Don’t Love Your Characters Too Much

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Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

 

 

I was working on the next Harlow Brothers mystery.  During a scene where older brother Edward gets arrested, I noticed that I was leaving him with his dignity.

What?!

I had a perfect opportunity to make a screamingly funny scene, and I was letting it go because I didn’t want to embarrass Edward.

Like many authors, I love my characters. We spend a lot of time with them, so this is understandable. However, there has to be a line between caring about what happens to them and getting in the way of the story.

I should tell you up front that I will walk away from a movie or TV show if a situation gets too embarrassing. I have a chronic case of empathy, and the character’s humiliation is just too much to bear.  Still, if I want to write the best scene possible, I’ll have to find a way to get past this.

Maybe if I thought of them as little masochists who reveled in embarrassment and shame. The more I pile it on, the happier they are. No, that’s too creepy for me and would lead to a completely different kind of book.

What if I told them to trust me? That no matter how bad it gets, I will pull them out of the mire, clean them up and set them back on their pedestals.

I just don’t know.  Have you ever had this problem? How would you get past this dilemma?  Leave your suggestion in the comments below.

Called to Please

Guest post by Rebecca Carey Lyles

becky Lyles

Write what pleases your readers?

While on my daily walk this morning, I listened to one of my favorite book-marketing podcasts. Although I’ve learned much from that audio show, I took exception to a statement made by today’s guest, who writes romance novels, thrillers and comedy. In addition to being versatile, she’s prolific and has sold thousands of eBooks. Obviously, she knows whereof she speaks. Even so, her suggestion that we write what pleases our readers didn’t quite jive with me.

My reluctance to accept her advice is partly due to being a faith-based author and partly due to the fact I’m old enough to be her mother. I realize more each day that life is short and my time on Planet Earth is limited. I want to leave a written legacy that deepens readers’ faith, enhances relationships, and inspires personal life-change as well as concern for others.

For a Christian author, writing for publication is a calling to use our God-given talent to honor him and draw others to him. Of course, I want to please readers. However, pleasing God should be my primary goal. Such a focus will enable me to compose stories that uplift, educate and challenge as well as entertain.

windsRomantic-suspense, peppered with frank reality

My romantic-suspense novels might attract a few readers similar to the above-mentioned readers. But difficult subjects like imprisonment and human trafficking will likely cause many who prefer a “lighter read” to turn away. Yet, I felt led to write about those important topics through a series of “serendipitous” events that precipitated each book in the Kate Neilson Series.

I’m currently conducting interviews and doing research for my next fiction series, which will feature individuals trapped in an abusive religious cult. Not exactly pleasant subject matter. Thanks to family members caught in a controlling group, I’ve learned that cult awareness is as crucial for Americans as is understanding the human-trafficking epidemic that plagues our country.

My part in disseminating truth about cults is to create an entertaining plot peopled by compelling characters who search for transformation and freedom in a beautiful mountain setting (only because I like mountains!). Just so you know, despite daunting themes and heartrending storylines, all my books have happy endings, even the nonfiction ones, It’s a God Thing! and On a Wing and a Prayer.

Passagways.A good story

 I might add that my writing is neither literary nor preachy (at least I try not to be preachy). I’ve penned short stories that entertain or make readers think but don’t overtly teach biblical truths (see Passageways)***. As Henry says in the movie The Book of Henry, “A good story will remind you of who you want to be.” All truth emanates from God’s Truth.

How do we live out our calling and write what God wants us to write? The same tools that help us know his will for other aspects of life are also useful for writing guidance. Prayer, Bible reading and study, Bible teaching, listening and responding to the Spirit’s nudges, wise counsel, inspirational books and music, intuition, contemplation, circumstances, confirmation, serendipitous moments—and peace when the right decision has been made.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Becky.Steve LylesBio

Rebecca Carey Lyles grew up in Wyoming, the setting for her Kate Neilson novels. She currently lives in Idaho, where she serves as an editor and as a mentor for aspiring authors. She’s also written two Colorado-based nonfiction books, “It’s a God Thing!” and “On a Wing and a Prayer,” and compiled a short-story collection with other Idaho authors titled “Passageways.”  With her husband, Steve, she hosts a podcast called “Let Me Tell You a Story.”

Please visit her website or contact her via email or Facebook.

 

Excerpt from her most recent novel:

 Winds of Hope***

Prequel to the Kate Neilson Series

THE PRISON GATE CLANGED SHUT behind Kate Neilson, the sound as loud and harsh in her ears as coupling train cars. She’d heard that clatter of metal against metal hundreds of times during her five years of incarceration. Yet with each slam, her stomach lurched and her shoulders jerked. Try as she might to steel herself against the jarring crash, she couldn’t help but react like a startled bird.

For the first time, Kate stood on the visitor side of the barred gate that separated the reception area from the wide fluorescent-lit hallway leading to the cellblocks…..

 

***NOTE from Jackie: To read the entire excerpt, go to http://bit.ly/2sLVHzI  on my ‘Here’s How It Happened’ blog.

 ***NOTE from Jackie: PASSAGEWAYS  is a collection of 16 stories by four authors. They range from amusing (an old lady with an unusual “weapon” for an unusual purpose, in Mattie Cummins), to romantic (Follow the Moonbeam), heart-rending (Grand Champion), thought-provoking (Invisible Thread), mysterious (Three Days) and sweet (Morning Song) to….. downright creepy! (The Magician).

And yes, Gayle Bartos-Pool, there is a Christmas story (Spirit of Christmas) with a not-so-typical ending.

 

Let Freedom Ring!

*My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

Our father’s God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

Freedom.

Freedom.flagFreedom from fear and oppression, freedom to live our lives and fulfill our dreams, freedom to write our stories. It’s in our constitution and our patriotic songs. Freedom is a precious commodity still alive (for the most part) in this country. Oh, may we cherish it!

As authors and journalists, we are still relatively free from censor as long as we don’t intentionally harm someone. Ours is a country made for wordsmiths! We can write our articles, poems, songs, memoirs, stories, and books without fear of being imprisoned. We can think up plots that chill spines or puzzle astute minds; humor and satire that produce chuckles, guffaws, or wry smiles; and desperate, horrific situations that rend hearts (and bring out tissue boxes), and pierce consciences.

Freedom.pen.swordWords have power.

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” said English playwright, Edward Bulwer-Lytton. So let’s wield our words wisely.  Yes, let us use them to entertain, but  also to encourage, inspire, challenge, and provoke our readers toward  what is good.

Come mighty patriots, take advantage of the freedom you have. Write on! Publish! Change a mind, a life, a world!

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:” Psalm 68:11 NIV

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7

 

* Written by Samuel Francis Smith; the tune used for this song is “God Save the Queen”, the British National Anthem.

 

 

Launching a New Adventure

Thunder.Bailey.Book Cover.2

 

Hi again! It’s me: Thunder, the PR Rep for some of the Writers in Residence. This job is taking up so much of my nap and play time that I hired an intern. That’s her, Bailey, behind me in the photo. She’s learning the ropes, but since she’s not even a year old, she’s easily distracted by squirrels and other moving objects.

But I digress.

I’m here today to tell you about a brand-new book by Bonnie Schroeder (that’s my mom.) We are beyond excited to share the news that Write My Name on the Sky has just been published by Champlain Avenue Books!

Here’s the official press release, written by Bonnie of course, since dogs don’t think this kind of stuff up themselves:

Write My Name on the Sky is the story of Kate Prescott, a 1960s college dropout who marries art student Jack Morrison and helps him become famous. Then things go off the rails, as they must in a novel.FrontCoverOnly300dpi (002)

The book’s title is a metaphor for ambition and its dark side. Many of the characters in the novel are wildly ambitious—and ambition often drives success, but at a cost, which comes out as the story progresses.

All names have been changed to protect both innocent and guilty, of course, and most of the story events are purely imaginary, but it’s grounded enough in reality to make it believable—and, I hope, entertaining to read. Based on the early reviews, readers seem to agree so far.

The book is available wherever good books are sold (online of course, and mostly by special order at physical bookstores, although Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in La Canada will always have it in stock.)

 

All right, my work here is done. For now. It’s past my nap time. See you around the book universe.

Happy Summer Reading!Bonnie_Schroeder-McCarthy-Photo-Studio-Los-Angeles-7187

–Thunder and Bonnie

Mapping Your Mayhem by G.B. Pool

typewriterWhen I was asked to teach a writing course for Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles, I decided I better evaluate how I wrote a story first. I write novels as well as short stories and figured there were similar fundamentals all writers use in both endeavors. Then I remembered the Aristotle course I had taken in college. I still had the textbook, The AristotlePoetics, so I dusted it off and read the part on the 5 Basic Elements in any story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and The Meaning of the story.

 

I have covered most of these points in previous blogs, but there is one crucial thing a writer needs to make sure all these elements fit and that is a Timeline. I looked back over the files I had on all the books and stories I had written and lo and behold, I actually made a timeline for just about all of the stories.

 

What does a Timeline do? It keeps track of Who does What Where and When and sometimes Why.

 

I actually use several methods to achieve these goals. If the story doesn’t cover very much time or utilizes few locals, I write a simple timeline noting the date and time certain things happen and where the action takes place and who does what each time. If there is a lot of time covered, I use a calendar.

 

I generally have a basic idea what my story is about before I start putting words on paper. I write the opening (usually about 20 times) until I know where I’m going and the tone I want in the story. Then I jot down the relative time of day each event happens as the story progresses. I break them into no less than 15 minute intervals. Usually it is thirty minutes or by the hour. You can’t have more than 24 hours in any given day, so it keeps you honest and organized.

 

If my characters are driving around the city, take for instance Los Angeles, I use Google Maps to see how long it takes to get from point A to point B. I’ve seen TV shows where people in L.A. can get someplace in thirty seconds… Only if they use a teleporter. (“Beam me up, Scotty.”) I discipline myself and make my fiction a tad more real.

 

When I have finished the story, I’ll go back over the Timeline to see if I have crammed too much or too little into that given time frame. And I do something else. I’ll see if the plot holds together. Sometimes a destination doesn’t make sense or maybe some other character should be involved or eliminated. And sometimes I need to add a high point or low point just to give the story movement. I know movies today are all action and explosions and no plot, but I prefer plot and character.

 

Character ListThere is another type of timeline I make: A List of Characters. I include their date of birth in case they age throughout the story. You want to make sure you don’t have a character born in 1920 be only fifty in 1990. And you don’t want a character to remember seeing news of the Hindenburg when she was born in 1947. Keep track.

 

Fellow Writer-in-Residence blogger, Bonnie Schroeder, has a new book (Write My Name on the Sky) coming out in July that starts out in the late Sixties. She had to make sure the items mentioned were around then. She did it meticulously. She might have lived through that time, but she still had to make sure she didn’t drop a 21st Century gadget into the story or mention a tune that wasn’t around then.

 

I start out with a piece of paper that I print off just for this task. I pencil in the character’s name as I write them. I give a brief description of their role and age. Many times I change the name. If you will note, there is an alphabet at the bottom of that page. I circle the first letter of the character’s name in that alphabet. I want each name to fit each particular character, but they can’t all begin the same letter unless you’re having fun.

 

When I’m finished with the story, I copy all those names and descriptions into the computer and add even more description and start evaluating those characters. Do some need more personality? Does one need to be meaner? Or smarter? Or should a particular character add something to the story that is needed? Or should the character be eliminated? One time I wrote a book knowing who the bad guy (or in this case gal) was going to be, but when I was finished I had another thought. I bumped off the initial suspect and then my private detective had to go back over the case to see what she missed… or was it time to hang up her .38s and retire? It was by reviewing that list of characters that allowed me to see a “What if?” scenario. And I am glad I did. It made for a much better and far more exciting conclusion to the novel.

 

And here is another benefit in having that Timeline. It gives you an Outline for your story in case an editor or publisher wants a synopsis of your book. And even better, that quick rundown of the plot lets you see what your story is about so you can more easily write the all important blurb for the back of your book. You only need the first third to tell any reader what is in store. Think of the timeline as the dry run for that “elevator pitch” you have heard about. The fact that you have consolidated your story into a few pages of a “timelined” plot; you can easily tell someone what the story is about.

 

Anatomy  Book CoverI have put most of my writing course into a book: The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It covers many of the things I have posted on our blog, but as an added bonus, it gives you diagrams and pictures of these worksheets. I use them in all my writing. I never create a story without them. Maybe they can help you.

 

Author Bio

A former private detective and a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool has several books in print: The Johnny Casino Casebook 1- Past Imperfect, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody, and The Johnny Casino Casebook 3 – Just Shoot Me; Media Justice, Hedge Bet, and Damning Evidence in the Gin Caulfield P.I. Series; From Light To DARK, a collection of short stories; Eddie Buick’s Last Case, Second Chance, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She is the former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and also a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line” in sunny Southern California. Website: www.gbpool.com.

Chance McCoy just got the opportunity of a lifetime.

Second Chance Book CoverChance McCoy was a private detective killed during a routine case, but he is given a second chance to make good. But with his track record as a P.I., he just might blow this chance, too.

 

SECOND CHANCE is a year in the life of this P.I. who usually misses clues by a mile, but this time there just might be some help along the way. Or maybe his new pal, Harold, was right when he said: “Everything you need is inside, my friend.”

 

Hello All. My name is Thunder. I’m G.B. Pool’s P.R. Person for her latest book:

Thunder with Second Chance

SECOND CHANCE.

As you can tell from the blurb, this one is different. G. B. might write detective novels, spy novels, and a few Christmas novels, but this one will take you to a place you’ve never been… At least most of you have never been there… yet. Sometimes I wonder about a few of the good souls me and my furry friends have encountered during our lives.

That brings me to something special about this book. If you happen to find this one on your bookshelf or on your Kindle and have read the last chapter and the Acknowledgements, you’ll see what this “second chance” stuff means to the author. But something else, G.B. has made me a deal. 25% of the profits from this book go to animal shelters in the L.A. area or special ones she hears about. She already donated to Paws for Life, a unique rescue site that takes dogs literally on death row from pounds in the area and sends them to inmates doing life in the penitentiary. The inmates retrain these dogs to be good “citizens” so they can be teamed up with folks on the outside and given a forever home or if you will: a second chance. She was introduced to this worthy enterprise by author Christopher Lynch who has taught some creative writing courses to these guys. Sometimes a soul can be reached. Thank God.

So, if you find yourself in need of a summer read, SECOND CHANCE just might be your ticket. It’s a series of short stories all about this guy named Chance McCoy who gets something we all might want in life – a second chance.

Author Note: Thunder is studying to be a therapy dog with her talented mistress, Bonnie Schroeder. Bonnie’s latest book, Write My Name on the Sky is on the brink of release, but Thunder took time out from both their busy schedules to help me with the P.R. for this book. Thanks, Thunder and Bonnie.) G.B. Pool website.

Holy Cow! by Bonnie Schroeder

Bonnie_Schroeder-McCarthy-Photo-Studio-Los-Angeles-7187

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter

 

I’m wrapping up our series of pet-centric posts today and hope everyone has enjoyed reading about the animals in our lives. . . and our writing.

I’ve had pets almost all my life, mostly dogs and cats, but few have had starring roles in my fiction.

My very first “published” short story, however, featured a cow as a main character, and not just any cow. My pet cow.

Here’s how it happened:

As a child, I spent my summers on my grandparents’ farm in northern New Mexico. It was a kid’s paradise, with all sorts of animal life: dogs and cats and chickens and pigs and cows. Being semi-obsessed by Western movies that were all the rage back then (mid-20th-century, that is), I often lamented that there were no horses on the farm.

The reason? Simple economics. My grandparents were not wealthy, and a tractor can do the work of many horses, without the attendant feed bills. My grandfather tired of my yearning for a horse, and he offered me what was, in his opinion, the next-best substitute: a docile milk cow named Brindy.

Brindy and I became fast friends during my summer visits. When I arrived, I’d race out to the pasture, climb over the fence and call to her, and she always came to say hello. I’d tell her how my time in California had gone, share a few confidences, rub her forehead and give her a carrot. When she was lying down, I’d often climb on her bony back and stroke her bristly hide. She was always gentle with me and seemed to enjoy the attention.Brindy

My favorite thing, though, was to help with the milking! You need VERY strong fingers to milk a cow, and I wasn’t always successful, but I kept trying. Milk straight from the cow, by the way, is nothing like the stuff you buy at the supermarket. It’s warm and thick and has a distinct, earthy taste.

How did Brindy come to star in my short story? As the product of a “broken marriage”—which was not taken so casually then as now—I was something of an outsider in school; friends did not come easily. But in the 5th grade, I discovered—or rather my teacher discovered—that I had a knack for creative writing. I suppose it came from all the time I spent alone with my books, coupled with a wild imagination. My teacher gave the class an assignment to write a story about an animal, and without my even having to think too hard about it, a story emerged about a cow that wanted to be a horse. The cow in my story, of course, was named Brindy, and although she tried hard to act like a horse, she eventually came to realize horses didn’t have it all that easy: people riding on their backs, hauling heavy wagons, and so on. Brindy decided she was pretty darn happy being a cow.

The ”be yourself” message must have impressed my teacher, because she typed up the story, shared it with the class, and sent a note to my mother that my writing “talent” should be encouraged—which, of course, it was.

That summer when I went to visit Brindy, very full of myself for all the attention my story had received and the friends it had won me, my grandfather cautioned me that Brindy had given birth while I was away. Eager to see the new calf, I hurried to the pasture and climbed the fence. Sure enough, there was Brindy with the cutest little baby standing next to her. I called out to her and ran forward. At this point, Brindy lowered her head, bellowed, and charged. I was threatening her baby.

I turned and fled and barely made it to the fence without being trampled. When I told my grandfather what happened, he shook his head. “I warned you. She’s mighty protective of that calf.”

And so it was that I lost my friend on the farm. Brindy became a mom and had no more interest in me. It made me sad, but then my grandfather brought home a puppy, and when he presented it to me, my disappointment over Brindy melted away. We named the puppy Buck, and he lived a long and happy life, watching over me and protecting me from the many hazards a child encounters on a farm. I decided a dog was a more suitable pet than a cow, after all.

Brindy had abandoned me, true enough, but she was my first muse, and I have always been grateful to her for that. In return, I gave her a kind of immortality, at least on the written page. If cows have emotions—and I think they do—she’d be proud.