mystery novel Beyond Blood. One of the biggies was changing the POV characters from one – private investigator Dana Bowman, PI – to also her fraternal twin and PI partner Bast Overture, Dana’s six-year old son, David, and the mysterious Him. That sure opened up the plot. It also meant getting inside four, not one, characters’ heads.

And dealing with their development, their actions and their demands. Sure it puts the writer on edge. Would this change work? Should I do this or should I do that?

I’ve found when you get to a point where you have to deviate from the original plan, it works best to write spontaneously and see what happens. Each character will invade your mind and make demands. You may not use all of what they want, but listen to them. And just write. You can make more changes later.

That’s what I do even though it means scrolling to and from different parts to fix something that doesn’t seem consistent or make sense. And I do it when my characters insist.

Remember, characters are real to you and to your readers. Just like you, your family and friends, characters evolve over time.

Let them.

And if you want to hear a bit about the point of view changes I made, I will be reading from Beyond Blood this evening when I join 15 other Crime Writers of Canada authors reading at the Arthur Ellis Short List Party. We each get three minutes to read – I can just squeeze in my two pages of Prologue – one from Him’s point of view and one from Dana’s.

After the readings all the CWC authors short-listed in the various Arthur Ellis Awards categories will be named – out loud. If you are in the Toronto or GTA area in Ontario, Canada, please join us from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Indigo Book Store in the Manulife Centre at Bay Street and Bloor Street West. It promises to be fun.

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com including a link to a radio interview at http://bluedenimpress.com/authors/sharon-a-crawford/ Online TV interview from Liquid Lunch is at http://youtu.be/i2bBaePIWgY

Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post links to my Amazon author profile. If you buy a  copy there, please do a review on amazon.

 

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When your fiction characters get inside your head

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Are your fiction characters trying to take over your mind? Do you seem to be losing yourself in their quirks and even their talk?

Two of the main characters from my Beyond mystery fiction series (Beyond the Tripping Point, 2012 and Beyond Blood, 2014, Blue Denim Press for both) are doing this. Dana Bowman, the PI mom of six to seven-year old-David (age depending on which book) and the stuttering Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding.

Sandra Kryzakos in her Liquid Lunch interview with me says I’m channeling my characters. She bases this on how I talk about them and how I read excerpts from the books. And to add more fuel to the channelling fire, when I told her about Detective Fielding, I started to stutter and said so.

“Now, she’s channeling,” she said. (Watch this thatchannel.com interview on You Tube at http://youtu.be/i2bBaePIWgY)

Not the first time something like this has happened. Others hearing me read say I don’t read like I’m just reading but I put myself into the characters, into their heads.

Now, are Dana and Fielding getting back at me? Just kidding? Actually I welcome my characters getting into my head. Besides giving me an excuse for if and when I stumble over words, my characters are speaking to me. They give me ideas for what to write in my third Beyond book. They keep me in touch with what is happening in their lives and remind me of what is impossible. They also remind me they are distinct characters and not me.

Although I wonder about the latter. Especially when I find myself sometimes using “Dana’s big bag” to cart groceries and other purchases. For Dana this bag is her purse. To my credit I use another smaller bag as my purse. But just calling the bag “Dana’s bag,” says something. However, I still can’t draw a straight line even with a ruler and Dana is also an artist, sketching the people she interviews and incorporating the interview context into the drawing. And she drives a car and the only driving I can do is to drive people up a wall. She is also not a gardener and I am. Then there is the 25 or so year age difference. (Note: I’m the older gal here).

And of course, I don’t have a fraternal twin brother – don’t have any siblings.

So, I’ll let Dana, Detective Sergeant Fielding and whomever else I write about “invade” my mind. They have stories to tell and I need to tell their story, not mine, in the Beyond books.

Now, if I could only sort out this dream business. Dana sometimes dreams about the future (you have to read Beyond Blood to see that). I’m hoping my horrendous, sometime scary dreams, are not premonitions of my future. If so, it could be a bleak future.

Dana? What do you think?

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

Maybe I’ll see you at a future gig. I post my reading and presentation gigs on the Beyond Blood page of my website www.samcraw.com. Keep checking back for updates.

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com including a link to a radio interview at http://bluedenimpress.com/authors/sharon-a-crawford/

Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post links to my Amazon author profile.

And that Liquid Lunch interview link again is http://youtu.be/i2bBaePIWgY

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Guest Alex Laybourne gives us the dirt on writing his novels

Alex Laybourne horror novelist

Alex Laybourne horror novelist

Today I welcome guest Alex Laybourne a prolific horror novelist (four novels published). Alex discusses the difficulties authors have nailing down how they write their novels. He has some interesting insights. Over to you Alex.

As a writer, one of the most common questions you will get asked, besides the insulting and impossible to answer to any degree of satisfaction question of, How many books have you sold, is undoubtedly going to be something directed at the way in which you approach the task at hand.

How do you write your novels?

Do you always know how your book is going to go?

How much preparation do you do for your characters?

Do these sound familiar?

These questions, while interesting to hear, because it means that the person you are talking to is interested in the process rather than the success, are often the hardest to answer. Twice at least.

I say this because it is, for more writers, impossible to give the same answer to these questions twice in a row. I don’t mean this in the sense of, I can’t remember the exact word for word answer I gave the last time but on a much more fundamental level. It is physically impossible to answer this question twice, giving the same themed response.

Why? Well, every book, every project is different. The story is different, the characters, unless you are writing a series, are going to be different. There will be a varied tone and style to their work, certainly for younger, or shall we say, less experienced, writers. For they are trying hard to find their voice, to find that natural tone.

I have now published four full length novels and four (currently unavailable) short story collections, and what worked for the first tale, did not work for the second.

This was a painful fact for me to learn, and it is something that every writer needs to experience for themselves before they understand the meaning behind it.

My first novel, Highway to Hell, I planned out in my head, chapter by chapter, for the most part, but for the sequel, I just couldn’t figure it out ahead of time. I tried, and deleted close to sixty thousand words after finding myself bored and fed up with the story. It turned out that this novel needed to be written ‘on the fly’. This was a frightening process, as I knew nothing, and as I wrote there were passages which I marked for the editing phase. I hated them, and they were out of place, or so it seemed. Then, suddenly, at the end of the book, I found myself linking back to these passages which suddenly not only made sense, but helped round off the tale perfectly.

My novel Diaries of the Damned was written in a similar way. Whereas my most recent novel, Blood of the Tainted was written following the basic storyline, I had in my head, and then the details and a sub plot were added during the re-write phase.

It is impossible to gauge, before you start putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys, as would be more apt in the modern world, how you should write the novel. You could write a wonderful plan, mapping out every conversation and plot point to fit every style guide and craft book you have read, but suddenly, you find yourself stuck. Your imagination has a flare and before you know it the book is going in a different direction.

It is hard not to fight this, not to try and stick to the routine that provided you such success the last time, but it is nature. It cannot be fought any more than we can fight the aging process. We can give it a good try, but ultimately we lose. Go with what your mind, what the natural writer inside of you is saying, and not what the real you wants to do.

Books are a part of us, the characters are part of who we are. They are friends, people who we learn about as we write. The best characters, like the best friendships, are not defined from the very beginning, but evolve naturally over time.

Think about your social interactions. How you behave at work, at home, down the pub with your friends. We do not operate on a single basis of interaction. We adapt as necessary based on where we are, who we are with. We are not denying who we are, but we are allowing the different components of who we are to shine when the time is right.

This is exactly how it works with writing. Whether you are writing standalone novels, a series, or short stories, even blog posts, such as this. The approach you take will vary, because each one will be using a different part of who you are as a writer as the dominant creative voice.

Embrace it, because it knows what it is doing. Once you accept this, two things will happen. Writing will become that much easier, because you know you are doing what is right, and the task of answering the questions mentioned above will become that much harder, for you will be more aware of the layers that run beneath it all.

Thanks for reading.

Alex Laybourne

Bio

Born and raised in the coastal English town Lowestoft, it should come as no surprise (to those that have the misfortune of knowing this place) that Alex Laybourne became a horror writer.

From an early age he attended schools which were at least 30 minutes’ drive away from his home, and so most of his free time was spent alone.

He claims to have been a writer as long as he can remember. With a wild and vivid imagination he finds it all too easy to just drift away into his own mind and explore the worlds he creates. It is a place where the conditions always seem to be just perfect for the cultivation of ideas, plots, scenes, characters and lines of dialogue

He is married and has four wonderful children; James, Logan, Ashleigh and Damon. His biggest dream for them is that they grow up, and spend their lives doing what makes them happy, whatever that is.

Cover of  Alex Laybourne's latest novel. Available on amazon. See link below

Cover of Alex Laybourne’s latest novel Blood of the Tainted.Available on amazon. See link below

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Alex-Laybourne/e/B00580RB18

Official website and blog site http://alexlaybourne.com/

Thanks Alex for your insights.

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series – most recent Beyond Blood (Blue Denim Press, 2014).

 

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Getting the scene right in your story

Cover of Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press. Click for link to purchase e-copies

Cover of Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press.

When writing fiction it is not only important to make your characters and plot realistic, but you need to do the same with your setting. Especially when you combine the setting with your characters and plot. Especially in rooms. Especially in action scenes in rooms.

Remember, you may have the visual in your mind but the reader is reading words, not watching it on TV. Think of police mystery shows, such as Chicago PD where the police are entering a building in force. The characters don’t know what they will find inside – people or structure, but you can bet the writers and director do. It can mess things up if you have a setting that just doesn’t match up with what the characters are doing.

Let’s take that scene mentioned above. As a fiction author, you need to know if there are stairs inside, where they are, if any of them have defects or squeak, how big the rooms are, and what rooms there are and how many levels. Otherwise you might unintentionally have a scene akin to the Keystone Cops.

In Beyond Blood, I had somewhat tight quarters to play out the climax – a medium-sized yacht. I had to know what would be on board, its arrangement, if my characters would all fit and be able to move around as needed (I solved that one by not having them all in one place at once).

But before I did that I had to get on a yacht, so I did. I got a tour of a somewhat smaller yacht and asked the owner/sailor about the terminology. And I read books on the subject.

There is a certain amount of micro-managing by the author once you get your building rooms straightened out. You need to consider any windows, if they face the sun and at what point of day. Is it dark and rainy outside when your characters are inside? You can’t have a character come in out of pouring rain and when he or she is in the living room or an office have bright sunlight streaming through…unless it suddenly clears up.

Then there is the feasibility of your characters moving around in a room and what they can see while they are in action. For one scene in Beyond Blood, I actually stood up from my computer and tried to re-enact the scene to consider room corners and furniture (my desk substituted for the office desk) to see if it would work.

You can also draw room sketches and if you aren’t somewhat incompetent in Math, do the rooms to scale. No, I don’t do the latter. But I did go around in different areas, different cities and towns with my camera to find the perfect house that would work with the Attic Investigative Agency on the top floor for the fraternal twin PIs – Dana Bowman and Bast Overture. This house had to be at leastt 75 years old, three stories, with two balconies and a turret. I found the house in downtown London, Ontario. I believe it is used for offices now) near a park and snapped away. No, I didn’t go inside. I used my imagination and memories for the inside.

But that’s fodder for another post.

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

For something completely different check out when I was interviewed about Beyond Blood and writing on radio station Northumberland 89.7 FM http://bluedenimpress.com/authors/sharon-a-crawford/

All my TV interviews are posted on You Tube. Click on “Video” at the top right of this blog

Check out my website www.samcraw.com for more information about Beyond Blood and my writing workshops. I do update it.

The book cover at the top links to my Amazon author profile and my books. E-copies are also available at my publisher’s website http://www.bluedenimpress.com

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with series characters – Part 5 – Point of View

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

Moving series characters between novels and short stories gives the characters a chance to speak. With short stories you are limited to one character’s point of view to tell the story. Novels give more leeway but you still don’t want too many characters jumping in. The reader will be confused and possibly annoyed and you, the author may lose the plot thread. Or more realistically have too many plot threads that end up in a tangle.

You can take a major character or a minor character in your novel and write a short story with this character as your point of view character. So, let’s say your novel has three major characters – Angela, the person being stalked; Detective Walkins the police officer working on her case, and Jude her boyfriend as the three point of view characters in the novel. However, there are several minor characters: Janet, the nosey old neighbour across the street, Ben, Angela’s co-worker, Angela’s daughter, etc. etc. All of these characters have their stories, their life, their idiosyncrasies, their voice. In you novel they appear only as they are seen by one or more of the three main characters.

Give one, or all of these characters, their own short story. It can have little or nothing to do with the novel. Perhaps the story has to do with something else in their life. The nosey neighbour, for instance – just how did she become nosey and butting into everyone else’s business. Maybe she is a former investigative reporter who messed up and had to move on to another profession. But she misses digging up the dirt, so she puts herself into her neighbours’ business. Or Detective Watkins – he may have other cases, that one-by-one could generate several short stories – maybe even a novel.

You see where all this can get you?

You can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html
Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.
Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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