Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jimmy the Raisin

How and when do you decide to make a minor character recurring? Or don’t you?

Some writers are lucky enough (skilled enough?) to create characters that speak to them. The characters “tell” the writers where they want to go in the story, what they want to do, who they want to kill. Sometimes I envy those writers because my characters just sit there, like misshapen lumps of modeling clay, waiting for some kind of direction from me.

And it’s not always easy to figure out what those characters should do—I was never good with clay.100_3753

That’s why, when I do create a character that’s complex, fully-formed, and compelling, I like to keep him or her around for a while. I mean, those are the characters that are fun to write!

Thankfully, most of the “funnest” characters I’ve created are main characters who appear in every series book. But when I stumble upon a minor character who fits the bill—someone who is unique or fascinating (or humorous or dark or whatever) and is fun to write—then I’ll find a role for him or her in future books. (I’m all about the fun!)

It’s not just characters within a series that get considered for inclusion/exclusion. I took a fun-to-write character from a standalone work-in-progress and plopped him into one of my Last Laff books (with a name like Jimmy the Raisin and a face to match, how could I help myself?).

But Jimmy the Raisin didn’t seem to mind at all, or if he did, he didn’t complain to me. After all, I’m the writer, this is my show, and I can do whatever the heck I want. I don’t have to answer to anybody!

Right, Jimmy?

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

If you’re looking for some great holiday gifts, have I got an idea for you!

I’ll be participating in two multi-author signing events where you can get personalized books for everyone on your gift lists!

This Saturday, December 1, I’ll be at One More Page Books (yes, that’s right, the indie bookstore where President Obama shops) at 1 p.m., along with 15 other local mystery writers (Chesapeake Chapter SinC members): Donna Andrews, David Autry, Karen Cantwell, Jacqueline Corcoran, Meriah Crawford, Maddi Davidson, E.B. Davis, Barb Goffman, Jennifer Harlow, Smita Harish Jain, C. Ellett Logan, G.M. Malliet, Sandra Parshall, Marcia Talley, and Art Taylor.

The following Saturday, December 8, from 2 – 5 p.m., I’ll be at the Grounded Coffee Shop in Alexandria, VA, with nine other local authors, in different genres. More info below:

Microsoft Word - Flier3.doc

I’d love to see you at one of these events!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

What If?

From a single idea, how do you build enough
of a story to fill a book?

This question is not relevant to my writing process because the plots and characters of my novels appear to me fully-formed.

Yeah, right.

That might be true if my books were two pages long, but when I set out to write a book with 80,000+ words, I know some additional story-building is always in order.

I begin with the premise—compelling characters facing an interesting dilemma—and work outward, always looking for ways to complicate my protagonist’s quest to accomplish his/her goals. A lot of that work takes the form of What If questions. What if he discovers his father’s not really his father? What if his girlfriend turns out to be a Martian envoy sent to negotiate a peace treaty with Earth? What if he studies at the feet of the Dalai Lama, then challenges him to a duel with nunchuks? What if dogs could talk and walk on two legs and drive cars, but still needed to use fire hydrants as bathrooms? (Obviously, some What If questions lead to more promising plot events than others.)

signposts for blogEach twist in the plot (or introduction of a new character, or move to a new setting, or back-stabbing double-cross, or whatever), yields a whole new set of possibilities going forward, so my What If exercise continues with this new set of parameters.

Rinse. Repeat. Increase the stakes.

After some time (weeks, months, eons), I’ll eventually reach The End. Then I sit back and examine what I’ve got. Usually it’s a steaming hot mess of cardboard characters, hokey plot twists, and generic settings (and those are the good parts!).

That’s when the revision process begins. I whittle away all the garbage (Martian envoy? Really?) and bolster all the good stuff. If I need more plot, I generate more What If scenarios. Slowly, painfully, things fall into place and my steaming hot mess begins to actually make sense.

At least that’s the plan.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

No Chianti on the First Date

What fictional character (other than one of your own)
would you like to have a fling with?

I’m a happily married man, so I don’t have flings. In fact, I don’t believe I’m even allowed to think about having flings (I’ll have to check my contract).

But, in the interest of being a good sport I suppose I could come up with a fictional character to have a fling with (you know, taking one for the team).ClariceLecter

I wouldn’t mind, uh, getting to know Clarice Starling from Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. (Note: Definitely NOT the Clarice Starling from Hannibal. In my opinion, Harris gave her some kind of personality transplant between books.)

Clarice is enthusiastic, conscientious, physically fit, smart, brave, and tenacious. Good with firearms. And fights on the right side of the law.

What more could a guy ask for?

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds)