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Tag Archives: Charactistics of good fiction plot

When in doubt kill the character off?

 

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series. Still alive.

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?

Comments, please.

Cheers.

Sharon.

Sharon’s latest Beyond mystery links to Amazon

 

 

 

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Keeping the suspense in your novel’s plot

As an editor I have read and edited a variety  of fiction manuscripts. The creativity of many of the  writers and the wide range of story lines is very interesting. But one thing (among others) I sometimes find is the lack of sufficient suspense. The story drags; the story, well, it flat lines. Here are a few tips on creating suspense in your novels.

1. Leave your reader hanging – at the end of the chapter is a good place because it not only raises the reader’s interest, it gets him or her reading the next chapter. Here is an example from my mystery novel Beyond Faith.

“From what Sister Olsen had told me about her brothers, I had some idea what might be bothering Eli. Too bad neither Eli Foster nor I had all the facts.”

2. Ask a question. You know the old saying “questions are the signs of intelligence.” Questions also make the reader want to continue to get some answers. These are questions in the narrative, the character’s inner thoughts, not in dialogue. Obviously in dialogue, another character will usually answer the question although they might lie.

Again from Beyond Faith, “Who were they? And why did one seem familiar?” (all Beyond Faith excerpts, copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press.)

3. Don’t tell all at once. Keep some information from the reader. I do a lot of this in Beyond Faith. The idea is you build up your plot with tidbits even if the character knows more than she is letting on. This is just the opposite from the example in point one above.

4. Use foreshadowing.This is often in conjunction with another technique. Again, see the example in point one above. Another example of foreshadowing is when the character is heading for an encounter they don’t relish. Perhaps with someone they don’t like and know is a nasty person. Build up the tension by getting inside the character’s head. How does the character feel? Scared? Are they sweating? Do they try to avoid meeting this character or delay the meeting by driving the long way to the meeting place. If it is in a restaurant, do they drink a lot, drop the cutlery, knock over a glass of water?

5. Or as a twist, the person is overly confident about meeting someone – a piece of cake, the character thinks. Then, wham, when they get to the meeting place, something happens – a car runs her down; someone takes a shot at her. She finds the person there all right at the meeting place – lying dead on the ground. You can tell I write mystery novels.

6. One suspense-building technique that I use is to have two main characters both heading for the same place at the same time – maybe one knows the other is there; maybe not. But one or both of them know that there is danger at the other end. Each one is racing to get there and perhaps save the other. You flip back and forth between the characters in separate scenes or short chapters. Show the reader what each character is thinking and what is happening to them. And don’t make it easy. In Beyond Faith I have PI Dana Bowman following Eli Foster in their respective cars; then I flip over to her fraternal twin, Pi Bast Overture who is not following anyone, but he has found out vital information about another character and figures out what this character is going to do so he is off to stop it. And no, I don’t tell all to the reader. And I’m not telling you any more here.

There are many more ways to create suspense. The twisted plot is one. And you can get ideas by reading published novels, the ones that do build suspense. Yes some crappy novels get published and I am not referring to self-published here.

And keep writing and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting.

And join a writing critique group for feedback.

And when you have rewritten a lot, hire an editor.

Then you can do some more rewriting.

I just started reading Hunting Muskie, a collection of literary short stories by Michael Robert Dyet (Blue Denim Press, fall 2017 – yes, same publisher as me). The first story “Slipstream”, has many plot threads popping up – all connected to a theme. And it keeps you reading. It also breaks the idea that some people have (mea culpa sometimes here) – that all literary stories don’t contain suspense.This one sure does have suspense.

Happy reading and happy writing.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Getting your novel ending right

The second beyond book.

Five rewrites later for the publisher I finally got it right. Sure lots of changes and improvements throughout Beyond Faith. But the one giving me the devil of a time was the ending. No matter how many rewrites of that, the editor at the publisher came back with what basically amounted to that it wasn’t quite right. And he did make suggestions which I did not ignore.

In retrospect I was probably being too flippant in part and it wasn’t getting serious enough, wasn’t making sense. In the end, my change must have been inspired by something he emailed. Or maybe that he said he could rewrite the last page. And the time ticking. So, I said I wanted one more crack at it and he agreed.

So, I suppose I got really into what the ending was all about and just wrote. When finished (including some rewording here and there before it went back to the publisher) I discovered something I wasn’t even thinking about in the main part of my brain. But my subconscious must have been tuned in, because there it was.

The ending actually tied back to the beginning.

And it made sense. It also provides, shall we say (no spoilers wanted), an opening for the next Beyond book. In fact, there are a few things happening in the latter part of Beyond Faith that could be carried forward into the next Beyond book, story lines that could be developed further and used in the complex mix of plots and characters I use in my stories.

So, why hadn’t I thought of that tie-in to Chapter One  before?

Many reasons. Perhaps the rush to finish the rewrite to meet a deadline (as it turned out, several deadlines). Perhaps because I had client work to do as well (no offence to the clients. I try to balance client work with the novel-writing and all the PR work for it involved.) If it were just Beyond Faith and client work to balance, I could manage.

I think I have to put a big share of the blame on much of the other stuff in my life, such as income tax filing and the CRA messing up despite me filing on time, health issues (that one will eat up your life no matter what. Guaranteed.), house and property problems, etc. Perhaps one of the biggies is others expecting me to do this and that for them and well, just bugging me to do so. Now, I’m reining back, even being slow to return emails if it is something that can be dealt with later. Some things I’m dumping and some things I’m saying “no.” to. My new motto is to prioritize and to focus on what is important to me.

That includes my family, too and some property and financial stuff, and especially the garden. My garden is therapeutic.  So is my writing

What can we learn from my experiences above to get the right ending for your story?

Don’t rush it.

Better time management – ignore the unnecessary and/or not important at the time. If those demanding your time to do something for them balk, too bad.

So, prioritize.

Think of your story’s beginning. This works for novels, novellas and short stories. A long time ago I learned from a writing instructor that the ending has to tie in with the beginning somehow – perhaps a resolution. In today’s mystery series novels, which mimic TV series, there is often a cliff-hanger at the end. Don’t be afraid to use it. Linwood Barclay and Julia Spencer Fleming use that tactic very well. In fact, I’m currently reading the third (and I think final) in Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls series. This third one The Twenty-three starts just days after the second one. I suggest you read some of their books as well.

And don’t be afraid to rewrite. That may include several endings to see what works best. This might be the time to get somebody (besides a biased family member) to read the beginning and ending and give you some feedback. I know it could have spoiler potential, but you do want to get it right, don’ you?

The cover of my previous Beyond book Beyond Blood is up at the top with links to amazon. And yes it’s ending ties in with something in Chapter one, and also has a hook into Beyond Faith.

The publisher now has his book designer designing a cover for Beyond Faith. When that’s done and I get a copy, I’ll be putting it at the top of these blog posts.

Meantime, starting next week, I’ll be writing some special blog posts, a sort of mini-Beyond series for the summer.

Keep writing and rewriting.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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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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Let it rain – between your book covers

I hate heavy rain, especially large amounts, especially mixed with strong winds. Which we are getting today in Toronto,Canada. So, what am I doing about it? Besides staying in and checking the basement for any water getting in?

I put the rain in my third Beyond mystery book. Not the rain coming down right now. In one scene I have my main character, PI Dana Bowman, walking through a rain – heavy with blowing winds. Unlike me, Dana drives, but she has been somewhere near home so left the car in the driveway before the rain started. Now she is walking home, but the rain and what it brings – including the kickstart to the novel’s story- begin happening as she struggles through the rain.

In a nutshell, I took a re-occurring scenario in my life, a scenario I don’t like – and fictionalized it.

You can do that, too, but there are caveats.

  1. If your story occurs in another time – an that means not today – make sure you are accurate in presenting your story.. My novel takes place in late fall 1999 in a fictional town called Thurston, Ontario. Thurston is loosely based on Aurora and Newmarket in York Region, Aurora is where I lived for 23 years – although I got out of Dodge in 1998. Rain storms today are not the rain storms of 1999. In Canada and the United States we get way too many and in some cases they are of possible flood proportions. The winds now are stronger and more frequent. So I researched Environment Canada’s historical weather information for the lower half of York Region in  November 1999, right down to the day.
  2. You may think your memory of your situation is clear in your mind to the point where you are right there, but it might be a good idea to list its components – with the rain again – were there many puddles?   Did the wind turn your umbrella inside out? Was it daylight, dusk or night? What exactly from this scene do you want to use – its essence or something specific?
  3. Remember, the scene must have something to do with you story’s plot. Don’t just put in heavy rainstorms because you like or hate them and find them cool. Maybe your main character is chasing someone in the rain. Does he or she slip or fall? What is going on around her? I work in the cars splashing by and what Main Street, Thurston is like during a rain storm. But it is all part of the plot.
  4. When you get down to actually writing that scene in your story, keep writing and don’t stop. Hopefully you’ve done any research and have some idea how you want to morph it into part of your story. When you go through it to rewrite, you can check to see if it makes sense, if it is part of the plot.
  5. Make sure it doesn’t go off into a long expository tangent.Just work in some information with your plot.For example with the rain in my novel, I show the reader how heavy the rain is by how it affects Dana struggling to walk along Main Street and also the others she meets, including … well, that would be giving some of the plot away,

And don’t forget to enjoy, to get lost in the creativity of the writing. It can help get your mind off current problems – even if they include heavy rain. Speaking of which, it is time to check the basement again. And oh yeah, it was also our garbage pickup day today, so while we had a lull in the rain earlier, but not the heavy wind, I was continually running outside to right bins – mine and a few friends across the street. And of course, today was the day the city decided our street should have the new supposedly racoon-proof green bins for wet waste delivered. They may be racoon proof, but not extreme-weather proof. The bins were flying all over the place and mine came minus the scoop and instructions. I did grab the instruction paper as the wind blew it down the street. A very wet sheet, now drying on a kitchen chair.

But that’s for another story, another day. Dana Bowman wasn’t dealing with garbage bins.

How do you work reality into your fiction?

And as usual, click on the Beyond book icon at the top to find out more about the first two Beyond books.

Cheers.

Sharon A.. Crawford

Dana Bowman, looking for her umbrella before braving the elements?

 

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Listen to your publisher

I am lucky that the editor at my publisher’s goes through my submitted manuscript and makes suggestions. Then we book a phone consult to hash through all these suggestions and comments.

It really gets me thinking beyond whatever box I was writing in.

I had that experience earlier this week. This was the “final” submission, i.e., the one that would make or break whether my new Beyond novel would be accepted for publication.He was quick to praise that it was a much better story and worth being published, but it came with the suggested changes. And some of them pointed out what wasn’t working and left the how-to-do-so up to me.

So we had, as the current dialogue goes, “a conversation about it”. We were both polite but explored what could be done. He said he had read the novel as a reader and not a publisher and that’s where his suggestions came from.

Besides stretching the creativity limit, it also served as pointing-out what just might not work. He didn’t say it, but he was playing devil’s advocate.

Not all publishers do this with their authors – whether new. Often it is “my way or the highway if you want it to be published.” That often stifles the author’s creativity. It is okay for authors to talk about why they wrote what, but go from there. Get past the ego that everything in your manuscript, down to the last comma, is sealed in gold and it has to be published exactly that way. We have probably all read published trade books where the publisher gave the author (often a well-known author) free rein. I won’t mention any names, but some of those books could have been shortened by 200 pages or so.

Getting published, at least by a trade publisher, is a two-way street. Remember, your publisher wants to sell your book, so making that more viable is a good idea. And it can also increase not only your royalties but the book’s presence in a very crowded market.

I have to the end of April to make the changes. So, after our phone conversation, I spent the rest of the afternoon and into dinner time going through the whole novel again and making short comments to his comments based on our conversation. Because being human, I would not remember it all if I didn’t do that.

I’ll keep you posted on Beyond Faith.

Meantime, you can familiarize yourself with the Beyond mystery series by clicking on the Beyond Blood icon a the top.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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