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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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Promote your book alone or with other authors?

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Do you join with other authors to promote your books? Or are you the lone wolf? I do both and there are pros and cons for each.

With other authors – to use a variation on an old phrase – there are benefits in numbers. If three or even five authors band together to do a reading or some sort of presentation, it can draw in some readers that might not otherwise attend your presentation alone. Not to belittle your book, but we all have preferences for books we read. In the crime genre there is fiction and non-fiction. So by mixing it up with a variety of sub-genres, you can draw in more people. They may not know you or your books but they will find out. The trick is to be friendly, knowledgeable and interesting. Panels with q and a and a bit of author reading work best I have found. And when readers congregate at the author table at the end, there is a good chance they will be purchasing books. Yours might be one of them. Just don’t push it. And you get to meet a bunch of authors writing in the same genre and learn from each other.

Going it alone is a good idea if you want to focus on a particular subject that your book deals with – that could be writing series characters, especially if some appear in short stories as well as novels. Or if you want to talk about particular issues that are in your book and use your book and its story as an example. Beyond Blood covers child kidnapping, serial killers, fraud and abortion pill issues. Although Beyond Blood is set in August 1998, the abortion pill in the novel is still illegal in Canada.

Lots of fodder for thought there. You may also have a specific type of crime writing workshop and use your book for examples.

Then there is the honey of all solo presentations. When the person in charge of the venue – whether library, cafe, pub or festival – asks you to come and do a presentation. The latter has happened to me a few times with Beyond Blood and yes, I have sold book copies. I will be doing it again Sept. 3 (see the Gigs and Blog Tours page).

Just remember not to come on as a salesperson. You are there to primarily entertain and of course underneath all that, hopefully sell some books. But if you stand up (or sit at a table) like some of these motivational speakers continually pitching their courses, you won’t sell a book.

My thoughts anyway.

What do you think?

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

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

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with series characters – Part 5 – Point of View

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

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

Moving series characters between novels and short stories gives the characters a chance to speak. With short stories you are limited to one character’s point of view to tell the story. Novels give more leeway but you still don’t want too many characters jumping in. The reader will be confused and possibly annoyed and you, the author may lose the plot thread. Or more realistically have too many plot threads that end up in a tangle.

You can take a major character or a minor character in your novel and write a short story with this character as your point of view character. So, let’s say your novel has three major characters – Angela, the person being stalked; Detective Walkins the police officer working on her case, and Jude her boyfriend as the three point of view characters in the novel. However, there are several minor characters: Janet, the nosey old neighbour across the street, Ben, Angela’s co-worker, Angela’s daughter, etc. etc. All of these characters have their stories, their life, their idiosyncrasies, their voice. In you novel they appear only as they are seen by one or more of the three main characters.

Give one, or all of these characters, their own short story. It can have little or nothing to do with the novel. Perhaps the story has to do with something else in their life. The nosey neighbour, for instance – just how did she become nosey and butting into everyone else’s business. Maybe she is a former investigative reporter who messed up and had to move on to another profession. But she misses digging up the dirt, so she puts herself into her neighbours’ business. Or Detective Watkins – he may have other cases, that one-by-one could generate several short stories – maybe even a novel.

You see where all this can get you?

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. 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 3

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

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

I have so many different projects, I hear voices in my head – the characters talking all at once – and I have to write to make them stop.
– Eli Roth

When transitioning series characters between novels and short stories, you need to keep the timeline and events straight. We touched on this issue two blog posts back. Remember that your mind will carry all the information to date about your characters, including their actions, including relationships. Your readers’ minds don’t.

Especially if your reader is not reading your short stories and novels in chronological order. As readers we (and I count myself in here) don’t always read series books in order. So, in the first novel in the series you read Alice is having a baby with Jack. Later you get to the first novel where Alice meets Jack. I’m doing this with the Deborah Crombie mystery series. I still haven’t read the book where the main character and her boss change their relationship from just business to personal but I’ve read books where they are living together and ironing out the kinks with a blended family, plus dealing with their respective outlaws, I mean in-laws, although sometimes they may act like the former.

Take this a step further with your series characters hopping in and out of short stories and novels. Which came first? And if you write a novel, then some short stories, then another novel, etc. with the same series characters, be careful. A character in a short story set in 2000 would not know what will happen in the following years, unless you want him or her to be psychic.

A character in a story set in an earlier time would not be as fully developed as in a later story. This can get a little confusing if you are back and forth in time with your story. Sometimes taking your character’s traits outline (remember that suggestion from last week’s post?) a little deeper by listing how they were then and later can help. Also listing the trigger (another character’s actions, something they experienced, etc.) that changed them after the first story, can help.

Again, you may not use all of this in your stories, but after writing out all the information, it is embedded in your mind – somewhere. The trick is to pull out the right characteristic for the right story.

This brings up another question. How much do you reveal about your main characters (and plot for that matter) in novels and short stories that has occurred in a previous novel or short story? You don’t want to give away character and plot from the previous. Yet you don’t want your reader kept wondering if your characters seem to appear out of the blue. Or family and friends and situations are mentioned briefly and in a way that leaves your readers scratching their heads and muttering, “Huh?”

With two of the linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) I am right upfront about what happened to David, Dana’s son in the prequel novel Beyond Blood (to be published by Blue Denim Press in the fall of 2014). I have to be, because in those short stories David is psychologically mute. Otherwise the reader will wonder why and if he has always been like that. So I state it but blend it into the main plot of the short story. Here’s an example from the beginning of “Gone Missing.”
The police can’t find her, Ms Bowman,” Robin Morgrave says.
Rosemary Morgrave has gone missing and I’m putting on a brave smile for her twin brother. Robin sits on the other side of the desk in The Attic Agency’s third floor office. Only my twin brother, Bast, nodding, stops me from losing it. Ever since David, my seven-year-old son, was abducted last August, I’ve been living in Panicville. Sure, we got David back, but how much of him returned? He follows Bast around like an investigator-in-training. His brown eyes stare right through my soul. I wish he’d just say how he feels. But since his return, David hasn’t opened his mouth except to swallow liquids and food. He doesn’t even cry. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012, copyright Sharon A. Crawford).

Next week we will talk more about plot consistency and how much to reveal without giving it all away.

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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