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Tag Archives: Series characters in novels and short stories

Beyond Faith is coming…

We interrupt this story for an announcement from Dana Bowman, the main character in the Beyond mystery series.

 

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 The next novel in the Beyond series – Beyond Faith is coming this October. No spoilers but there are lots of puzzles and murders which I have to solve. And.. oh, oh, my author Sharon A. Crawford is pointing her finger at me to continue with this ongoing weekly story. In a sec – first Beyond Faith takes place the last two months of 1999. And the below story is just before that.

 

Dana: Someone’s coming up the stairs. I’m going to check.

Bast: Wait until the police get here.

Dana frowning: No time.

Bast, closing and locking the agency door: I insist.

Dana, drumming her fingers on the desk: So we do nothing?

Loud banging sounds on the door.

A high-pitched voice from the other side calls out: Open up or he’s dead.

Dana: Who?

Bast: Shh.

David: Mommy, I’m scared.

Bast: Shh.

Voice: Open the door.

Dana: Answer my question first.

Voice: What was the question?

Dana: Who are you and what do you want?

Voice, sounding exasperated but still high-pitched: I told you I want you to open the damn door NOW. You’ll see me when you do.

Dana: All right. All right. Don’t get all tied up in your knickers. I’m coming.

Voice: What?

Dana: Oh never mind. (Then whispering) Ms. Dugan, take David onto the balcony and try to get someone’s attention. Bast and I will try to divert the guy or guys on the other side of the door and keep them talking until the police arrive…but just in case they get in you will be out of the room.

Bast, scratching his head: Is this a good idea? They’ll be trapped out there.

Dana: They’ll also be out of the office and hidden by the drapes on the balcony door and the window there. And they can get someone walking by to help. Ms. Dugan, do you have a cell phone?

Ms, Dugan: No.

Dana: Here, take mine. We can use Bast’s here if we need to. Now go and be quiet.

Ms. Dugan and David exit onto the balcony, closing the door behind them.

Bast: It’s gone awfully quiet out in the hall. Hey, anyone out there?

Silence.

Bast unlocks the door and he and Dana look out.

No one is there. At least no one alive. The body of a young many with a rope around his neck is lying in the hall outside the door.

From behind them they hear the balcony door open and footsteps coming towards them. And then the footsteps stop and there is a scream. …

Ms. Dugan: It’s Wayne.

…TO BE CONTINUED…

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Like Dana says, Beyond Faith is coming. Meantime, there is Beyond Blood – the book before. If you haven’t read it yet, click on the book cover below to find out how.

 

The second beyond book.

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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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Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 2

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

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

You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.

– Larry Niven

 

After all my time-line tips last week I goofed. I put the wrong year for the four linked short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point. Ditto for the related series novel. It should be 1999 for the short stories and 1998 for the novel. At least I had it correct which came first. The years are now corrected on last week’s blog post.

Mea culpa, mea culpa.

This post will deal with length of short stories versus novels and start the discussion about series characters for both. The latter is complicated and we won’t cover everything today.

First length.

Short story length can be anywhere from the flash story of 50 words to longer stories of 8,000, even 10,000 words. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine stories tend to run in the upper word count limit. However, some authors take the short story up to 18,000 words. In this case, many are self-publishing – either e-copy or online or in print or all of those. To me, this is a variation of the traditional poetry chap book publications. This is all good. The only caveats I offer here are: if submitting to publications or short story contests, follow the submission guidelines; and watch you don’t make the stories too long or you will be writing a novella.
Novel lengths vary from 65,000 words to 120,000 words (think Elizabeth George for the longer novels). Most novels are somewhere in between and it depends on the publisher or the author if self-publishing. My publisher, Blue Denim Pressm tends to go for the lower page count. Personally I like any length as long as the story flows and doesn’t read as if it is padded with plot lines, character development and points of view that are way too much and detract from the story. Shorter novel requirements sure make the author learns how not to be overly wordy, as I’m finding out. But as a former journalist, I always wrote long and then rewrote to fit the editorial requirements. Writing too short here would create the dilemma of insufficient information and it is harder to add than to subtract – believe it or not.

Characters in novels versus short stories

This is a loaded one. Novels and short stories written in the literary vein are more about the characters than the plot. However, the trend today in commercial fiction (including genres such as mystery and romance, particularly in novels, is to develop characters more). While I like Agatha Christie mystery novels – they were what I grew up on, what got me interested in mysteries (along with the old Perry Mason TV series), her characters, although intriguing and original, were not fully developed. The exceptions are her two main series characters – Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.

So, how many characters do you put in a novel and in a short story? Obviously because of length, you wouldn’t cram many characters into a short story. War and Peace crunched down to a short story it is not. Take two or three main characters and a few minor characters and go from there, i.e., you will develop the three main characters fully but not the few minor ones. By “develop fully” I mean it wouldn’t hurt to do an extensive character sketch of your main characters before you start writing – with the caveat that they are not sealed in cement, granite or avalanche. When writing stories, characters sometimes take over and you as a writer have to respect that. Key question to ask here: is what this character is doing characteristic of him or her? That’s when you may have to return to your character sketch.

And you won’t use everything in your character sketch in your short story – or even in your novel, but you will use more in your novels. With a short story, every character element and development has to tie in with your basic story plot. With a novel you can add in the extras, although they have to tie in with the plot, but you have more leeway.

For example, in my prequel novel Beyond Blood, Dana Bowman has more space to show how she feels about a certain situation with her son as well as the conflict she has with being a mother of a six year old and a private investigator, especially when the two collide. If I didn’t do this, Dana would come across as shallow, one-dimensional and unbelievable. In the four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (remember these are the year after the novel occurs), Dana is still reacting over what happened to David, but in the interest of space and plot, the whole story can’t be about her reaction. So I weave it in with the case she is investigating. In “Saving Grace,” while she is following a lead on a country road outside Goderich, Ontario, she stops the car and has a mini-break-down. But it doesn’t last long; she has to pull herself together and get on with it.

In the novel Beyond Blood, after the actual event that triggers all this has happened, Dana has many instances of having difficulty dealing with the situation. In one scene (without giving it away), she wakes up and is somewhat disoriented and depressed so she acts a bit strangely. She also has nightmares that act as a sort of premonition of what will happen. The time she spends with her son and her feelings about him there, as well as developing a possible relationship with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding, all tie in with the plot. Without this character development, some of the future plot lines would have the reader saying, “This doesn’t make sense. How would she know how to do that? This action is not credible.”

These pointers are more for commercial fiction than literary fiction.

Next week we will delve more into the makings of series characters appearing in novels and short stories.

Meantime, 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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