Category Archives: Novel

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.


Gearing up for NaNoWriMo2012


The days are getting darker, colder. Evenings feature heavier meals and perhaps a dark fermented beverage to keep us warm. What better time to deprive ourselves of sleep and relaxation?

November is National Book Writing Month, a global challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. It is possible, but it takes sacrifice and determination. You must be willing to shirk your house cleaning duties and stock up on frozen pizza to cut down time wasted in the kitchen (you would just burn everything anyway because you’re distracted by your novel). You must be willing to either rise hours before dawn or stay up well after midnight to keep up the daily word count that will get you to 50,000 by midnight November 30, 2012.

I’ve participated twice in NaNoWriMo, each time falling short by a paltry 5,000 words. Usually, about two weeks in, I skip a few days of writing and never catch up. I may have a 3k word sprint, but once you fall behind it takes an incredible effort to catch up. Worst part? The word count is on the NaNoWriMo web site for all to see. That’s a lot of peer pressure.

The NaNo novels I’ve written have grown into full novels which aren’t half bad. It’s a great way to free up your inner critic and crank out some much-needed creativity. It’s amazing how much your writing improves once you stop agonizing over each word or phrase. NaNo dictates that you keep moving forward with your story instead of reaching backward to revise.

If you are serious about making a living as a writer, you already know that the best way to learn how to write your best is to write a lot. This is a skill that can only be developed by practice. Books and classes will only teach you the mechanics, but they won’t help you find your voice or personal writing style.

There are a lot of folks in the world with the opinion that NaNoWriMo is a lark for wanna-be authors, but there are so many more talented writers who embrace the challenge and see it for the benefits it offers:

  • Imposing a daily word count goal forces you into a daily writing habit that continues beyond November.
  • Writing quickly slays your inner critic so you can experiment, screw up and make mistakes…the best way to find your writing voice.
  • And best of all, it builds your confidence as a writer. You will be able to see leaps in your ability to plot a novel length story, dig into a character’s personality and know that you really are a writer.

Check out the NaNoWriMo website and get yourself geared up for November 2012. NaNo founder, Chris Baty has great advice  on surviving the month, while the forums offer support and a healthy dose of commiserating.

You can track my word count here, where I’ll post weekly survival updates, or on my NaNoWriMo page.

You should consider joining the madness and who knows, by December 1st you may be able to call yourself a novelist. :)


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


Hey, Look Over Here!


There’s only so much jumping up and down and waving your hands you can do before people stop paying attention.

So how do you get noticed in the digital age? The simple answer is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etcetera… etcetera…. all of the above. How’s your traffic? Tweeting and updating your social media is great, but what if a few tweaks could significantly increase your traffic? It’s not about getting attention, it’s about being found in a sea of tweets and email blasts.

Here are some tips:

Search Engine Optimization

  • Your blog or website is your public persona and billboard for branding, writing and winning over new fans. How do people find information on the web? Search engines. Is your blog Search Engine Optimized (SEO)? It’s not so scary or hard to tweak your site content to be search engine friendly. Begin with a list of words closely associated with your branding. Now look through your recent blog posts and see if these words appear. If not, you’re not giving a clear message to readers of who you are and what you’re about AND search engines, which send out crawlers, will not find you and deliver your site to new readers. Optimization should come after you’ve written your post and before you publish as part of the proofreading/revising stage. Key words should feel natural, not planted.

Appeal to Short Attention Spans

  • Bullet points allow readers to skim and read information they feel is relevant to their needs. If they like what they skim, they’ll take the time to read more.

 Infographics

  • Map your characters, plot, or anything that delivers a fun nugget of information to your readers.

 Use Cool Tools

  • Find innovative ways to use new media tools. Pinterest is the hot new social media trend, but how do you use it for gaining attention rather than pinning random pictures? Try creating a board that’s all about your writing genre, or the novels that most influenced your writing. How about organizing pix and links for your writing research? This lets your readers see into your creative process. I’m building a board titled The Art of Art Theft. I’m pinning famous work, giving the artist and date the piece was stolen. Some of these will be mentioned in my new art crime thriller, “WIRED” and the follow-up novel “Persistence of Time”.  

Branding… or how to find your keywords

  •  Branding is what you’re all about: your writing, your genre, your style, your theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer selling novels or a business promoting a new product, the words should represent what you want others to identify with you. Without thinking too deeply, jot down the words that come to the top of your mind. Now imagine a triangle. At the top is what you’re trying to accomplish, on the lower corners you have your list of key (branding) words and your novel/product. They should all work together to make a cohesive message. If you wanted to find you on the internet without using your name or the name of your novel/product, what words would you choose?  

At the top of my triangle I’ve written Build Audience. The lower left corner lists key words Thriller, Mystery and Art Crime. The last corner lists “Perfect Copy” and “WIRED”.

My Last Tip…

  • Check out LinkedIn groups related to social media, your interests, or writing platform.  The conversations shared will give you a fast track to new trends and tools to help you get noticed.

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.


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