Keeping It Real: Developing Characters Throughout a Series

by Miko Johnston

I became an author when I finished the first in my series of fiction novels – my first book, period. Interestingly, Lala, the character I inaugurated thirty years ago, recently turned thirty herself. Is that a coincidence?

Maybe not.

Petal InTheWindMy writing has matured over those thirty years, as has my heroine. Granted, when introduced in my first book, she was “almost eight”, so her voice and thoughts had to reflect her age. However, the book was meant for adults, therefore it had to present the story at a more mature level. Much of the storyline and the tension springs from a child who’s unable to fully understand her situation and an adult audience who clearly can.

As the story develops, and Lala ages, she had grown up in the eyes of my readers as well as my own. I sometimes feel like thirty years ago I gave birth to this young girl, though I’m thrilled not to have actually given birth to an eight-year-old! Still, having lived with these characters for almost half my life and four books, they’ve become very familiar, and I’ve grown close to them. I sense a greater intimacy between the characters with each novel, in part because of my growing familiarity with them.

I feel the same way about characters in the series I still read. I’ve become invested in their lives, curious to see how they play out. It’s become an even more important aspect of pleasure in reading than the storyline. I’ve stuck with a few series with formulaic plots because of my attachment to the people who populate the stories.  I’ve also dropped a few series from my must-read list and always for the same reason – stagnant characters.

I asked several writers of serialized fiction about how their relationship with their characters – and their characters’ relationships with each other – has changed with each book, and each passing year.

51pZwz0PBbL GOTUMike McNeff introduced his hero Robin Marlette in GOTU (pronounced Got-U, it’s short for Guardians of the Universe). His action/adventure series features a covert ops team that has to balance work with home life. Mike’s currently writing the fourth book in the series. When I asked him how his characters have evolved over time, he decided to let Robin speak for himself:

“We were once cops who tried not to hurt anyone, including suspects. Now we kill just to survive and it has reached the point where killing has become a mere afterthought. I’ve killed sleeping men, men who didn’t know I was near them and men who were simply doing an assigned task at a particular moment. They were all involved in acts threatening innocent people, but I gave them no warning…no chance to surrender. I just killed them.” Robin’s eyes met the admiral’s. “My men and I have become dark and dangerous shadows moving through the night grappling with a squirming underworld. I’ve become unsure of just what and who the enemy really is…I just react to threats to the innocent people on this earth.”

I’ll add that the series has grown darker, but as Mike’s characters have developed into a close-knit team, they’re more comfortable teasing each other, and their humorous banter provides comic relief that lightens up the action.

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41SMl8rQs0L IndelibleWhat began for Heather Ames as a stand-alone novel turned into a deftly blended mystery, suspense and romance series featuring Detective Brian Swift and socialite/club owner Kaylen Roberts (due in part to encouragement from some members of this blog). Ames says, “My characters have evolved from two people who didn’t even trust each other enough to share confidences into two people who have been trying to work through various challenges. They weren’t sure they could work things out by the end of Book one, but they both wanted to try.”

In each subsequent novel she balances the suspense between solving the mystery and navigating their evolving romance. Readers root for the couple, but Ames keeps us wondering as we follow their emotional roller coaster ride. “Being mismatched soulmates isn’t an easy gig. Brian’s profession is a huge stumbling block for Kaylen (while) Brian feels like a fish out of water in Kaylen’s world, and isn’t so sure he wants to try fitting in.”

The couple has progressed with each book. “Kaylen has evolved into a much stronger character than she was at the beginning of the series, while Brian has developed chinks in his armor that make him more vulnerable.”

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41SMgxyg59L Last ConfessionPat Kelley Brunjes traveled a similar route with her characters as I, opening her series with a story loosely based on her family history. In her first novel, The Last Confession,  her protagonist serves as a stand-in for Brunjes. “Maggie was me seeking to find the truth about my grandmother’s relationship to the Catholic Church.” Although based on her research, she fictionalized the story, which allowed her to take Maggie in a non-biographical – and more dangerous – direction. In the sequel she’s writing, her heroine gets entangled in a cold-case murder and human trafficking. “In the second novel, Maggie has evolved into her own person dealing with what fate has thrown her, and how her personal beliefs guide her decision to help others.” Having given herself the freedom to step away from semi-autobiography, Brunjes will have much flexibility in plotting future entries in the series.

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51sKIWU-ULL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ PaulineAvis Rector faces a unique challenge in writing her historical fiction series, based on the early life of her family on Whidbey Island. In her first book, Pauline, the heroine and her husband settle on the island during the Depression. “So much of the first Pauline was based on my memories of the stories I heard as a child from my father who loved to tell stories—usually real happenings, but many embellished.” However, in her sequel, the story moves into the 1940’s, a time Rector lived through. She’s having to reinterpret her childhood memories through an adult’s perspective. “Actually, I’m having a hard time writing how the adults felt about the time. Pauline has changed.”

Part of that involves Pauline’s maturing. Rector admits she struggles to find the right balance between the irrepressible gal readers meet in the first novel and the responsible parent she becomes after adopting two children. “It was difficult for her to become a mother. She’s no longer the fun-loving young wife (as in the first book), but a serious, not so much fun, mother. I’m sorry about this, and feel I should…try to soften her personality, to enjoy the experience of being a mother like she always wanted to be.”

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Most of us in WInRs have written, or are writing, series – I’m interested in hearing their take on this. I also know some of you reading this post write serialized fiction. What challenges have you faced moving your characters through the years, either in ‘book-time’ or real time? Have they evolved over the course of your series, and if so, how?

 

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

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This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

A Writer’s Resolutions on Social Media

by Jill Amadio

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New Year resolutions?

I have known mine for many, many months, as had a writer friend. Bombarded and burned out by social media ‘noise’ last month, she left her computer and iPad at home and fled to the forest and her grandpa’s cabin in Oregon, Bigfoot be damned. Alas, Hazel was unable to escape her addiction to Facebook and Twitter and she drove miles into town each day to find an Internet café where she continued to pollute the airwaves.

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Linked In, Pinterest, Tumblr, Fomo, Reddit, WikiHow, Instagram and others jam our lives with clamorous demands to log on, read posts, share photos, and comment. The more timid of us comply.

No Escape.

I know dozens of writers who complain about the time it takes to respond to cute comments yet day after day we find ourselves enslaved to the practice, afraid to miss something someone has written. Did they see my latest awards photo on my FB site?  Have they followed my Tweet link to my new mystery web site? While grateful for congratulatory messages online, and helpful tips on feeding hippos, how about admirers sending a snail-mail card instead or a basket of premium wine?

One can barely escape social media even without going to the sites. I receive email messages daily that someone has commented on my status (whatever that means – single, poverty-stricken?) or wants me to Like them.

Procrastination.

We seem to be obsessed with spending hours online replying to friends’ remarks posted on social media sites, laughing at cartoons and jokes when we should be writing the next chapter or polishing an article. For some, it’s procrastination, an excuse not to tackle that elusive plot point, or figure out the murderer’s true motive; for others, perhaps, a means to make a mark upon the vast Internet audience.

Do the networking benefits outweigh the negatives? Many around the world have found long-lost school friends and relatives.  Others bemoan the lack of privacy. I still haven’t figured out how to send a private FB message to my daughter.

Guest Blogging

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Then there are the invitations to be a guest blogger. I was asked if I’d like to join a Blog Hop whereby ten mystery authors answered a series of questions about their books and their writing life.  First, it had to be explained to me how the process worked, then I answered the host blogger’s eight questions, after which I was told to wait my turn for the right day. I was nudged the day before with three emails reminding me, and finally, I was asked to promote the entire Hop through social media for several days beforehand, and several days afterwards: “I am guest-blogging today on Santa’s site.”

It was fun but time-consuming. The new idea prompted other friends who were not included in the Hop to ask me if I’d invite them to be a guest blogger on my own site.   After agreeing to two of them, I realized that probably no one checked out the blog page on my site anyway. More time lost.

An addiction?

How do we escape the trap and refuse to be manipulated? There are plenty of advice columns and seminars on how to overcome the addiction, even a 10-step program on how to recognize the symptoms and treat them.  You can Google the subject and dozens of sites show up. Even the Times of India newspaper has an article on how to handle the problem.

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Kim Fay, author of “the Map of Lost Memories,” was making a deliberate effort to stay “clean.  She said that Facebook terrified her, and she wasn’t sure what to do with Linked In.

Longing for peace and quiet aside from social media noise and actual noise of traffic and sirens outside her home in Los Angeles, she accepted her parent’s offer to holiday in their house in the mountains of Arizona while they went out of town. Once there, she covered all the clocks, researched, napped, and wrote 50 pages of her next thriller without once logging on anywhere.

Kim-Fay“Ideas had space to roll around in my head,” she said. “My thoughts were uninterrupted. It was divine. These days the life of a 21st century writer are frantic, a pressure cooker requiring one to write reviews, connect with fans and friends, and try to stay in the game. ”

 

Well, I gotta go. Time to check my FB page, and wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Capture (1)Jill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. She is the ghostwriter of 14 memoirs, and wrote the Rudy Valle biography, “My Vagabond Lover,” with his wife, Ellie. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep.” The second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead,” was released this year. The books are based in Newport http://www.jillamadio.com

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This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

2020 Visions For The New Year!

Read. Learn. Enjoy.

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

girl-reading 1423501_960_720Try the classics. Try some older writers. Try a new writer and hope they have something clever or interesting to say.

We are losing the language and our sense of humor and even our sense of right and wrong by leaving those books on the shelf. People are afraid to tell a joke for fear of offending somebody. Hey! The joke’s on them. They don’t realize they ARE the joke… and the joke isn’t funny. Suggest a book for them to read.

Some are eye-opening like Orwell’s 1984. Some are riveting like E. Phillips Oppenheim’s spy novels. Some are clever like Mary Roberts Rinehart’s mysteries. Some will stun you like Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan or the Barsoom series. Read. Learn. Enjoy.

What is your reading pleasure in 2020? Will you share a few titles on your TBR list?  Who are your favorite authors? What genre do you like to read?

 

2020 Reading Challenges

 by Jackie Houchin

And, if you’d like some direction, I have several reading plans for you for 2020. They range from DYR20 (Diversify Your Reading) which lists just ONE BOOK PER MONTH, but in categories that may make you “stretch” a bit, especially if you’ve been reading books in just one genre.  Here’s the link:  Diversify Your Reading Challenge – 12 categories  (Follow another link in this site, for the blogger’s 3-book recommendations for each category.)

Could you read ONE BOOK PER WEEK? (Whew!)  New mom, Mommy Mannegren, has a list of 52 categories for you to read in. You can interpret a category any way you choose (“a book with a senior character” could be an elderly woman, or a teenager in 12th grade), and you can read them in any order.  The 2020 52-book Reading Challenge

And…. how about TWO BOOKS PER WEEK??  This site is for the light reader (13 books), avid reader (26 books), committed reader (52 books)  and the obsessed reader (104 books).   About 25% of the book categories at this site are suggested reading for Christians.  (Read in them, or not.)   Multi-level Reading Challenges

And last, but no way least, if you are interested in reading the Bible in 2020, here are  23 Bible Reading Plans to Satisfy everyone.

 

 Wishing you the best health, success, happiness, and reading throughout the New Year!

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Happy Holiday Greetings from Us!

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December 25th post – by Gayle Bartos-Pool

People celebrate Christmas in many ways. Some decorate their homes like a Macy’s window on steroids, others keep a lower profile and enjoy the colors, sounds, and smells in their own quiet way. Some can’t wait for the season to be over. As for me, any time people make an effort to make others happy and to enjoy life themselves is a holiday. Christmas is and should be a time to reflect on the Gift of Life we have all been given. You can’t return it to the store if you don’t like it, but you can make it fit by being the very best you can be and showing others their gift is pretty special as well. Then you will realize Christmas is every day.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

Time to Snuggle Up

My post today is very short, and is about “snuggling up” cozy-like under your favorite “blankey,” with a Christmas book at hand, ready for the reading.

In my olden reading days before our local book club meetings and selections, I never much paid attention to “Christmas books.” But tomorrow I’ll be attending my book club holiday meeting at one of our member’s home–potluck(yum); and our hostess really always does such a wonderful welcoming event! (This year I’m bringing candied yams (or sweet potatoes as my grandmother called them.))[i]) But this isn’t a food post, it’s a book post, and the connection is, it was our book club–mainly our “hostess with the mostest”[ii]–who introduced me to Christmas themed books.

Looking back over our books we’ve read list, here are some you might also enjoy this Christmas season:

A Cricket on the Hearth                     Charles Dickens

The Paper Bag Christmas                   Kevin Alan Milne

Copper Mountain Christmas              Jane Porter

This yearThe Mistletoe Murders, P.D. James ( and it has two early Dalgliesh stories in it.  I love P.D. James’s writing, thinking she’s one of the best writers ever, especially when it comes to setting/scenery and characters)  &  A Christmas Gathering, by Anne Perry

Also, here’s a link to a UK website https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/classic-christmas-crime/ with even more great selections from mystery authors you know, like Agatha Christie, Gladys Mitchell, George Simenon, and more. I’m going to have to extend the Christmas season, just so I can read some of these (smile).

And I’d be remiss if not listing as one of my favorite Christmas reads, Lovers and Liars, by Paul Alan Fahey. I read Paul’s book a few years back, but even now, when I think about Christmas reads, I always think about the ending of his book…to give you a feel, here’s the last part of my heartfelt 2014 Amazon review:

“…he has a knack for taking you right into the character’s soul and story. I felt like I was there in England during the war–with Leslie, Edward, Robert, Caroline, and Cyril. At the end in Kent, I even felt like I was part of their little family Christmas….”  Miss ya, Paul.

So, my conclusion to this post is to say–Christmas time is a little tough for some to sit down and actually write, though I’m tryingbut what a great time to snuggle up with a seasonal book–reading and enjoying a selection from the wealth of Christmas literature available to us!

Any other Christmas books you’d like to recommend?

Joy to all this Holiday season, and Happy writing and Christmas Reading Trails!

 


[i] Yams? Sweet Potatoes? After research (I spent more time than I should have researching potatoes for this post – they really were yams my grandmother cooked so memorably) many years back… https://www.google.com/search?q=difference+between+yam+and+sweet+potatoes&client=firefox-b-1-d&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=Mieaf3CHDafUeM%253A%252CZ-Aoa6ukDLXpmM%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kQ6OmgzfwDPA03Cv4iE_6hqnC0rFQ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwidzu7EjJ3mAhWKrZ4KHTsgAfAQ9QEwAHoECAMQAw#imgrc=Mieaf3CHDafUeM:

[ii]  Quotes From Google, “Generally attributed to Jimmy Durante, an American entertainer, describing a well known hostess of large party’s of the time, Perle Mesta. This would have been in the 1940’s. Simple explanation is that Perle Mesta hosted the best parties to which all the “A” list people aspired… hence the hostess with the mostest.” Or, “It comes from The Hostess With The Mostes’ On The Ball, a song in Act I of the 1950 Broadway musical Call Me Madam, originally sung on stage by Ethel Merman. Ethel Merman played Sally Adams, a rich socialite widow who gets appointed the ambassador to the fictional country of Lichtenburg.”

“Cozy Food” a book review

by Jackie Houchin 

(Consider this book as the perfect “affordable” gift for anyone on your Christmas list who loves to COOK and/or loves to READ mysteries.) 

51OCRfcnFpLI loved “Cozy Food” edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis!  The cover says it is a compilation of 128 Cozy Mystery Writers’ Favorite Recipes, but it is so much more.

Along with the yummy recipes in categories from Appetizers and Beverages to Desserts (of all kinds) and Gluten-Free foods (Even Pet Treats), you will get a “taste” of each writer’s books & series, protagonists & villains. And a “sip” of their own lives in their biographies!

A totally wonderful book, suitable (in print version especially) for your kitchen or living room libraries. (I plan to purchase a print copy.)

In the “hearty” introduction, you will read a thorough DEFINITION of a cozy mystery. If you ever thought of writing one yourself, just use this guideline and all you’d need to do is fill in the details!

The author biographies reveal “meaty” links (live in the digital version) for the many ways readers can find them – websites, newsletters, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and books on Amazon. (I admit, I followed many of them, and even signed up for several newsletters and blog posts.)

  • You can discover how Sparkle Abby and Monica Ferris got their pen names.
  • Some writers write with their husbands, such as Amy Myers and Jim, who have a Jack Colby mystery series featuring a classic car restorer. Their website is split between book news, and fabulous classic cars and events.
  • Tamar Myers was born and raised in the Congo by missionary parents. I ordered the first book from her Congo mysteries (she has other more recipe-related series as well).
  • Maggie Pill‘s Sleuthing Sisters (3) is another series I will try.
  • Karen Robbins writes a series and a blog based on her (and her husband’s) world-wide travels.
  • Joyce Oroz is a muralist, so her protagonist is too. (Love those 3-D murals!)
  • Lee Wait has a series of historical novels for 8+ year-olds among her cozies.

Be SURE to read the biographies, they are a “mulligan stew” of fascinating facts.

Before I go, here is a list I will POSITIVELY be making soon.

  1. Mignon F. Ballard‘s “Lemon Mystery,”
  2. Marja McGraw‘s “Self-Frosted Cake,”
  3. Radine Trees Nehring‘s “Carrie’s Chicken Pie,” and
  4. Josi S. Kilpact‘s “Devil’s Food Cake.”

Here are a few “catchy” unusual recipe titles:

  • “Kitty Cat Tuna Crackers” by Sparkle Abby,
  • “Neanderthal Mammoth Jerky” by Kaye George!

All the biographies and recipe categories are listed in a complete Table of Contents (linkable for digital copies).

Oh, and don’t miss the very end. Like some TV shows Nancy Lynn Jarvis quotes some hilarious “Out Takes” from her experience of contacting the authors for this book.

This is a great Holiday gift (print) for cooks and mystery readers alike!  Find it on  Amazon.

 

A Lesson in Character Building

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

PeopleWhen I first moved to Sunny Southern California in the early Seventies, I decided I should take acting lessons. Not that I thought of taking Hollywood by storm, after all, I was no glamour girl or even thought I had any latent acting ability.

 

Trish StewartMy only claim to fame by that time was playing Girl Number Two in a high school production of Sabrina Fair. I had maybe two lines, but I did get a few laughs when my character had to feign a headache to make another character think that was why me and the Boyfriend, another minor character, were out on the patio getting some fresh air. I guess I did the funny bit of business well enough to get a chuckle from the audience. As for the girl who played Sabrina, Trish Stewart went on to an acting career in Hollywood. She was in the short-lived TV show with Andy Griffith called Salvage 1 and a recurring role on The Young and the Restless.

But a television career wasn’t why I wanted to take acting lessons. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to know what writers needed to learn about writing dialogue and thought acting lessons would give me an insight into all those words actors should be saying on stage and on the screen.

I got an agent, a job… and a life lesson. I saw an ad in the newspaper about an exclusive acting class being taught by a couple of people from Hollywood. I use the term “exclusive” because the class cost money. It was several hundred dollars, so I thought it was going to be really good. Well, one of the guys who was to run this class ran off with the money. Many people were screwed. The other partner who was as surprised, if not as screwed, as the rest of us, took pity on little ol’ me and asked if I would like to be the nanny cum housekeeper for him, his wife, and his four kids. I needed a job, so I said yes.

This guy was a talent agent. A real one. One of his clients had been Agnes Moorehead. Another client was James MacArthur. I actually met James when he flew into Hollywood from his gig in Hawaii doing Hawaii 5-0. James kept his little sports car in my boss’s barn on their property in Encino. His battery was dead, so he asked if he could borrow my little VW and go get one. I tossed him the keys and went back to my nanny/housekeeper duties. Their house was always a mess, so the three days a week I worked over there I tidied up and played with the young kids, all of whom were pre-school or in elementary school.

Bruce GloverDuring the nine months I worked for him, he got me into an acting class. The first class was taught by Bruce Glover. Old Bruce has been in a bunch of movies like Diamonds Are Forever and Chinatown and just about every TV series during his forty-year plus career. Something you might notice when he is in a movie is the fact that he makes sure he is either somewhere in the background of any scene even if he isn’t the guy doing the talking or while doing his scene he makes the most of it. In that I mean he is always doing some bit of business to capture the attention of the viewer. Sometimes the director will yell “Cut” and stop the attention grabbing, but many times that little extra shtick is the cherry on top of a scene.

And what does this have to do with writing, you may ask? It’s just this: Sometimes the writer needs to make a minor character more interesting by giving him or her a quirk, a trait, a personality. They don’t have to stay on the page or the screen all that long, but isn’t it fun to read or see a character who isn’t cardboard?

I still use that little trick I learned from Bruce about instilling a few minor characters with some unique trait just to make them more interesting and memorable. In fact, there are several characters that started out in a minor role who ended up with a much bigger part. Bruce would get a kick out of that fact, because he often said that “extra bit of business” might lead to an expanded role.

In the opening of my novel Caverns, the policeman who discovers the first body mauled by large rats in underground Chicago was to be a minor character if not just a “walk-on,” but I liked him so much he became one of the leads. In Hedge Bet I had originally picked one character to be the guilty party, but then I thought her character had only limited depth. This other character had far more opportunity for mayhem because he kept turning up in all the right places, so his part was expanded and he even had the original suspect bumped off.

In my Johnny Casino Series, I introduced an aging actress in one of the first short stories in the first book. I liked her so much, she kept coming back along with her butler who had a past to die for, so he turned into a charming regular, too. See, there are no small parts. Those little traits we write into our characters end up with a life of their own.

Rudy SolariThat brings me to the second acting class I took. The talent agent I was working for thought I might like to try another class taught by a couple of guys he admired. The guys were Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell. Rudy starred in Garrison’s Gorillas. As for Guy Stockwell, he guested in just about every TV series there was for decades.

I have mentioned in other articles how Rudy had us actors write a biography of the character we were playing so we had an idea who our character was before we stepped onto the stage. You would have to make this stuff up, but the script gave you a lot of information and the genre of the piece would give you more parameters. To this day I write a biography of my main character and sketches of other people in a story. This will help you remember who everybody is, how they look, their age, and important details that you might need later. You don’t want “John” twenty-five years old on page 34 with blue eyes to turn into “John” forty-five years old on page 76 with brown eyes. It keeps you on track and if you bring the character back in a sequel you don’t have to read your first book to acquaint yourself with those facts.

But something else was gleaned from Rudy’s class. Improv. There is nothing like your acting teacher asking you to get up on that stage and do a scene with another actor with only a few words describing the scene. The one scene I remember doing was when another actor and I were to be an abusive husband and the long-suffering wife having a conversation. “She could kill him” was my prompt.

I started out playing the meek wife taking his abuse, but I kept countering his jibes with subtle remarks. When the scene was over and Rudy said “Stop,” he walked over to me and asked what I had in my hand. I had taken a piece of paper with me to the stage. It was probably what I wrote notes on, but it was in my hand, but as Rudy noted it had been folded and folded until it looked a bit like a knife. I hadn’t realized exactly doing it, but my character sure did. Scary? Maybe. But characters do have a life of their own. Give them free reign and see what they come up with.

The other interesting time in acting class was when my good friend and fellow actor, Karen Markham, and I were doing a scene from The Odd Couple. Let me digress for just a second and tell you a story or two. It’s relevant.

Rudy thought it might be interesting to have women play the lead in that play and later movie and even later a fabulous TV series written originally by Neil Simon. Rudy asked Karen and I to do a scene from the play. We christened Karen’s role as Esther (Oscar) and I played Felicia (Felix). We did one of the earlier scenes in the play. We rehearsed quite a bit and thought we had the roles down, but you know actors. Digging deeper into a role is always better.

We decided we should take the act “on the road.” That meant that we would go someplace “in character” and see how we did. There was a bar fairly close to where the acting class was, so we went there after class one night. It was a hangout for actors and stuntmen called The Drawing Board. We went in, Karen as the men-loving gal who always had a smart remark and me as the meek, penny-pinching woman who found dirt everywhere.

Harvey WallbangerI ordered a Harvey Wallbanger. (You aren’t the only one who liked them, Paul D. Marks.) Before the bartender set it down, I cleaned the spot in front of me. I complained openly about Esther making a spectacle of herself and Karen gave it back to me in spades. When the bartender told me how much my drink was, I gasped at the high price and said that I wasn’t buying drinks for the entire bar. Karen told me I was a penny-pinching old maid. The bartender laughed and then said, “Talk about the odd couple.”

Well, I broke character and laughed. Several of the guys around us took notice and I confessed that we were actors rehearsing our characters for Rudy Solari’s acting class. They got a kick out of it. Oh, and I didn’t have to pay for the drink. Don Stroud, the actor who starred in The New Mike Hammer and a million other TV shows, picked up the tab for Karen, and stuntman Paul Nuckles bought mine. We never had to pay for a drink in the place after that. Nice guys.

Guy StockwellSo back to my original point. Karen and I knew our roles. We knew the characters. We did the scene for Guy Stockwell one evening at the acting studio and he liked it, then he asked how well we knew the scene and did we know each other’s part? Yes. Next he said, “Switch roles.” We did. Karen played the fastidious Felicia and I played the ballsy Esther.

We did it without a hitch and to tell you the truth, it was exhilarating. We were totally free. No constraints. Exactly what your characters in your stories should be when you give them free reign to be themselves. You know who they are. You wrote a biography for most of those main characters. Now let them take you where they want to go. That’s the point I am trying to make in this article.

You will be surprised when you free a character to speak his own mind or let her go where she really wants to go. Trust them. And maybe take an acting class to let you see what dialogue and character on the hoof is like. You’re out there on a stage and the words are alive. Make your characters come alive as well. They will love you for it. And so will your readers.