Friday, October 31, 2014
In our continuing quest for writing excellence (yes, we do strive for that!), here's this month's question for mystery authors Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini (aka Victoria Abbott), and Linda Wiken (aka Erika Chase).
What brings a character more to life -- physical description, dialogue, or action?
Character is effectively revealed in all these ways, and as in writing in general, a balance of description, dialogue and action creates the best effect. All three engage different senses which are essential to providing the reader with a fully rounded impression. Physical description allows the reader to picture the character in the scene as an observer, whereas through dialogue, the reader hears the character and almost feel like a participant in the conversation. Action, of course, sweeps the reader up in the drama and tension. Whether it’s a headlong race through the woods or a delicately sipped cup of tea, a well-written action scene makes us feel the character in our bones.
I’m going to say all three and add in a fourth dimension, internal, as in thinking and feeling. Just concentrating on only one or two of these would create a flat, lifeless character that would fade into the page. The reader needs to be able to envision what the character looks like through descriptive text and what he or she sounds like through dialogue. Dialogue and internal monologue also provide a window into the character’s mind, what he or she is thinking and feeling. The character is further fleshed out by their actions and interactions with other characters, with the setting and with the situation. Using all four techniques will transform a character of words into a living, thinking and feeling person, who jumps from the page.
We want to know what the character looks like. We don't want that to be either Barbie or Ken, as a rule, but we don't want a lot of talk about it either. Good to know about height, colouring, body type etc. Having said that, dialogue and action really let the reader get to know the character, so in my opinion they're both much more important than appearance. In fact, not every author talks about the physical traits of their characters and some never tell you what they look like. In addition to the dialogue and action, the character has to really need or want some result that isn't easy and may not even be likely. The writer of course will just make it practically impossible for the character to have what is so important. That will have an influence on their actions and action, of course, IS character.
Of course, all are important elements in presenting a well-rounded character to readers, and in particular, one that readers can easily identify and hopefully, in the case of the protagonist, bond with. However, if I have to pick one, it would be dialogue. That gets to the essence of the character and through the choice of words, can best describe a character's inner being. Of course, dialogue is the beginning. The writer uses it to give a physical description of the character. Dialogue is also very important in the pacing of a mystery. If there's a lot of action and the pacing is fast, it will obviously keep readers who enjoy that style of mystery, coming back for more. Dialogue can also fill in the gaps whereas, it's not readily seen by description nor by the character's actions.
Do you agree? Disagree? Have your own question you'd like to submit? Please leave a comment here or on Facebook!
Friday, October 17, 2014
Boy, that’s a tough one. There are a lot of people who influenced me. Most are not even writers. All the musicians from whom I’ve taken lessons showed me so much that I use every day in my writing: perseverance, how to break down problems to make solving them more easy, how a small amount of progress every day will still get you where you want to be, how to believe in your ability even when things aren’t going well, and above all, patience! Writers who influenced me would have to start with Rex Stout. He had such fine control of his writing and characters. I love the way he packed in telling details so effortlessly and, in most cases, invisibly. For getting me started down this path, it was Dick Francis. It was his revealing writing about the horse racing world that led me to believe that I could do the same sort of thing using music. It’s sort of worked out pretty well.
2. What are you working on now?
My agent has convinced me to do a series. Having spoken to many authors about how they went about this the wrong way, I have taken my time to lay things out thoroughly. I normally fly by the seat of my pants and let characters develop naturally as I work on a book, and then fix things during the revision process. With this project I’ve written pages and pages of character descriptions, situations from the past which will allow me to write further books in the series, some of the most inconsequential-sounding details which will allow me to expand on each of the regularly appearing characters in the series in subsequent books (should I be so lucky), just tons of details I may or may not wind up using. Most of all, I have spent hours simply thinking about these people to the point where I now dream about them. As for writing the actual novel, that’s going slower than I would like, but that’s the fault of having to make a living more than anything. I also will be working on another Rapid Reads book over the winter. And I’m really excited about the story line. You heard it here first, folks: it does not involve music!
3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?
The protagonist in the novel that’s about to be released by Dundurn (Roses for a Diva) is nothing like me. First of all, Marta is a female (last time I checked) and she’s also an opera singer. I’m a brass player (French horn and trumpet) and singers are only needed to fill up a stage while we’re in the orchestra pit playing all that lovely music! However, Marta does share my sensibilities in many ways. Most of my protagonists do. Not all though, and I won’t reveal which ones those are! The two protagonists in my new series will be pretty different from the sorts I’ve used in the past. You’ll just have to remain patient to find out in what ways they differ.
4. Are you character driven or plot driven?
I think in the current publishing climate, one has to be a bit of both, don’t you? You can get away with being more plot driven in the thriller genre where I tend to write, but somehow, I could never quite manage that. I find people intensely interesting, so it’s no wonder I want my characters to be interesting, as well. Another thing is that characters who aren’t particularly sympathetic can be as interesting as ones with whom you’d want to be friends, so I occasionally write those kind of people. However, if you don’t have an engrossing and plausible plot, you’re going to compound the problems of writing a publishable novel. I have read examples where the story was crap but you just loved the characters so much, you enjoyed it despite its shortcomings but you’ve got to have damn fine characters to pull that one off. So to when a plot is just so fantastic you have to find out what happens even though the world created by the author is completely populated by cardboard cutouts of real people. That is really difficult, too. So I guess you could say my books are both — or at least I try to make them that way.
5. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
That no question or issue is ever black or white. Real life exists in the gray space in between. Things might not happen the way you want them to, and you can start down the wrong road and never be able to return. What you do have to accomplish is to make the best out of what you’ve been handed. If you remain honest and forthright, you just might find something that makes you a better person. Boy, does that sound heavy, but it is the way my novels are constructed. There are also some funny bits, though. Honest!
6. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
Obviously, music is also very important to my life. I’ve been a musician far longer than I’ve been a writer. But if tomorrow someone said I’d have to make a choice, I would choose writing — as long as I could listen to as much music as I want. Unless you know about my food blog, readers might well be surprised to know that I am a very good cook (I’m going by what others have said.) I know what a “really good cook” is and I fall far short of that, although I do have talent. My current huge interest is in crafting home charcuterie. Lonzino anyone?
7. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet
A stalker is determined to possess Marta Hendriks completely. How can she possibly survive when he seems to be everywhere – and nowhere?
Rick Blechta is a Toronto-based writer and musician. His thrillers have been praised for their originality, finely drawn and convincing characters, and of course, for their realistic descriptions of the world of music and musicians. This October, his tenth novel, Roses for a Diva, the sequel to his very popular The Fallen One will be released by Dundurn Press. Opera diva Marta Hendriks is back and someone is stalking her throughout the great opera houses of the world. He seems to be everywhere – and nowhere. How can she possibly survive when he is determined to possess her, body and soul?
Friday, October 3, 2014
Believe it or not, a producer from HBO. In 1993, he saw my play “Burglar for Coffee” in Toronto and offered me a job writing pilots (which I turned down. This has to be the worst mistake every made by a person not legally insane. But who had ever heard of HBO in 1993?) This man called me “completely nuts” and assured me that my standup/humour column comedy translated well to plays and fiction. I needed a professional to tell me that, and I always remember him gratefully, when I need a boost.
2. What are you working on now?
Book 4 in The Goddaughter series, A BODY FOR THE GODDAUGHTER. More mob comedy, only this time Gina Gallo is the sleuth, not the perpetrator. Okay, well not totally. After all, this is her inept mob family we are talking about
3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?
Oh YEAH. Similar (but not exact) family backgrounds. Gina Gallo is the reluctant goddaughter of the mob king in Hamilton. I come from a Sicilian background. Gina reacts as I would to a lot of these situations. She has a rep as a smart-ass. She shares my background angst. And she is…how do I put this…more interested in justice, than the law.
4. Are you character driven or plot driven?
Chicken and egg. Yes, I start with character. A character with a problem or goal, and obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end. My books have a lot of plot in them. But the plot is driven by the protagonist and what she wants.
5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Plotter. I teach ‘Crafting a Novel’ at Sheridan College, so I am immersed in ‘craft.’ I don’t start writing until I know the ending and at least two crisis points. And usually I follow a 3-act structure, to avoid ‘saggy middle syndrome.’
6. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
A few hours of smiles and laughter! I write to entertain and to lighten a readers’ day.
7. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?
Oh wow. Hopefully, with another humorous crime book series, and perhaps double the fans. Okay, make that quadruple the fans! And money. More money would be nice ;)
8. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
I trained for Opera. I used to sing ‘torch’ when I was younger. My dad was in a big band, so you can guess why I was called ‘Melodie.’ Oh. And I am lamentably addicted to fast cars. I blew my advances and royalties this year on a 2006 sapphire blue Corvette. One day I may regret this, but not today.
9. What do you like to read for pleasure?
Books like mine. Wish I could find more. I like Andrea Camilleri from Sicily, Lisa Lutz, and yes, Janet Evanovich, who Library Digest compared me to. Other favourite books include The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (you may be noticing a humour trend at this point…)
10. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet
The Artful Goddaughter (Orca Books, just released)
Mob Goddaughter Gina Gallo stands to inherit two million bucks! All she has to do is plan a heist...but when the wrong painting is taken, hilarity ensues.
Billed as Canada’s “Queen of Comedy" by the Toronto Sun (Jan. 5, 2014,) Melodie Campbell has had a decidedly checkered past. Don’t dig too deep. You might find cement shoes.
Her crime series, The Goddaughter, is about a wacky mob family in Hamilton aka The Hammer. This has no resemblance whatsoever to the wacky Sicilian family she grew up in. Okay, that’s a lie. She had to wait for certain members of the family to die before writing The Goddaughter.
Her other series is racy rollicking time travel, totally scandalous, hardly mentionable in mixed company. But we’ll mention it anyway. Rowena Through the Wall. Hold on to your knickers. Or don’t, and have more fun.
The Goddaughter’s Revenge won the 2014 Derringer (US) and the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award in Canada. She has won seven more awards for noir stories which have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Over My Dead Body, Flash Fiction Online, and more. Publications total over 200 and include 7 novels. By day, she is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.