Tag Archives: Fiction Plot and Characters
My muse has been busy this week. Early in the morning, she appears in the last dream before I wake and she appears with answers, suggestions to the story I’m rewriting.I don’t actually see her or hear her. It is more a short scene showing the story scenario I have been struggling with, and leaving me waking up with an answer of what to write. You see, the more I rewrote the story, the more I questioned something in the plot. Most of the questioning was under the “does it make sense?” category or the “have I got the police procedure right?’
It is a mystery at a crime scene and there is some police procedure there. But the main character is a civilian who wants answers and is determined to get them. because of who the victim is. So police procedure has to be correct, but it is seen from somebody not really familiar with it. And my character is a fat eccentric senior So the story is not just a mystery, but it has humor, satire.
I did my research and have explicit info from a police sergeant who is involved in investigating homicides. So I’ve been going over what he emailed me to fact check with what I’ve written. And that necessitated some changes and a follow-up email concerning the large binders police now use for interviews of all things. And he caught something else I had in the question wording – where witnesses and suspects are taken for more questioning.
So, like I said before, every time I made a change, another necessary one would pop up.
This story has a submission deadline of a week from now and a maximum word count. So those factor in with writing time and story changes.
So I’ve been lucky with my active Muse. And sitting down at my computer every day and rewriting. And resenting time I have to do other things.
It is only now that I have figured out how my Muse is working. Each day and each evening I mull over what needs to be changed to work in my story and it gets pushed into my unconscious when I get distracted. And I do get distracted a lot – problems coming at me to solve, health issues, other writing and editing stuff, phone calls, computer problems, errands, etc. When I finally get to bed and get some sleep I have to go through several sleep cycles first and several unremembered dreams to get to the point when my Muse can get through. And she has and I am grateful for that and also for her timing – last dream before I get up.
Now if my Muse would only help me solve all the other annoying problems I have to deal with.
Any day I would much rather do something creative – like write or take photos or in the summer garden then deal with what I call negative problems shoved at me from what I call outside. I can create enough chaos without any help from others.
So, the lesson learned is – when the Muse strikes, WRITE!
How does your Muse work? Do you have a Muse? Do you listen to your Muse?
Sharon A Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery novel series.
Muskie and Murder with Michael Robert Dyet (Muskie) and me, Sharon A. Crawford (Murder) made its debut presentation last evening at S. Walter Stewart Library. It was my East End Writers’ Group’s second event for 2018. Although I was disappointed in the small number of people who attended (probably to inaccurate weather forecasts for torrential rain) those of us there were really engaged in the presentation. I’m not talking just Michael and I and our guest speaker, Shane Joseph (editor at Blue Denim Press – our publisher), but the whole audience of writers and readers.
There was a continual conversation going on among all of us and I think we learned a lot. I know I did.
Using four different set-ups, we were all looking at what Michael so aptly titled The War between Literary Fiction and Mystery Fiction. We discussed questions dealing with plot and characters in both and not only discovered there is both in both types of fiction, but we found out we all read more than one or the other. Margaret Atwood (she of Alias Grace and The Handmaidens Tale) and Stephen King (Pet Cemetery,The Shining, The Outsider) entered the conversation – at least their names and writings did. So did memoirs – another “M” area of writing. Perhaps we should add Memoir to future presentations?
Then Shane asked Michael and I questions on plot and characters and then he asked us how often do we write and do we write regularly.
Not as often or regularly as we would like. The other stuff of life (Michael’s day job, my teaching writing and editing, the garden, and house problems ), all took up necessary time. But there are a lot of other things in our lives that can be pruned or purged and some of what is still there can be manouvered somewhat.
Michael and I read parts from our books based on a theme (not telling what – we want to use it at more presentations).
And then it was skit time. Michael played Norah Watson from “Slipstream”, the novella in Hunting Muskie and I played PI Dana Bowman (although Dana might argue about the latter as she thinks she wrote Beyond Faith and is a separate person. Hmm.) Norah had reluctantly hired Dana to find a missing family member, but Norah and Dana are like oil and water.
You can imagine how that went. If not you’ll have to catch a Muskie and Murder presentation in the fall.
Meantime, this whole presentation, particularly what the writers and readers in the audience said, has inspired me to get back on my creative writing track. Not just writing book promo blurbs and the like, but my own M and M – Mystery and Memoir. I remembered that I used to always write at least two afternoons a week – Friday was sacrosanct for my creative writing, with Wednesday afternoon another one.
Earlier this year I started the fourth Beyond mystery book, started another rewrite of a black noir mystery short story, and returned to my memoir writing – both the book and some shorter pieces for possible magazine publication.
And anyone who dares interfere with my writing time, let’s just say it could mean “murder”.
Well, between the book covers.
Do you write regularly?
How do you do it?
Sharon A. Crawford
The Mystery half of Muskie and Murder.
Many of us writers are also gardeners. I’m not sure why. Both are creative although not in the same vein. One we create with words and the other we create with colour, design and more practically for food to eat. Writing is more in the head and gardening requires a lot of physical exercise. So maybe the two provide balanced living.
For example, when something about a story I’m writing hits a stalling point, I go out in the garden. Often I end up pulling weeds. Like the bad things in life irritating me, which I want gone, I want the weeds gone. And sometimes when someone or some entity (read big utility company and the like) has messed up something in my life, I give the weeds names as I yank them out and pitch them in the yard waste bin. And yes, when I’m done in the garden I often have an idea how to deal with the problem person or entity.
And I often get a story idea – like the short story I’m writing and rewriting about telemarketers.
So, let’s see how something in the garden can bring about a story idea. Let’s take something common in people’s gardens – wildlife trespassing and doing damage. In particular raccoons getting into the garbage and creating a mess. I used that idea as part of the plot in my first Beyond novel Beyond Blood. I had someone doing a series of break and enters one summer also leaving a dead raccoon at some of the places. There was a reason for it and not to punish raccoons for causing damage. You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out what.
But raccoons or any other animal doing garden damage can conjure up several story ideas: a rash of garbage and recycling bins being knocked over in a neighborhood on collection days. Raccoons? Or something else. Maybe a red herring for something really bad going on. Perhaps someone in the neighborhood wants to sell their property to a developer and his or her neighbors don’t want to. Or vice versa Maybe a developer wants to tear down some old houses to put up condos. So someone (depending on your story’s angle) might be imitating raccoon actions to make the area no longer livable for the residents and so they will want to sell, but not get caught.
Or back to the weeds for another story idea. Whose name are you using when you pull a weed and why? What’s the problem the person is causing? Take it from there but fictionalize it. Like I did with the telemarketer story. I wrote it somewhat tongue in cheek but it is a murder mystery (well, that is what I write). I decided to take a crack at telemarketers and created a fictitious telemarketing firm and had a gardener and a non-gardener who are friends go after that company. And that’s all I’ll say.
And from that, you can see your story characters don’t all have to be gardeners. In my Beyond series, neither PI Dana Bowman or her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture are gardeners, but gardens and gardening appear in two of the short stories featuring them in Beyond the Tripping Point. In “Road Raging”, the twins traipse through a garden gone dormant in the fall – they are after a road rager. In “Digging Up The Dirt” inside a garden centre something poisonous in it is featured.
Want more ideas? Watch the old BBC series Rosemary and Thyme which has two gardeners who are hired to fix large estate gardens in England and always run into murder. One of the two women gardeners is a former police detective. Sometimes PBS runs reruns but it is also available ion You Tube.
Or if you want something currently running on TV on one of the specialty channels – try Midsummer Murders – often takes place in a large beautiful English country garden although murders are investigated by police, not gardeners.
Take a look at the photo from my garden at the beginning of this post. Does it give you an idea for a story?
Sharon A, Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery series. Latest Beyond Faith. Here is one of the other Beyond books mentioned in the post above. Click on it for more info about it and the other two Beyond books.
It was a dark and stormy night. All right, cliche setting. But perhaps it’s overuse and familiarity has a reason. Settings are important when writing fiction. You don’t live in a vacuum, do you? Neither do your characters and their stories. Even if your character has disappeared to a remote island, there is still a setting. Think ocean, sand, trees, wild animals, an anonymous presence, etc. Even if your character is in prison, there is still a setting – albeit one limited in space.
Settings influence your plot and your characters’ behaviour. Don’t believe me. What about the late Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries? Wolfe, a middle-aged PI, lives in a brownstone apartment in New York City. He seldom leaves his apartment and prefers to spend his time alone in his big orchid room, commiserating with his large collections of orchids. Yes, the plants, in a room of their own.. Not your typical use for a spare apartment room. Wolfe is a loner and an eccentric. When he wants to see clients or suspects, he orders his employee, side-kick Archie to get them in. Any legwork outside the brownstone is Archie’s responsibility. And that is where the reader sees and experiences the setting – a New York City a few decades ago.
So you can see how setting is part of the characters and plot. Sometimes setting can even be a character. Think The Perfect Storm, although here I am treferring to the movie. In fact if you want to see setting, watch the movies and TV shows and see the variety of settings presented. There are hospital series such as The Good Doctor and Chicago Med. So you feel like you are there in the hospital. Or a fire with some of the firefighters stuck inside it in Chicago Fire. You can tell what I like to watch. Even the overdone car chase scene has setting. If you can get your eyes off the cars for a few minutes and just see their surroundings. A car chase on Hawaii Five-O is much different than one through the slushy, snow-covered streets in wintry Chicago PD. And the setting for the car chase influences just how the chase might go.
Back to books. In my mystery novel Beyond Faith, late the last night in November 1999, PI Dana Bowman is walking from a reception party to a midnight meeting with a blackmailer at St. John’s Church. Basically, she is walking from the industrial area of a mid-sized town to its downtown. On the way, I blend in the warm for November night with a car that seems to be following Dana. I’m not going to tell you what happens with that; instead I’m going to quote some of what happens when Dana gets to the church.
No one else was about, which might make it easy to spot the blackmailer as he or she arrived—if he or she showed up. Even the area of St. John’s was barren of people, but about half a dozen cars were parked in the parking lot. Overflow from the Beaver and Cricket, no doubt. Not the church, which appeared dark, and after climbing the stairs, I found that the door was locked. Odd. But then the time was pushing closer to midnight and St. John’s probably was the church that had been robbed earlier this year.
I walked down to the cement seat surrounding the fountain, and began pacing to and from the seat. My digital showed as five minutes before midnight. More pacing and time checking did nothing except move time forward to 11.58. The blackmailer was pushing it close. A breeze brushed my face and I wished to be wearing the usual wardrobe of jeans, sweats and warm jacket. I also wished the blackmailer would hurry up and get here. Just as I started to put on my fake fur coat something snapped nearby. A tree branch? I jumped and dropped the coat on the ground. Get a grip, Dana. Clutching my bag, I moved away from the fountain seat and looked at the other side of the fountain. (from Beyond Faith, Copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press, 2017)
And no, I’m not going to tell you what comes next. You have to get the book for that. (Hint. Click on the book at the top of this post.)
But from the Nero Wolfe scene descriptions and from the above from Beyond Faith, something else is going on. We don’t just get a bland description of the setting. The characters are actually doing something in it and the plot moves forward.
Plot, characters, setting – all part of a novel and they are intertwined, connected.
Sharon A. Crawford
Lately I’ve been inundated with problems, snafu sand the like – 90 to 95 per cent caused by other people, organizations, etc. But I have to deal with them and get them solved. I may go into one of them in a future post as it is writing related, but for now if you really want to know more you can read this post from my personal blog Only Child Writes.
To say I am ticked off at all the time wasted sorting out these problems, but i do have an outlet – so do all writers.
The pen is mightier than the sword
Or in today’s world
Creative Digital is mightier than the sword.
Some of you might go the journalistic route and do a story on the problem or write an op-ed piece. I used to do the former and sometimes do the latter on the aforementioned personal blog. But now I take the problem and fictionalize it in a short story or novel. And because i write mysteries, I can kill off the culprit or make him or her the killer. Fictionalizing is the key word. You don’t want to be sued or worse.
My latest one is a story I’m writing (between dealing with the actual problems, doing client work, and PR for Beyond Faith) is about telemarketers. How many of you (despite any “do not call” type laws) get hit with a deluge of telemarketers calling? Even wrong calls claiming to be wrong numbers? Well, I get too many and usually don’t bother to pick up the phone. But when they leave voice mail messages, guess what I want to do.
The story is still in draft. But it’s working title is “Don’t Call Me.” The story has lots of twists and turns, including the murder weapon. I’m not saying what it is or who murders whom. But let’s just say I had a slew of questions for my police consultant on the crime scene and in the process got the lowdown from him on how to use that weapon to kill someone. The weapon is not your usual gun, knife, rope, poison, etc. but is something people with a certain hobby would have in their possession.
I promise to use that weapon only in my story and in real life for its regular use.
What problem has been stealing your time and energy lately? Or is it an annoying person. Don’t yell or kill that person. Fictionalize him or her in a story.
Sharon A Crawford
Click on the book cover below and get the lowdown on this book and the other two Beyond books at Amazon