INTERACTION By Katherine Prairie www.katherineprairie.com

interactionWe get a lot of rain here on Canada’s West Coast during the winter, and with a window right next to my desk, I’m often staring out at the drizzle while I write. It struck me that the trail of rain that weaves its way down the glass is as intricate and complex as a well-plotted.

I start my stories with a single idea which becomes the foundation of my plot, but other ideas come into play as I write, and I soon find myself juggling several subplots! Like rain that runs down a window pane, those subplots hardly ever make a bee-line for the finish. Instead, they meander through the book, sometimes running parallel to the main plot, and other times intersecting with it. They may briefly cross other subplots too, creating an intricate pattern as they move through the story.

When you think about it, characters are like that too, or at least they should be. Although we each have a general direction in life, our plans change as events and people affect us. We might veer off in a different direction for awhile, only to return to our original course heading, or we may turn back and start again.

thirst-coverIn stories, characters are driven forward – they seldom reverse course and start again! But just like real life, they should be affected by the other characters and events. We’re all familiar with events that affect characters directly – murder, an argument or injury, for example. But there are other events that create an atmosphere that influences characters in a subtle way. For example, the recent U.S. election results have left some feeling confident and others uneasy, and that mood will affect the decisions and actions of many people in coming months.

In THIRST, a wind storm that begins on the first page, swirls through the first few chapters, impacting each character in turn. It’s a subtle introduction to the people in my story – how does something as simple as the storm affect them? Whether they embrace it, fear it or endure it, their reaction reveals a little of their personality.

We all know that a good storyline depends on its characters. But what’s less obvious is what happens when characters in different storylines or subplots meet up at some point. Do the characters mingle and linger when their stories cross? Does the plot swerve because of the interaction, or does it maintain its steady course, absorbing the character interaction as part of its own?

In THIRST, Alex is deeply affected by a single meeting with Dr. Eric Keenan, but she barely senses another character Olivia Taylor when their storylines intersect. If you watch the rain, you see this same action. At times two rain trails merge, only to separate again later, or they interfere with each other, forcing a completely different direction for one or both.

Since that rainy day, I’ve started thinking more about how my plots interact, how the characters affect each other, and how they’re affected by story setting and background events.  It’s given me a new perspective, one that I believe will make the next Alex Graham suspense thriller even more intriguing to my readers.

katherine-prairie-v2Katherine, a geologist and IT specialist, stepped away from the international petroleum industry to follow her passion for writing. An avid traveller with an insatiable curiosity, you never know where you’ll find her next! But most days, she’s in Vancouver, Canada quietly plotting murder and mayhem under the watchful eye of a cat. She is an award-winning presenter and the author of the thriller THIRST.

www.katherineprairie.com

www.facebook.com/katherine.prairie

www.twitter.com/authorprairie

Buy links for Thirst:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Thirst-Katherine-Prairie-ebook/dp/B019RC0YQG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468433630&sr=8-1&keywords=thirst+prairie

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/thirst-katherine-prairie/1123763867?ean=9780994937704

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Guest Blog: “Writing the Story” by Jack Hammond, Jr.

 jack hammondOn developing characters: Characters must become real people. They exist in a real world, and for me, the real world is Man in Nature.

by Jack Hammond Jr

Writing the Story

The birth of my stories begins with a single image that grows in my imagination. When I put the story on paper, it is a living part of my thinking. The story begins to tell itself. I am simply the messenger using characters, conflicts, imagery and dialogue to weave a story from that image. If I am successful, the story breathes, takes on a life of its own. After The Last Hanging in Scots Bend, I began three very different stories; before long, one story began to live and tell itself. That story is my next novel.

character mattersPlot does not drive my writing. I don’t do plot outlines, because I never know where the story is going. In my first novel, Stash Harris faces a sentence of hanging for the revenge murder of two men, but he is so likeable, the problem was how to save him. How to save Stash became conflict and complication for the sheriff, his uncle. In the historical story, the Stash character escaped to Virginia. It seemed too weak for fiction, so my own conflict was hang Stash in spite of how likeable he was, or, find a way to save him. Happily, the solution revealed itself to me. From there, it was a simple puzzle.

In the same way that good figurative language and detail allow every reader to develop a personal image of the setting, not using direct characterization allows every reader to create a personal image of the characters. Indirect characterization is key for me. Each reader should have a visceral connection to the characters. I prefer multiple first person narration for that reason. Each character’s own words should connect them with the reader.

Characters must become real people. They exist in a real world, and for me, the real world is Man in Nature. I write detail that attempts to place characters firmly in the natural world. The sheriff’s first words in the novel are an example:

jack's book “I am up to watch the sunrise every morning. Heavy rain clouds lumber out of the southwest, covering the sky, leaving a thin slice of blue along the eastern horizon,   allowing the sun’s first rays to weave into the cloud bottoms. A light, steady rain is falling, a rain that promises more. Seven evening grosbeaks cross the yard in front of me, lighting in the willow oak, chittering their antediluvian song to the rain. They wait for the scattering of oats, rye, and sorghum I sow into the yard every morning, and when I reach into the grain barrel, they flash and whirl about the yard excitedly.”

My goal is to cement a character firmly in the natural world. I want the reader connected to the character as someone who is as real as they are themselves.

I don’t like revisionist fiction. I am a realist. I want my readers to ride an emotional roller coaster with the characters.  I want accurate historical context in my stories, so the story must be both real and accurate even if the reality of a particular place and time was extremely difficult. When I read my work in public, I have to stay away from some passages because of my own emotional connection. If I am good enough as a writer, every reader will find passages like that in my work. That is the goal.

goal

 

Bio

Jack Hammond Jr. is a lifelong resident of South Carolina, growing up during the Cold War and the Civil Rights era. He holds a BA in English from Coker College and an MBA from Wingate University. After a long career managing municipal and county utilities, Hammond left the business world and began teaching high school English. Teaching reignited his love for literature and writing. The Last Hanging in Scots Bend is his first novel. It draws historical images and individuals from the Reconstruction era into the intensely personal drama of two families locked in a bitter generational conflict. It is an examination of man’s place in the natural world, the randomness of fate, and man’s relationship to God.

It’s the Characters, Stupid: Creating Memorable Heroes and Villains

maltese falcon“You’ll never understand me, but I’ll try once and then give it up.”

By Max Everhart

It’s the economy, stupid.

That’s an old joke about the most important aspect of politics, and it’s a joke that I, as a committed, but albeit unsuccessful capitalist, happen to agree with wholeheartedly. (Alas, mystery writers, even damn good ones like me, don’t earn a ton of bread. C’est la vie).

Really, I couldn’t give a toss about politics. Don’t have time to care. Plus, liberals and conservatives alike make my scalp itch, which is just as well as I have a toddler to potty-train and English classes to teach and long walks to go on and Earl Grey to drink. In short, I’m busy. I mean, windows don’t just stare out of themselves, do they? And who if not me is going to organize my Netflix queue? Water my garden? Nuke more Pop Tarts? (Seriously, somebody get on that; I’m hungry.)

Enough foreplay.

To my thesis (drumroll, please): when it comes to mystery novels, it’s the characters, stupid. Characters, particularly the protagonist and the antagonist, trump all. I, like a lot of readers, enjoy an ingenious plot (The ABC Murders and The Maltese Falcon spring to mind), and a strong sense of place (think James Ellroy’s depiction of 1950s L.A. in The Big Nowhere). But what’s more important is the presence of strong characters, especially the hero who should be formidable, and flawed, and resourceful, and dynamic, and. . .you get the idea. Tall order, eh?

Maybe. But here are some quick and easy tips for creating memorable characters, along with some examples to check out.

 

TIP #1: always make sure that characters are driving the plot, not the other way around.

As readers, we are going to gravitate toward interesting, complex, flawed, likable characters, and if those are present in a book, the pages will turn themselves. Too, if the writer has created an interesting character, said character will naturally get involved in interesting situations, and there’s your plot. So, writers, if you’re writing scene after scene with a character, it’s just not working, chances are it is the character’s fault.

EXAMPLE: C.W. Sugrue, a hard-as-nails private eye in The Last Good Kiss. Talk about interesting characters. Hired to track down an alcoholic poet, Sugrue ends up bouncing from bar to bar, state to state, and never mind. Just read the opening of this book, and you’ll see what I mean:

last good kissWhen I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

TIP #2: reveal something good about your villain and something bad about your hero. 

Why? People are flawed and complex, and your characters should be, too. If ever you’re stuck, ask yourself the ultimate characterization question: what (or who) does my character want, and what (or who) is standing in the way?

Example: Chili Palmer, a shylock in Get ShortyNotice how Elmore Leonard reveals not only the origin of Palmer’s nickname, but he also adds a new layer of characterization to the protagonist.

get shortyErnesto Palmer got the name Chili originally because he was hot-tempered as a kid…Now he was Chili, Tommy Carlo said, because he had chilled down and didn’t need the hot temper. All he had to do was turn his eyes dead when he looked at a slow pay, not say more than three words, and the guy would sell his wife’s car to make the payment.

TIP #3: begin and end chapters with your characters doing (or saying) something interesting. 

This could be a provocative image or a bit of snappy dialogue. Readers want to be pulled into the story, particularly at the start and end of a new chapter, so make sure to keep them turning pages.  The best mystery and crime writers are adept at this, especially Daniel Woodrell, one of my favorites.

Example: Sammy Barlach, an ex-con in Tomato Red. Here is one of the the best openings of a crime novel ever.

tomato redYOU’RE NO ANGEL, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it’s been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you’re fresh to West Table, Mo., and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a trailer court on East Main, and the coed circle of bums gathered there spot you a beer, then a jug of tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin’ down with a miserable bluesy beat. . .

If you’ve got more tips for creating memorable characters, or you have a favorite character you want to mention, leave us a comment.