Category Archives: Fiction

Layer by Layer Character Development


Bathroom Personality Assessment - Part 1There was a time when I read a lot of books on the craft of writing fiction. Today, I find the most insightful character development tips coming from psychology professors. We’re all a collection of layers made up of personal history, family, emotions, and unique experiences. If characters are developed with just one or two of these layers, then as writers, we miss the opportunity to make them feel real for our readers.

A few weeks ago I discovered a video in my weekly Pinterest update which uses forced perspective to illustrate the difference between assumption and reality. This led me to author and psychologist Richard Wiseman. His book Did You Spot The Gorilla? also talks about perception. I’ll let you read the book description yourself and instead focus on how I relate this to writing. How often are you so focused on getting your plot moving, and getting your characters from point A to point B that you miss opportunities to show character depth? This isn’t a wordy side trip for the sake of showing the character in gratuitous situations. This is an opportunity to develop a sub plot—you know the other problem your character has to figure out, that parallels the main theme or plot. No one has a single focus in life, including our characters. What did you do today? Now what was going on in the back of your mind during this time? Character also have inner dialogue and multiple tasks to juggle.

In Wired, Jade Weekes is trying to figure out why she’s been sent to steal a painting that is a forgery while at the same time piecing together lost memories washed from her mind when she was attacked on a Paris bridge. In the end, one problem is linked to the other furthering the plot, and adding a layer to her unique personality.

Understanding why we behave the way we do, and what motivates us can be helpful in creating characters who move the plot forward using a fully developed personality. In 59 Seconds, Wiseman talks about practical phycology we can use to improve our lives. I see this as a gold mine for character behavior and aligning their actions to their motives.

Below is a short list of books I’ve found insightful and also fun to read. Please leave a comment and share your favorite recommendations.

Did You Spot The Gorilla? Richard Wiseman
59 Seconds: Think A Little Change A Lot Richard Wiseman
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain (related post)


Wired for the Weekend


A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Wired went live on Smashwords in the early hours of March 15th, and is already flying off the virtual shelves. It’s available for Free through March 29th as I tweak the formatting, cover image, and promo copy. While there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate for the official launch, I’m excited to finally have it available, and look forward to feedback from readers.

Wired is the first installment of the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series, with the 2nd novel, Enigma, scheduled for release late 2013. Set in Paris, St. Pete, and Chicago, this mystery unravels an organized crime gang, solves a murder, and reveals the haunting past of main character, Jade Weekes.

Here’s the promo copy from Smashwords:

Short description
Read for FREE through March 29, 2013! Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past.

Extended description
Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions?

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.

No one is who they seem, most of all Jade Weekes.

You can download Wired for your e-reader here.

The Red PencilLook for me to return to blogging on a regular basis as I vet ideas for novel number 3 in the series (working title The Missing), and ramble on techniques for character development. Enjoy your weekend, and get outside to soak up the extra sunshine. ;)


When Your Characters Go Public


Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphi...

Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure this happens to all writers from time to time. It’s our curious nature that’s to blame and our quest to provide realism to our work. I’m talking about the odd stares from strangers for doing what comes so naturally to us, thinking like our characters in public.

While doing research for WIRED and ENIGMA, I came across an article profiling the behaviors museum staff and security are trained to spot as suspicious. It explains why there always seems to be a Docent close by, and when I leave an area, someone new takes up the post and I often spy them eyeing me as I wander around.

Jade Weekes, the main character in WIRED and ENIGMA is an art thief and a savant when it comes to museum security. If she could just get over her amnesia, she would remember she designed a very clever security system for her late father’s gallery. To walk in her shoes and let my imagination run with her personal obsession for impressionist art and all things Salvador Dali, helps me develop her personality and add concrete details to help readers see through her eyes.

When I’m channeling Jade, this is a bit of what I do:

  • I like to walk the floor plan of the exhibit several times to see the traffic flow, and what physical and psychological barriers have been implemented to keep the public in place. (I attended a great seminar on the Rembrandt exhibit last year and gained a lot of insight on the subject.)
  • I often take notes of these observations which include the placement of security cameras, staff and any climate sensing devices. Since photography is allowed (without flash) in most galleries, I use my phone to snap pictures for later scene building.
  • I usually step to the sides of painting to see how they are secured to the wall and determine if any wires or hardware are visibly attached (security devices).
  • I also note any missing gaps between paintings which could mean a work was removed for repair or other reasons.

Odd behavior for sure, but do I merit being tailed? A small vase or Rembrandt isn’t safe around Jade or the underworld types she deals with, but they are perfectly secure in my company. I need them on display so I can let my characters fight over them and scheme ways to ferry them from the museum without notice. That’s the part of the puzzle I love to work out as I note the emergency exits and service elevators.

So far, Jade has never been arrested, but she is well-known to law enforcement in three countries.

As writers, we should think and behave a bit odd, because that’s how fiction turns from isolated ideas to page-turning stories.

Suspicious? I think not… just creativity at play.


Catching Fire


What does getting fired up mean to you? Are you red-faced as you sprint into action? Perhaps you’re a slow burner, allowing your ideas to percolate to a rich hue before you take the next step.

letters

letters (Photo credit: nate steiner)

The end of each year leads inevitably to promises we make to ourselves to be healthier, more productive, finish a project, start a project, lose weight, eat better, clean out the garage, stop procrastinating…..well, you know the scene.

Two books come to mind, both of which I’ve mentioned before:

In their own ways, each talks about the creative fire everyone has inside. Bradbury advises digging in and writing about what terrifies us, letting the fear we feel quaking inside spill into our characters and plot. Cain talks about the spark of passion in ourselves which we can tap into to find our own power and confidence.

Imagine a meeting of the two; a gift of fears and passions pushing your characters past obstacles and forcing them to confrontation. I gave Jade, the main character in WIRED, doubts and insecurities to make her falter, correct herself and make choices which will move her and the plot forward. Sometimes, I let her make poor choices so she can figure out her mis-step and grow. Letting her fears and passions run amuck on the page is to let her be human and perhaps a little more real to readers.

My goal for 2013 is to allow my characters to be human, flawed, brave, fearful and then press on despite their self-doubts. (Also a sound course of action for writers battling their self-critic.)

Good luck catching your own spark, nurture it well.


The Power of Quiet


 My idea of a perfect afternoon is this:

The sky is overcast and there is a chill in the air that hints at a hard freeze by nightfall. The house is unnaturally quiet and I like that. I pull a blanket from its drawer, the light blue polar fleece with snowflakes, and curl up in my favorite chair. I prefer the chair over the sofa or even the recliner. It hugs me and makes me feel secure and I am small enough to almost lie sideways and nap. But today I take advantage of the quiet and write. I may take a break to read or look up a reference, but mainly I am cruising through my own imagination creating problems for my characters. I lose track of time this way. An hour isn’t enough; two maybe; a whole afternoon even better.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my family—they’re the solid foundation that keeps me sane—it’s just that 99% of the time I am surrounded by people. Being alone helps me discharge stress and recharge my mental energy.

I am an introvert.

I’ve always known I was introverted, with brief periods of sociableness. Now I know why.

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...I’ve been listening to the Audible version of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This non-fiction examination of what makes each of us an introvert or extrovert gives engaging stories of some of the most famous introverts (think Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Steve Wazniak) and how their quiet contributions have changed our lives. Extroverts are not left out. In fact, we learn a great deal about our out-going friends and how their minds work.

What’s to be gleaned is how, as introverts, we can trust our instincts and insights gained from listening and observing before acting. We are thinkers, planners and love to have as much information as possible before voicing opinions in public.

As I’ve listened, two thoughts have been swirling in the back of my mind:

  • How do I harness my focus to improve my writing and productivity? I know that when I shut my “office door” to interruptions and noise I can accomplish a greater amount of work and at a higher quality. I’m also happier because my sense of accomplishment comes from completing a task without skipping steps to race to the finish.
  • Next, I wonder how I can use these insights to develop my characters. Cain goes into great detail of how introverts and extroverts differ in behavior and habits, but then takes it even further with an examination of the physiological differences. We are wired and evolved for the temperament we have and it can even be measured with FMIR, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Being introverted or extroverted is not a choice, but simply how our bodies and brain function. Now I’ve added to my “writing tool kit” ways to strengthen my characters convictions with habits to match their personality type. I can make their hearts palpitate in crowds and raise their stress level as a restaurant becomes noisy with boisterous partygoers.

Are you introverted or extroverted? Have you given it much thought? “Quiet” will give you a lot to think about and a lot of information to help build your character’s inner world. The scene at the beginning of this article describes my “flow”, a state at which I feel most energized and able to do my best work with seemingly little effort. Learning to create this more often and in different settings for myself and my characters will lead to a mutual understanding that if I put them on the page, they can find their preferred state of social engagement too.

Just as a footnote, there are many great resource books on personality and behavior that aren’t in the writing reference section of your bookstore. Go to your favorite bookstore website and look up “Quiet”, then check out the “Customers Also Bought” section for ideas on  multi-faceted traits you can give your characters. SavvyAuthors.com also has great workshops. I am looking forward to “PTSD & Victims & Multi-Personalities”.

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon and what does it say about you:)


What’s in a Title?


The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at ...

The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at the front of the machine, below the keys. When in use, there can be up to 13 connections. In this photograph, two pairs of letters are swapped (S↔O and A↔J). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am soooooo indecisive at times. I finally decide to eat out, but can’t decide where to go. I want to paint a room, but come to a stand still when selecting a color. It’s easier for me to make decisions for my characters than myself.  Afterall, their choices are governed by the personality I give them and has to give the reader clues to their inner world. That’s merely laying out puzzle pieces.

There are now 3 working titles for the follow-up novel to WIRED: Enigma, Persistence of Vision and Persistence of Time.  Each works for different reasons.

Enigma play on the plot theme of art looted by the Nazis during WWII.  The Enigma machine encoded German communications which was later cracked by Alan Turing.  Jade is in pursuit of a painting that was auctioned in 1939, only to find it leads her to her father’s killer, thus cracking the code of her past.

Persistence of Vision refers to the phenomenon of the eye to hold an after image.  Jade’s dreams are revealing the after image of the past she’s buried deep in her subconscious.

Diagram of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spoc...

Lastly, Persistence of Time…. also a Salvador Dali painting, refers to the artist to whom Jade has a strange affinity. It is one of his lost works she’s trying to uncover. 

Usually, when you find the right title it resonates for you.  This time I can’t decide which fits best. I may have to resort to Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. (sigh)

Now, back to writing….


Time Stand Still


“Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each impression a little bit stronger.” ~ Rush

I love to travel and any place I visit is open game as a story setting. I often take photos to remember the details of a place and to jog my memory of the sensory bits that add realism to a description.

This first photo was taken from Notre Dame in Paris.  In case you’re wondering, the buses and trailers were part of a production set for the TV series Highlander with Adrian Paul. Looking at this, I remember how incredibly cold it was.  The wind blew along the river with a ferocity that cut through my coat and several layers of sweaters. The water smelled pas frais as it swirled in eddys along the wall.

The images and memories formed a basis for the setting of WIRED which begins and ends in Paris.  The final scene takes place on the bridge in the distance.  There are also scenes that take you into the catacombs underneath the city and introduces another side of Paris usually not mentioned in the tour guides.  For those locations, I relied on research and discovered there’s a French Police unit that patrols the underground keeping peace and deterring criminal behavior. Photos become valuable tools for writing and enhances your ability to convey mood and let the setting take on its own character role.

The second photo is a church yard in England, but my memory is faulty on the exact location.  I’m thinking it may be in Suffolk. I do recall the church was well over 1,000 years old and was marred by medieval graffiti on the ancient floor tiles.  This will be in the follow-up novel to WIRED which has the working title Persistence of Time.

Now that the digital age is upon us, I snap photos constantly with my phone, trying to capture fleeting moments and emotions I can use later.

I also freeze bits of time by being completely present in the moment and noting everything around me. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve been able to later recall details that would have likely gone unnoticed… such as Ray Davies changing his wrist watch mid concert in 1983 or a woman in a black sweater doing yoga in Russell Square while a breeze blew spray from the fountain across the stone walk (2007).

By adding realism and sensory detail, your readers will be able to escape into your writing. Photos help me make time stand still long enough to share it with you.


13 Titles – An Incomplete List of Books I Love


The Monster at the End of this Book13

I don’t think I could count how many books I’ve read over the years, but some stand out in my memory for various reasons.  Instead of telling you what’s special about each, I’ll let you enjoy them for yourself. 

The Professor’s House Willa Cather
Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll
Walden Henry David Thoreau
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. Le Guin
Lost Michael Robotham
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
A Parchment of Leaves Silas House
Books A through V Sue Grafton
Far and Away; A Prize Every Time Neil Peart
Outlander Diana Gabaldon
The Monster at the end of this Book Jon Stone & Michael Smollin
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak
Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein


Look Around


  Settings and descriptions are easy to find. Look around. Did you notice anything while driving to work this morning? How about the guy in the car next to you? I bet he picked his nose without even considering someone would see him. By the way, there are a couple of teenage boys walking along the sidewalk, but it’s a school day, so why are they out and about? Observations can lead to interesting questions for writers. Small details in description allow your readers to experience the story, not just read it. Where do you find these details?

Like I said, look around.

Driving through North Carolina, there is a vast landscape of imagery apt for writing. The Research Triangle Park (RTP), surrounded by prominent universities and corporate headquarters, is ripe for a high-tech setting. Drive a few miles out and you find tobacco and corn fields burning under an early summer heat wave. I recently discovered a few gems and have tucked them away for a future project:

  • A Baptist church with brick framed sign advertising “Massage Therapy. Walk Ins Welcome”
  • A farm-house with a perfectly manicured lawn sporting a 70’s era tan sedan in the car port nearly invisible under a growth of kudzu
  • Stumpy’s Taxidermy (do I really need to explain that one?)

I translated some of the scenery and the questions it invoked into the passage below. By writing without a plot in mind, this exercise lets my imagination explore the “what if’s”. Sometimes it even turns into a new story.

“The two-lane highway curved in and around woods, past weedy horse pastures, and bordered fields freshly plowed for late spring crops. Each sign of animal habitation was mirrored by human habitation in the form of wood-frame houses void of paint or posh. This isn’t the part of the country big on appearances. Labor was born of the need to feed families, pay off back debt on acreage and to scrape out a living. There was no money for house painting or landscaping beyond a mower.

Casey turned her ten-year old Ford pickup onto a gravel road, wincing at the sharp ruts that bucked the truck like a rodeo bull. Sweet tea sloshed over the top of her Hardee’s cup and left a glistening rivulet across her arm. She ignored it.

The white outline of the church revealed itself through a veil of dark green leaves. A downburst of wind parted branches for just a second and she could see the modest wooden steeple against a Carolina blue sky.

Craven Baptist Church was founded in 1823 and had stood facing the eastern sunrise ever since. First, her four times great-grandfather cut a clearing and laid in pine benches and a slab of granite for an altar. Sixteen years later, his son built a small church on the same site. The building now in its place was a young 75 years old. Vines twisted along the roof edge and the air was thick with honey suckle. Plywood sealed the windows and the front door, while padded locked on one side, stood ajar from its hinges on the other.

The cemetery would be in the back, hidden in the undergrowth and guarded by snakes.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever use this in a project, but the exercise is a good writing warm up so you can sneak past your inner critic:).


Yes, I fell off the face of the earth.


Well, at least my sense of balance was off kilter.  Life does that to you.  I just find it ironic that I last wrote about Tweeting and Blogging and yet hardly touched my apps in two weeks.  I did read the witty comments of others on the stream and enjoyed Anne Charles’ Optical Delusions in Deadwood… really too funny to put down.

The more complicated my life becomes, the more I want humor and a good mystery to help me escape.  But now I am emerging from my quiet corner to work on novels at hand and follow through on my writing commitments.  Here’s my list of priorities:

  • Update Amazon with new edited version of Perfect Copy. Let me know if you’d like a free read:)funny happens
  • Shape up WIRED to send to my editor by April 15 (Yes, I borrowed the deadline from the IRS)
  • Get on board more blog tours for the summer
  • Be a better IBC (Indie Book Collective) member and help with the workload

That should be enough for the moment.

While on sabbatical, I listened to several audio books, paying close attention to how the author wove multiple plot lines for the main character. Everyone has a lot going on these days, so why not the characters in our stories? Just today, I’m juggling a dozen client projects/calls/setting video shoots, writing a blog post, planning a vacation, making a mental grocery list, managed to fit in a haircut at lunch so no eating = starving, and what comes next?  I don’t know; it’s too much to track without a TO DO list. 

If that’s my boring life, imagine what your over-achieving super clever hero is doing. He’s piecing together clues while wondering if the strange tapping coming from the bath pipes means anything.  She just wanted a frappucinno when she got pulled for driving mph in a school zone. The police detective couldn’t help but notice the location of the crime scene looks like the house where he grew up.

Humans are so funny….in a good way.  Our brains can’t stay in one place, we want to daydream and worry and notice odd things as we go through our day.  To steal a line from the movie “Up”, “Squirrel!” Yep, we are easily distracted.

Have fun with your characters this week and let their minds wander.  You may end up with a brilliant twist to your story.


Scraps of the Past


It’s inevitable. As we get older we become less sentimental about the odd bits and pieces we carry around from our past. I’m referring to the box(es) of stuff that has survived childhood and traveled to college dorm rooms, first apartments and finally the closet or attic where you now live.

Every time you move and have to pack these things and carry the box to a new home you weigh its importance to your memories or future.

In my box of “stuff” is a stack of notebooks full of youthful angst, poems and the beginnings of a first novel written the summer after fifth grade. Other bits of interest include petrified chewing gum from my 1st Police concert, a t-shirt from Girl Scout camp plus a moth eaten beret.

Digging deeper (metaphorically speaking) I see stories – the ones I read growing up, the stories I dreamed of writing and an impression of a little girl that wanted to see the world through the eyes of Nancy Drew and HG Wells.

I get the same feeling whenever I walk through a junk store looking for vintage jewelry or a discarded first edition. I can’t help but create a story for the journey the objects traveled. Who owned them? What was the world like when it was new?

These details often find their way into my writing. I think that’s why I love writing about art and have spent so much time learning about its plight through history. Each portrait is the face of someone with a story and the painting itself has its own tale. Landscapes are as much an image of a place frozen in time as it is the artist’s personal expression.

Move through time to Impressionism and Modernism and you see a world that is rapidly transforming to an uncertain destiny.

As I add details to Jade’s life, I’m thinking about what bits she would carry around. How does a person with amnesia take stock of the past which made her who she is? Fun is in the details and for Jade, there are also clues there for her to discover.


Criminal Fun


Workshops

January is starting off great with an online workshop with former FBI agent Lucinda Schroeder, “Inside the Criminal Mind”. I’ve taken about a half-dozen workshops at savvyauthors.com and the information shared is worth the small fee, usually anywhere between $15-25. Plus, anytime you can get first hand information from a specialist you have a valuable tool to add realism to your fiction.

Research

It’s no secret that my next few titles center on art theft. To that end, I’ve spent some time researching art news, thefts, controversies and the role this has played in modern history. My Google alert continues to send daily links to blogs and news articles from around the web. A predominant trend is the theft of public art for the value of the metal. Scrap yards are on alert for these works, some valued in the 10’s of thousands while the perps melt them down for a few hundred dollars of scrap. Whatever your writing topic or interest, Google alerts are an easy way to get a roundup of information that is current as well as keeping you up to date on evolving stories and opinions.

The North Carolina Museum of Art is also providing invaluable information via their Lunch and Lecture series. Recent topics include registering priceless works for a major exhibition (procuring insurance, security, transportation and installation) to designing crowd flow and security for an exhibition with an expected attendance of over 150,000 people. Again, learning the titles and job responsibilities of museum staff will add depth and immerse the reader into my character’s world. If you look around, I’m sure you’ll find unconventional sources of information for your work in progess too.

Pleasure

Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Gold Chain /...
Image via Wikipedia

Again, the North Carolina Museum of Art is one of my favorite places. Their current Rembrandt exhibit, which runs through January 22nd, presents the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings ever displayed in the United States.

The meaning of a painting is affected by the other works displayed around it. In this case, the story of Rembrandt’s life, the evolution of his work and his legacy is well told. For hundreds of years, works by his students have been incorrectly attributed to Rembrandt, but the side by side comparison clearly shows the mastery he commanded. It’s more than the brush stroke which can be taught, or the lighting which can be imitated. There is an intangible quality that places thought and emotion within the eyes and faces of his subjects.

Fun

In keeping with the art theft and criminal mind theme, here’s a bit of fun from Art Series Hotels. The Cullen, The Olsen and the Blackman Hotels in Australia are designed in the style of 3 of their greatest artists. Until January 15th, guests are invited to steal an original Banskey valued at $10,000. Once the steal is successfully executed, the guest gets to keep the art.

“No Ball Game” was pinched December 19th by a guest posing as a hotel employee who even managed to get the staff to help her place the stolen work in her car.

If you want your chance to play cat burglar, there is another Banskey now on the wall, “Pulp Fiction”.

Good Luck.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers

%d bloggers like this: