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Tag Archives: Maureen Jennings

Hogtown Homicides: Setting it in Toronto

Authors are often faced with whether to set their novel in their own backyard so to speak, do a fictionalized place loosely based on their city or town, or create an entirely fictional town or city.

I tend to do a little of both. I have lived most of my life in Toronto, Ontario Canada. In fact I grew up here. So I know a little about some of Toronto’s past. I’m back in Toronto now – for the past 20 years – but I lived just north of Toronto in Aurora, Ontario for 23 years.

Two of my Beyond mystery books have settings in Toronto. Most of the short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point are set in Toronto – from 1965 to present day – not exactly historical, but still Toronto. In the two Beyond novels, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith, my two main characters, fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture set their private investigator agency just north of Toronto – in the fictitious Thurston and Cooks Region – loosely based on Aurora and Newmarket and York Region – so far around the time I lived in Aurora. But Beyond Faith has several scenes with both PIs in Toronto as it was in 1999. And the next book, Beyond Truth (still being researched and written) will have much of it set in Toronto.

What is interesting to me is how and why writers, particularly mystery writers,set their novels in Toronto. (Okay, I am partial to Toronto). And the research they do. Five of us Crime Writers of Canada authors are going to discuss this on a panel April 18. Here are the details and there should be links to their – make that “our” (disclaimer here – yes, I’m on this panel and honoured to be with the other four).

Hogtown Homicides: Setting it in Toronto

Frequently Canadian authors have been told to set their stories in some generic or easily recognizable city in the US, to guarantee sales. Well, this panel has successfully defied those voices and set their works in a very recognizable Toronto. Presented by Sisters in Crime Toronto in conjunction with their friends at Crime Writers of Canada,  Here is the powerhouse panel who loves Toronto.

They will discuss their choices, their research, and the subsequent marketing landscape.

Thursday, April 18, 2019, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Location: Northern District Library, 40 Orchard  View Blvd., Room 200, Toronto

Sisters in Crime members get in free. Non-members $5.00 at the door.

https://www.torontosistersincrime.ca/

Check it all out. And if you live in Toronto or nearby (yes, including York Region), why not come to this presentation and get an earful. We will also have copies of our books to see and sell.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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When readers relate to authors’ characters

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Dana Bowman, the main character in my Beyond mystery series is making herself known.

Another author who read Beyond Blood compared Dana’s situation as the mother of a lost son to a non-fiction book dealing with a mother losing her son. Mind you, David, Dana’s son is lost in the sense that he is kidnapped. But both mothers suffer anguish and go through much emotional turmoil.

Others have picked out Dana’s offbeat sense of humour and being a likeable character.

All indications that readers are identifying with Dana.

Getting readers to identify with your novel’s characters – main character in particular, but also the other characters is one of the challenges for writers. But no matter what the fiction genre readers want more than just a good plot – they want to connect with your characters. Perhaps the daytime soap operas or the old night time TV soaps started this. However, even other TV series, police, etc. have a running thread for each character.

If readers can’t identify with your characters, you will lose them. They won’t enjoy your book as much or at all and may give up on it.

So what makes fiction characters compelling?

Liking the character isn’t absolutely necessary, but remember that most people are not all good or all bad. And even so-called good characters can come across as somewhat off. Maybe they are too good-two shoes. Maybe they are too superficial. The dreaded wooden characters.

So, in a nutshell, you have to make your characters compelling – by making them three dimensional – with dialogue, their inner thoughts, and their actions. You need to compel the reader to get under the character’s skin and if not emphasize with them, at least be with them.

Besides your novel’s characters getting a mention from readers, another good sign of compelling characters ix when readers read they want to find out what happens to the main character because they care. When they sense something terrible is going to happen to a character they keep reading, hoping both that it won’t happen and that it will. And when it does, they feel right with the character and read on to see if the character can come through the situation.

Of course, some of this is plot. But these days you really can’t have one without the other.

Besides my Beyond books, read fiction by Peter Robinson, Rosemary McCracken, Rosemary Aubert and Maureen Jennings to name a few.

And happy reading.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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

And check my updated Gigs and Blog Tours for a presentation with other Crime Writers of Canada authors on October 22, 2015

 

 

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Putting your social causes into your fiction

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

We care what happens to people only in proportion as we know what people are. — Henry James

Many of the short stories in my collection Beyond the Tripping Point deal with children who get the short end of the stick – missing children, abused children – and trying to save them as well as punishing the perpetrators. For example, in “Unfinished Business,” the protagonist has run away from something terrible that happened to her as a child. When the same evil threatens her daughter, she is forced to do something. Two of the linked stories (“Gone Missing,” “Saving Grace”), featuring fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, and Dana’s seven-year-old son David also focus on finding and saving children. These two stories have an extra kicker as David has been left psychologically mute because of his own bad experience in the prequel novel which I am now working on.

My cause is the safety of children. When I started writing my short stories and the novel I didn’t set out to include this cause. I didn’t realize it was my cause. Many authors have a social cause and they want to get their point across in a short story or novel. The trick is to do so without lecturing or preaching. You don’t want your story bogged down by a character going on ad nauseam about capital punishment, global warming, etc.

How do you get around this?

Make your cause a part of your character and plot. For example, if you are against capital punishment, your protagonist could be a defence lawyer who tries to get the death sentence off the table, or better still, prove the client is innocent. And I don’t mean copying Perry Mason. Or if your cause is justice isn’t there or doesn’t work in the legal system, your protagonist could be a private investigator who goes beyond the law when catching guilty perpetrators. For global warming, your protagonist could be a meteorologist or a geoscientist who has a passion for global warming – for or against.

That’s the characters. Now you have to work them into a plot. The global warming could be a “what if “story, even science fiction (although these days what is happening with weather may kill the science fiction angle – unless you take it to extremes, the world freezing over into snow (already been done in a movie starring Dennis Quaid. Use your imagination. Your protagonist can be the one predicting something like this will happen. Or he or she could be called in by the government to help solve the problem. Or for a twist – he or she could be doing something to escalate or cause the problem (there’s an idea for science fiction).

What runs through stories involving a cause is timeliness. If you set it in the present, your “cause” needs to be something that is going on in the world now. If the cause is something that was dominant in the past, you need to set your stories then. This is something I do with the fraternal twins’ stories and novel. In the novel, part of the plot has to do with something that was big news in the late 1990s, I’m not telling you what, but I will say that it does have to do with children in danger and I also work in other aspects of children in danger, such as kidnappings – something that is unfortunately, always timely.

Another angle for your protagonist and plot is to build in some foreseeing of the future with your protagonist and plot. In the popular Murdock Mysteries TV series, set at the turn of the century (that’s going from the 19th to the 20th century) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the protagonist Detective William Murdock, has great respect for the murdered victim (he is a staunch Catholic who makes the sign of the cross when he first sees the dead body). So he is motivated to find the killer and bring him or her to justice. However, Detective Murdock is a far-seeing investigator who uses pioneering methods (some of which he devises, some already just coming into investigating procedures elsewhere) such as fingerprints to help solve the crime

I suggest you read books by authors who do some of the above and watch some TV series, although with the latter, especially, you need to be careful the writers did their research and got it right. But that is a subject for a future post.

Meantime, check out the three parts of an interview I did last fall (links below), just as my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) came out. I talk about my characters, plots and yes, Murdock Mysteries, one of my favourite TV series. Read some of the books by its creator, Maureen Jennings – she has other series’ mysteries published as well and co-developed a story concept which became the Bomb Girls TV series. Check out Maureen Jennings at http://www.maureenjennings.com/

And check out my online TV interview on thatchannel.com posted in three parts on You Tube at:

Sharon A Crawford Beyond the Tripping Interview No. 1 on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScuE2g4cWtc&feature=youtu.be

Sharon Reading from Beyond the Tripping Point on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be

Sharon A Crawford Beyond the Tripping Interview No. 2 on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xMhcTRANMY&feature=youtu.be

And don’t forget: clicking on the book cover at the top of this post, links you to Beyond the Tripping Point on www.amazon.com.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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