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Don’t Write the Same Old Same Old

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

When writing fiction, particularly mystery, thriller and suspense, don’t develop plots and characters that have been used before. Do readers really want another jaded police detective who is an alcoholic? How about yet another body found in a trunk?

Readers want to be surprised, entertained, and have something different. Those who like to try to figure out who done it and why like a challenge. If it is too easy, that won’t work.

Twists and turns in suspense, mystery and thriller novels work very well – provided they are different. And if you are writing a series, you need to write the unexpected even more so your readers don’t get too comfortable with your series characters. You want them to relate to the characters and develop a bond, but you have to shake them up with each book’s plot and characters.

Remember your characters need to be like real people – they can’t be stagnate. Throw them lots of curve balls and see how they act and react.

Some authors that are masters at this are Julia Spencer Fleming, Peter Robinson and Harlan Coben. The latter writes standalone mystery-suspense, while the former two write series mysteries. Spencer Fleming, for example throws a big curve with each book. Just as something seems to be sorted out between her two main characters – Rev. Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne –  right at the end of the novel, something happens that seems to come out of the blue.

But it is not really out of the blue – if you go back throughout the novel you will see events and what the characters are doing that make the unexpected logical. Some examples (without stating which novel) are when the priest and the cop finally get their relationship solidified, the priest who was previously in the armed forces and is now on reserve, is put on active duty outside the US. Right at the end of the book. Great hook to get the reader to read the next one in the series.

The reader knew Clare’s background here,so that wasn’t grabbed from the air. It was the timing.

And that’s what is important. Timing. In my Beyond novels, I build up the suspense with (among other things) a growing relationship between the main character PI Dana Bowman and Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Both are relationship shy – that isn’t too different. But how it evolves (or does it?) is different because of other things going on in the novel. The ending has a big twist.

This is the novel I’m still putting the finishing touches on for the publisher. So, I’m not going into more details. The previous and most recent one, Beyond Blood has a bit of a cliff hanger at the end – the premise here being, when a crime victim has been rescued, it may not all be rosy and comforting for them. In fact, it isn’t in real life.  I took that idea and left the reader wondering about a character’s dealing with after effects. The short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point has four stories featuring Dana Bowman and most of the rest of the Beyond gang. These stories take place the year after. And the current Beyond book is later that same year and the character is still suffering some after effects.

Unexpected events change people – how they live their lives afterwards.And that varies with each person. So, too, should your fiction.

Don’t be lazy and write the same old same old. Surprise your readers – but make it logical. That may sound like an oxymoron, but be creative.

And read what is already written to see what works, what surprises and what doesn’t. Read books by Julia Spencer Fleming, Peter Robinson and Harlan Coban, and yes my Beyond books too.

You can get more information about the Beyond books by clicking on the Beyond Blood icon at the top.

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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