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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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Juggling time to publicize first novel and write second novel

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

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

I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.
– Steven Wright

I am doing the happy dance because my first novel Beyond Blood will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press and continuing to write my second novel Beyond Faith.

How the heck do you balance the time for both? I am a newbie at this and as many of you know I have another book out, Beyond the Tripping Point, also published by Blue Denim Press. The juggle is doable, but before I give my tips, I want to refer you to a blog post by another author Amy Sue Nathan who had the same dilemma last year. She has more juggling experience here and each of her novels have completely different characters. So she had the difficult task of keeping her characters separate See http://bookpregnant.blogspot.ca/2013/07/publicizing-one-book-while-writing.html for her post about this dilemma.

My novels are series and so the main characters are the same. Ditto the four linked stories that are part of Beyond the Tripping Point. So that should make it easier to keep track of characters. Right?

Wrong. Especially the timing of the books being published vis-a-vis the timeline in the three books.

My main characters are fraternal twin private investigators Dana Bowman (divorced mother), and Bast Overture (single, gay), Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding (investigating police officer from Major Crimes), PC Joseph Oliver (Records Bureau head who is the twins police connection), Great Aunt Doris (the eccentric aunt of Dana’s ex-husband who lands on Dana unannounced) and David, Dana’s son.

The latter makes things more difficult as he is psychologically mute in Beyond the Tripping Point because of what happens in Beyond Blood. So the actual order of the stories is not the order of the books published. The timeline for the stories (short and novels) is:

Beyond Blood – eight days in August 1998

Beyond the Tripping Point (the four linked stories) from May 1999 to late October 1999

Beyond Faith (title at this point) – late November 1999 into January 2000.

So, while the characters are basically the same (with added ones for each story/novel) I have to watch their development based on that timeline. So, when writing Beyond Blood (actually rewriting as this was the novel in an earlier version that sat on the shelf and on the computer), I had to go back in time and be careful not to mix up the character and plot development order. With Beyond Faith, one thing I have to remember is that Bast shaved off his beard in one of the BTTP stories.

With all this in mind, how am I progressing with publicizing two books actually and writing the third?

First, as BTTP is almost two years old, I have now moved it into the “and other books published” category so any publicity for it will be tagged onto Beyond Blood. That leaves the two books.

I do what I have been doing for years with my writing, editing and teaching writing workshops – use a combination of go-with-the-flow-of-work (I may have just turned senior but I still have to earn a living) and use a Daytimer and to-do lists.

First, except for teaching day-long workshops and attending writing conferences, I don’t work weekends. (Of course I think of story ideas, plots and characters, but that’s internal work, not sitting at the computer and actually writing). Sundays I go over what needs to be done for writing, editing and workshop clients, for book writing and promotion for the next week. And I list them. I divide them up time and day-wise by marking “Mon. a.m.”, “Mon. aft.” etc. beside each. Then I transfer the items to a “to do” list in the appropriate date in my Daytimer. Except for client meets and workshop teaching dates, I don’t specify time of day.

The hope is that I will give each enough attention to move them along for the week. When I was still doing readings for BTTP that often occurred evenings. Ditto some writing workshops I teach. So, I factor that in.

And then the interruptions march in and try to take over, sometimes succeeding. Last week it was a potential new client who kept changing the time and day of our meet, sometimes making up the time. Luckily I phoned him first or I would have showed up at the right place but the wrong time. His last change-of-time was not showing up for last Friday’s appointment (by then I had moved it to my home office to save me some grief). He phoned an hour and a half after the meet time and wanted to come over to meet then. No way. I had other concerns and told him so.

I haven’t contacted him since but guess I will have to. Instead I contacted the client whose manuscript I was evaluating about my progress, finished the work and then emailed her again to set up our final meet. She knows the value of keeping appointments but she is a journalist. I also emailed another client I consult with on her writing and the other mystery author Blue Denim Press is publishing (we plan to do some joint PR – just to make life more complicated). And I managed a couple of sessions of working on Beyond Faith. I also write this weekly blog post (that ties in with book promo) and another more personal blog post Tuesdays that loosely ties in with my memoir I am finishing rewriting – but that’s another story.

Bottom line – you have to be organized, flexible and creative.

And give yourself permission to yell when something gets screwed up.
I also have a house and a garden. Today the guy from the window company is putting in three new windows. I am still after the arborist to cut down the dead silverlace and boxwood (damaged by our wicked winter) and deal with other personal stuff.
All fodder for future writing.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html And keep checking http://samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondBlood.html for the latest news on the release of my first mystery novel Beyond Blood, also published by Blue Denim Press http://www.bluedenimpress.com More info on the Beyond Blood page as we get closer to the date.

 

 

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 4

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

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

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.

– William Faulkner
When writing series fiction, particularly novels, how do you keep the continuity going with your main characters from novel to novel? As mentioned in last week’s post, you need to put some reference to previous novel(s) plot and characters or the reader is left confused.

For example, in novel No. 1, let’s say your main character, a police officer, is shot during the story’s climax. It is touch and go, but he wakes up in a hospital bed and is able to talk to his partner, his girlfriend, etc. However, he has been shot in the chest and it just missed his heart, but he still has a long recuperation period.

Unless you are skipping a period of time until he is up and around, you need to include this recuperation period in your next novel. Perhaps your detective is put temporarily on a desk job or he is still on sick leave. His (or her) colleagues get a case or two that he wants to be involved in and they need his help. But he is supposed to stay put. You can work around that by having him act as a consultant – his colleagues can drop into the hospital or recuperation facility (if he is not home yet) or his home to talk it over with him. He could be on the phone constantly to his colleagues or at least his partner. They can be doing all this behind the back of their supervisor and you know how that can pan out. You can hype it up with his shooter still out there (that would have to be clear at the end of the previous novel) and trying to get him. He has to get through the recuperation period but you don’t want a novel all about that if you are writing a mystery novel. You need to blend in what is happening with the characters, how they are developing based on what goes on in their lives. An injured detective recuperating and somewhat immobilized would have much to face, especially if he is used to being active.

The late Robert Parker in his Spencer series did this very well. His private detective, Spencer, was shot in the chest in one novel and the next novel incorporated his recuperation with how it affected his relationship with his girlfriend, Susan, a psychologist, plus the novel’s mystery. Parker was good at writing complicated.

Most of the TV series now follow the main characters’ development and well, private life, and incorporate these into the story. The hit series Rookie Blue (now back on for the summer, 22 episodes this year), does that very well, even if you don’t agree with what they do. The five original rookies are still there and each season they add one or more new rookies. One of the original rookies has been promoted to detective. But all have personal lives and with all these characters who work closely together, their personal lives become entwined and changes occur. It is complicated, but well done. I suggest you watch it. The Good Wife is another TV series that has work and personal lives intermingle with a lot of complications. This time the characters are lawyers, instead of police officers. They even killed off one of the series main characters this season. Rookie Blue did that a couple of seasons ago as well. Killing off a main character is not always a good idea, but if you do, you need to incorporate the repercussions from that and how it affects the other characters in future books or TV episodes.

All these things will affect your plot. It’s the chicken and egg situation. Which comes first – the plot or the characters? It is a combination of both – either can lead – but both are connected and drive each other.

Meantime, read any of the mystery series novels by Peter Robinson and see how he handles continuity and consistency in character and plot.
Also, you can read more about the characters and their stories in 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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