Tag Archives: characters

Different Strokes for Different Folks

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Different Strokes for Different Folks

Hello, everyone. I hope all of you experienced a great week. Today I’m giving you a blog that discusses how you can broaden your story and your readership from an article by Bharti Kirchner. This was originally published in the Writer magazine.

Why venture into unaccustomed territory when it comes to characters? In a globalized world, re regularly meet people.e very different from us in race, class, ethnicity, religion, politics or ideology.  Modern novels and memoirs, as mirrors of a society, increasingly depict this heterogeneity.

In addition to expanding our readership, a diverse character, whether the protagonist or a secondary character brings a broader voice to a story. In the case of the novel Tulip Season, protagonist Mitra meets a mysterious German man, and the contrast between the two adds an element of tension.  With dissimilar actions, attitudes and world views, backgrounds and upbringings, their interactions spark a great exploration of Mitra’s world.

Creating Authenticity: How do you get started writing about a person foreign to you? By immersing yourself in that particular culture of community through direct contact and by building relationships.  Armchair travel can also help, as can books, videos, movies, art, and the Web. Remember, in the end, it’s your story and it’s fiction.  You’re facing challenges no matter what.  “If you’re going to write fiction, you’re going to write about people who aren’t you,” says David Guterson, author of 10 books, including Snow Falling on Cedars.  “You should feel some healthy trepidation about that.”

Respect, openness, and empathy are keys to depicting an unfamiliar culture or perspective.  Here are additional tips and techniques.

First Impressions: What a reader first notices is how the character looks, dresses, sounds and behaves.  Bring the character alive with physical descriptions, but not too much and not all at once.  Allow readers to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.  Pay special attention to the rhythm of the spoken language.  A foreign born person might speak with an accent and fall back on native words as necessary.

A Character from Inside Out: You’re writing about individuals, and the methods you usually employ to develop a character of any kind still applies. Remember that all cultures have hopes, fears, and dreams, and it’s your job to portray that.

Does a diverse character have to be sympathetic?  Peter Mountford, the author of two novels, including A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, says no.  “Actually, I’m not sure he is very sympathetic because of the choices he makes,” Mountford says of Gabriel do Boys, the 26-year-old, biracial protagonist in his novel.  “He builds a lucrative career instead of abandoning it for love.  I feel for him, definitely, but a lot of readers struggle with him, and I suppose that is the key to writing “the other,” for me.”

Beliefs and Conflicts: Every culture or community holds common beliefs about marriage, family, money, status and friendship.  A character is likely to suffer moth internal and external conflicts when going against these beliefs and sometimes even when conforming to them.

Showing Universality: By wrestling with choices and obstacles, a diverse character, like any other, grows and changes.  In the process, he or she displays common human characteristics as fear, anger, joy and love.  Although I’m different, I’d feel much the same in the same situation, the reader realizes, and perhaps gets more involved in the book.

You can make a character accessible in other ways.  Show how he or she relates to friends.  Let him or her grapple with everyday issues like traffic.  An element of humor can also help.  We gravitate toward people who lighten our days with a joke or a funny situation.  It is in those moments that we let go of our differences and embrace our common humanity.

 

I hope this article helps to make your writing this week easier. The more knowledge we have the better writers we are.  Blessings to all.

Let Me Introduce

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Hello, everyone. Today it’s my great pleasure to introduce to you a fellow writer from Rave Review Book Club, Gordon Bickerstaff. We are both members of this great club and today he is their “Spotlight Author”. It’s my privilege to be part of his Blog tour. He is introducing you to his main characters and providing you with a short synopsis of his book.  Enjoy

The Black Fox cover

Gavin Shawlens and Zoe Tampsin – DoomWatchers

 

Who is Gavin Shawlens?

Gavin Shawlens is an academic in his mid-thirties. He’s not a fitness freak but he keeps trim with occasional visits to the university judo club and jogging up the three flights of stairs to his top-floor flat. He has a thick mop of hair has a light straw colour in summer that darkens in winter. He is single, and has had on/off relationships, but he’s haunted by a previous relationship that ended badly.

He has a secret part-time job. Gavin has gained a great deal of experience over the past six years on a number of major investigations for the Lambeth Group. In fact, Gavin has a UK security clearance of Top Secret Level D, which means he has knowledge of the highest category of official state secrets. He knows where some of the nastiest Government skeletons are buried. He’d been present at the burial of two of them.

Who is Zoe Tampsin?

Zoe Tampsin, Senior Field Officer with the Security Service. On temporary secondment to the Lambeth Group. Based here in London,  Zoe is five-eight, slender, athletic-looking, intelligent and ambitious. The forty-three-year-old ex-army captain had joined the OTC at her university and went on to receive the coveted Sword of Honour at Sandhurst as the best officer cadet.

Captain Tampsin had served with the SAS in Bosnia and more recently on Special Forces operations for MI5 and MI6 at home and abroad. Her CO wrote about her – Zoe Tampsin protects her troop like a lioness protecting her cubs, powerful, determined, and completely ruthless.

Zoe had proved herself in combat, and she was accepted as combat hardened. She was powerful in dealing with the stress of imminent danger, and her concentration over long periods was second to none. Many times her troop had faced the white of the opposition’s eyes, and she had led them through hell and back.

Zoe had smashed the hardest glass ceiling, and showed the pencil generals the unique skill set that women have to offer, in the multi-dimensional fight against 21st century terrorism. She formed and led a special operations unit of women, W Troop. Still a small attachment, compared to the number of men in Special Forces, but against a strict background of no drop in standards, her select group of female troopers had proved themselves worthy of the badge.

Who are the Lambeth Group?

The Lambeth Group is a covert organisation formed when a group of twenty-six university vice-chancellors from elite universities met secretly with Home Office mandarins at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London. After prolonged discussion, they agreed on the need for a doomwatch strategy to discover and manage research and technology disasters that can happen when top researchers push past the boundaries farther and faster than they should.

Working with CPNI (Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure) a branch of MI5, and the Home Office, the Lambeth Group had successfully prevented the most damaging university and private research disasters from becoming public knowledge.

The Black Fox

Synopsis

 Zoe Tampsin is resourceful, smart and Special Forces-trained, but she has been given an impossible mission. She has to protect scientist, Gavin Shawlens, from assassination by the CIA, and discover the secret trapped in Gavin’s mind  the CIA want destroyed.

As the pressure to find Shawlens escalates – the CIA send Zoe’s former mentor to track her down, and her fate seems sealed when he surrounds Zoe and Gavin with a ring of steel. With each hour that passes, the ring is tightened, and the window for discovering Gavin’s secret will shut.

Zoe is faced with a decision that goes against all of her survival instincts. If she is wrong – they both die. If she is right – she will discover the secret, and become the next target for assassination. Run for your life…

 

Buy Gordon Bickerstaff’s Books

Amazon-UK

Amazon-USA

Follow Gordon Bickerstaff here:

Website: http://goo.gl/2in8SX

Twitter handle: @ADPase

 

The 5 C’s of Writing a Great Thriller Novel

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Writing Project

This article by James Scott Bell was first published in the Writer’s Digest. I read it this morning on Books Go Social Authors Group ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialauthors/?fref=nf ) and thought it was worth sharing.  Even if were not writing a thriller we may want to add a touch into whatever we’re writing.  Enjoy.   Shirley

Remember when Tommy Lee Jones holds up the empty shackles in The Fugitive and says, “You know, we’re always fascinated when we find leg irons with no legs in ’em”? It makes me think of readers who pick up thrillers and find no thrills in them. Or at least not as many as there could be.

I’m not just talking about plot here. It’s possible to have guns and bombs and hit men and terrorists and black helicopters and still not have a novel that grips the reader in the gut.

For a healthy, fully functioning thriller, try some literary vitamin C. Dose your book with these five Cs and it will stand strong, chest out, ready to give your reader a run for the money.

  1. Complex Characterizations

The first place to fortify a thriller is its cast of characters. A critical mistake made here can undermine even the best story concept.

Is your protagonist all good? That’s boring. Instead, the thriller hero needs to struggle with issues inside as well as outside. She’s got to be a carrier of flaws as well as virtues. These roiling conflicts make her survival an open question.

When we first meet Detective Carol Starkey in Robert Crais’ Demolition Angel, she’s flicking her cigarette ash on the floor of a therapist’s office, “pissed off” because it’s been three years and her demons are still alive and well. Quite an introduction, especially for someone on the LAPD bomb detail. We know she has a short fuse. And we want to watch to see if it goes off.

Brainstorm a list of at least 10 inner demons your hero has to fight. Ten. Get creative. Then choose the best one. Work that demon into your hero’s backstory, and show how it is affecting him in the present—and could hinder him even further in the future. Give him actions that demonstrate the flaw.

Move on to the rest of your cast. Avoid the “stock character” trap, which can be especially perilous in this genre—e.g., the cold, buttoned-down FBI agent; the police detective with a drinking problem. Here’s a good habit: Reject the first image you come up with when creating a character. Entertain several possibilities, always looking for a fresh take.

Then, give each character a point of potential conflict with your hero as well as with the other characters—especially those who are allies. Look for ways friends can become enemies or betrayers. Short of that, create more arguments.

To help you add complexity, make a character grid like this:

Mary                        Steve                  Cody                     Brenda                Julio

Mary

x

Steve                            x

Cody                                               x

Brenda                                                              x

Julio                                                                                   x

Now, fill in the blank boxes with possible relationships, secrets and areas of conflict. For example:

Mary     Steve

Mary

Hates him because he abused her sister

Steve     Knows that Mary had a child by Julio

If possible connections are eluding you, try running this exercise for each of your main characters: The police come to the character’s residence with a search warrant. In his closet is something he does not want anyone to find, ever.

What is it?

What does this reveal about the inner life of the character? Use the secrets and passions you discover to add another point of conflict within the cast.

Standout thrillers need complexity and webs of conflict, so that every page hums with tension.

  1. Confrontation

I call the main action of a novel the confrontation. This is where the hero and antagonist battle over the high stakes a thriller demands.

When it comes to the antagonist, writers can easily make the opposite of the “all-good protagonist” mistake: They make their bad guy all bad. Worse, they make him all bad because he’s crazy.

More interesting confrontations come from a villain who is justified in what he does.

You mean, in doing evil things?

Yes, that’s exactly what I mean—in his own mind, that is. How much more chilling is the bad guy who has a strong argument for his actions, or who even engenders a bit of sympathy? The crosscurrents of emotion this will create in your readers will deepen your thriller in ways that virtually no other technique can accomplish. The trick is not to overdo it—if you stack the deck against your villain, readers will feel manipulated.

Start by giving your antagonist just as rich a backstory as your hero. What hopes and dreams did he have? How were they dashed? What life-altering hurt did he suffer? Who betrayed him? How did all of this affect him over the course of his life?

Write out a closing argument for him. If he were in court, arguing to a jury about why he did the things he did in the novel, what would he say? Make it as persuasive as possible:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is Hannibal Lecter. You’ve heard a lot of lurid tales about me from the prosecutor. Now you will hear my side of the story. You will hear about a world that is better off without some people being in it. And you will hear about the conditions I endured inside the horror of a place called the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane …”

It can feel a bit disturbing to try to understand someone you might hate in real life. Good. You are a writer. You go where angels fear to tread.

Now take all of that material and use it to strengthen the antagonist’s position in the story. A stronger confrontation can only result.

  1. Careening

There’s nothing like a stunning twist or shock to keep readers flipping, clicking or swiping pages. Part of the fun for readers is thinking a story is going one way, and getting taken completely by surprise.

Harlan Coben is one of the reigning kings of the art of surprise. “I’ve rarely met a twist I didn’t like,” he has said. His method, if it can be called that, is to write himself “into a lot of corners” and see how things work out.

That’s one way to go. Forcing your writer’s mind to deal with conundrums is a great practice.

But there is another way. Pause after every scene and ask yourself: “What would a reader expect to happen next?” Create a list of at least three directions the story might take.

Then discard those three and do something different. I call this unanticipation.

Another method is the old Raymond Chandler advice: When things slow down, bring in a man with a gun. It doesn’t have to be an actual man with an actual gun, of course. It can be anything that bursts into a scene and shakes things up. Here’s the key: Get your imagination to give you the surprise without justification.

Make a quick list of at least 10 things that just pop into your mind. For example:

  1. A woman runs in screaming.
  2. The lights go out.
  3. A car crashes through the wall.
  4. Heart attack.
  5. SWAT team outside.
  6. Marching band outside.
  7. TV announcer mentions character’s name.
  8. A baby cries (what baby?).
  9. Blood drips down the wall.
  10. Justin Bieber comes in with a gun.

Some things on your list will seem silly. That’s OK. Don’t judge. Look back and find the most original item, and only then find a reason for it. In this case, No. 8 creates the most interest for me. I have no idea where that came from or what it means. But I can make it mean something.

And so can you.

  1. Coronary

The best thrillers stab the heart, throughout. They do it by getting readers to experience the emotions of the scenes.

How can you do that? First, by experiencing them yourself. Sense memory is a technique used by many serious actors. Here’s how it works: You concentrate on recalling an emotional moment in your life, and recreate each of the senses in your memory (sight, smell, touch, sound, etc.) until you begin to feel the emotion again. And you will. The actor transfers that to her role; the writer, to the page.

When I was getting to the heart of one of my own thrillers-in-progress, a story of two brothers, I needed to feel what the younger one was experiencing when the bad guys came. I recalled a time when I was 6 or 7, and some bullies were holding me hostage on a hill. Terrified, I finally made a break for home and sobbed to my big brother about what had happened. He left me at the house.

I never saw those bullies in our neighborhood again.

When I wrote the scenes with the younger brother, I focused on feeling those moments again, and transferred those emotions to the page.

They’re going to kill Chuck and they’re going to do the same thing to me. That’s why they have me tied up and they put another thing in my mouth and they won’t let me talk. … They hit me. I’m in the back of some truck. They’re taking me somewhere. I hope they take me where Chuck is. If they do anything to Chuck I will bite them. I will do anything I can to hurt them. Maybe I’m going to die but I will not die until I hurt them because of what they’re going to do to Chuck.

Another way to tap into your character’s heartbeat is the run-on sentence. Interview the character at the height of an emotion. Write down his reaction for at least 200 words without using a period. Then explore that text to find gems of emotional description. You might actually use some of it, as Horace McCoy did in his 1938 noir thriller, I Should Have Stayed Home:

All Dorothy’s fault, I thought, cursing her in my mind with all the dirty words I could think of, all the filthy ones I could remember the kids in my old gang used to yell at white women as they passed through the neighborhood on their way to work in the whore houses, these are what you are, Dorothy, turning off Vine on to the boulevard, feeling awful and alone, even worse than that time my dog was killed by the Dixie Flyer, but telling myself in a very faint voice that even like this I was better off than the fellows I grew up with back in Georgia who were married and had kids and regular jobs and regular salaries and were doing the same old thing in the same old way and would go on doing it forever.

  1. Communication

The original storytellers spun thrillers. When heroes went out into the dark world to confront monsters and demons and great beasts, the tribe vicariously lived the tale. But there was something more—they learned how to fight, act courageously and survive.

The first thrillers carried a message and helped bring a local community together.

Readers still seek that kind of story. So you ought to spend some time asking yourself what your thriller is really about. Does it offer hope for justice? Does it end with justice denied?

In short, what will the reader take away from your book?

Many aspiring thriller writers, perhaps seeing the genre as action-driven, avoid thinking about theme (or meaning, or premise). They prefer to let the characters duke it out, and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you realize that you will be saying something. Why not be intentional about it?

Here’s an exercise I call “The Dickens” (named for Charles and his time-traveling story A Christmas Carol): Go forward in time 20 years after your story ends. Your lead character is now 20 years older and has had time to reflect on all that happened in the story you told. You’re now a reporter, and you track down the character and ask, “Looking back at everything that happened to you, why do you think you had to go through that? What life lesson did you learn that you can pass on to the rest of us?”

Let the character answer in a free-form way, for as long as possible, until you sense that it’s right.

Now use all your skills to demonstrate that lesson at the end of the story itself, without necessarily using words. Give us Clarice Starling sleeping at last, the lambs of her nightmares silenced. Or Harry Bosch in Lost Light, holding for the first time the hands of the daughter he never knew he had.

Those are the moments that will take your thriller from entertaining to unforgettable.

Here’s to the health of your thrillers.

—By James Scott Bell

Creating Your Protagonist

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Writer2From story to story, from novel to novel, protagonists vary widely in psychological make-up, goals and dreams, in the types of conflicts they face and in the way they resolve these conflicts.  Among all these differences, compelling characters may have some common qualities as well.

Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay It Forward and 24 other novels, believes compelling protagonists share two chief traits.  “I think he or she needs to be someone with a strong will to move through adversity, and someone readers can relate to,” she says, adding that relatable characters also require vulnerability. “We’re all vulnerable on the inside, so our hearts go out to anyone enduring struggles we understand.”

Authors are often told that readers must be able to root for their characters, yet Hyde believes that protagonists don’t necessarily have to be likable or sympathetic.  They do need to be human, or readers won’t be able to relate to them.  To accomplish that, says Hyde, you have to get inside your character’s head, and thats when the “humanity will begin to shine through.”

Here’s how Ishmael Reed gets inside of Paul Blessings, a character in his 10th novel, Juice!

I’m a survivor all right.  After generations of ancestors working in the fields, factories, cleaning homes and offices, my generation had a chance to go to school, read books, attend plays, and do desk work just like W.E. B. wanted it.  Like an old time Talented Tenther, I even had a season ticket to the opera. Only falling asleep once.  During Wagners’s Die Meistersinger, I think it was the droning, lumbering trombone score that did it.  Besides, like millions of my contemporaries, I’m fond of gazing and staring.  This “sedentary” lifestyle got me in trouble with glucose, which one geneticist has said we should avoid more than the snakes we were originally programmed to fear.  A bakery display of cake, muffins, and cookies is like a nest of cobras to me.  They should invent a candy bar for diabetics called the Grim Reaper.  How did I know that sugar had a dark side.

Blessings comes fully alive for readers with his open, frank self-revelation: regarding his roots, his generation’s opportunities, his drifting off during the Wagner opera, his sedentary style and his health crisis.  Wryly, Reed situates diabetes in a framework that surprises us by an utterly bizarre comparison: snakes and sugar.  We want to learn more about this intriguing character.

Of course, it’s one thing to know what a compelling protagonist and still another to create one.  Should you begin with notes for a fully fleshed out character, or should you discover your protagonist as you write.  Virgil Suarez, author of several novels and short story collection, plans out his protagonist in advance of writing.  “I love to create an entire biography and history for a character,” he says, even though only 10 percent of what I imagine about a character actually makes it into the story or chapter.”

While Suarez does a lot of initial planning, much of his characterization happens as he writes.  Intutive discovery of character may be key to solid character development. Instead of engineering or controlling characters, let their own voices take action. “I’m on the lookout for a fictinal person with a good story to tell me,” says Hyde.  “After I make that connection, it feels more like a process of sitting back and listening.”  This act of listening worked well fro Grissom, who says her two first-person narrators spoke clearly to her. “I wrote down what they were saying.” She had to edit later, but through attentive listening, she came to know her characters well.

Excerpt from Returning To The Elements by Jack Smith

Leaving The Joy Out of Writing

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dog coutureWriting is not always fun.  There are times when it’s downright taxing.  Various authors have compared the process to cutting veins and bleeding onto the page.  Certainly everyone has had the feeling of being discouraged, of thinking that the words are flappy, the sentiments trite, the whole thing a complete waste of time.  Many writers get so stuck in the morass that they can’t get our, and so they write word after every begrudging word with any joy at all.

Often this happens when a writer gets stuck on one particular story.  I have often seen it happen that a writer will carry around a story for a decade.  He will work on nothing else.  He is going to finish it if it kills him.  He submits the same story over and over and over again to be critiqued.  Although I suggest politely that he move on and write something else he can’t.  He has to tell this story. But now he hates it, and quite honestly, I hate it.  I’ve critiqued the character, the plot, and the dialogue.

I suspect this is even more likely to happen to novelists than to short-story writers, because we’re more likely to put big chunks of time into a novel.  Certainly it’s harder to walk away from something you’ve spent four years working on.  That was how long I worked on my novel, Courting Disaster.  It was the story of a woman who gets engaged 17 times and then falls in love with a man named Chuck Jones.  My novel was a finalist for a number of prestigious literary awards, got a lot of agent and editorial attention, but after four years of writing, rewriting and submitting, no one wanted it.  I was depressed, to put it mildly I was also discouraged at the prospect of having to write a whole new book.

But I did.  I wrote a book about a woman who teaches a fiction class, and I began to feel something I hadn’t felt n a while: excitement.  At one point, as I was trying to figure out who the students were in the writing class, I realized that my old friend Chuck Jones, would be perfect.  I had been obsessed by this character, and I was delighted to move him over to my new novel.  The Fiction Class was, in fact, published by Plume, a division of Penguin.  Often when I’m at book clubs, people will come up to me and tell me how much they like Chuck jones, and I always feel like that’s a tribute to the beleaguered part of me that struggled so hard to get a foothold in this business.

Don’t be afraid to start something new, if this is what you need to keep going.  Start a new story.  Take what you’ve learned and apply it somewhere else. But don’t give up the joy that brought you into this insane profession in the first place.

<div style=”font-size: 8px;”>Original by Susan Breen</div>

Tamie Dearen

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Hello Everyone, welcome to my Shirley McLain blog. I’d like to intoduce you to my guest author today, Tammi Dearen. Tami is in the midst of doing a blog tour for her book,”Alora.”

I just completed reading book one of her Best Girls Series called, Her Best match.The book was a pleasure to read and I gave it a five star rating on Amazon and Goodreads.

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Tamie author pic
Hi! I’m Tamie Dearen—wife, mother, grandmother, dentist, Jesus-lover, musician, composer, and author (as of 2013). I’ve published four books and a novella in The Best Girls Series, and one Young Adult Fantasy, Alora: The Wander-Jewel. As a relatively new author, I’ve found Rave Reviews Book Club to be a great resource for information and a wonderful place for mutual support.

Work in Progress

Alora: The Portal (Book 2 of the Alora Series)

Alora[1]

So here’s what’s coming up in the next book in the Alora series.

Alora’s father is still trying to kill her, of course. Meanwhile, Stone Clan and Water Clan are racing to find the portal between the two realms. We will meet some characters from Water Clan and find out what it is like to live under Vindrake’s oppression. We also discover the past events that resulted in Vindrake’s complete turn to evil. We meet a man who voluntarily infiltrates Stone Clan to spy for Vindrake, motivated by his own bitter need for revenge.

While accompanying the Stone Clan group on a quest to learn how to dissolve the soulmate bond, Bardamen uses every opportunity to search for a future wife. But instead, he meets a woman whose sharp wit and tongue put him in his place repeatedly.

And even though Kaevin and Alora are soulmates, their relationship has its share of struggles. After all, an emotional and physical bond doesn’t create the perfect relationship. In addition, they’re teenagers who grow and mature as the story proceeds.

We will find a secret place where the clanspeople live in harmony with one another, embracing the very differences that have alienated the clans throughout Tenavae. We also get to meet another soulmate couple. There will be lots of actions in both worlds, resulting in a bit of confusion for the park rangers at Yellowstone. And I still don’t know how I’m going to fit this all in one book!

Follow Tamie online:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TamieDearen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tamie-Dearen/1384772145109650

Website: http://tamiedearen.weebly.com/