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Category Archives: fiction writing
In my previous post I wrote how to introduce a minor character into your story. We met Grover in a barbershop. He was 5’8″, bald, wore a green wool shirt, red suspenders and Levi’s with a massive gut sagging down over his pants. He did not say a word in the scene, yet I am confident readers would remember Grover Hargrove. He was introduced in chapter two.
Now I am writing chapter four and it is time to bring forth Grover. Here is what happens when we see Grover a second time.
I looked across the street and my eye caught a man watching us. He wore a green wool shirt, red suspenders over Levi’s and a massive gut drooping over his pants. It was Grover Hargrove, the man hit in the head by a falling tree, that I saw in the barbershop.
Evy noticed me looking at Grover. “Who’s that honey?”
Clancy turned her head at Grover, standing on other side of the street as motionless as a statue. Clancy waved and yelled, “You hoo.” As if poked by a cattle prod, Grover jolted to alertness, the statue come to life, and he quickly waddled away.
Now the reason I wrote the description of Grover when Chet sees him is to identify him in a way that the reader will recall-oh that guy. I did the same thing in the first paragraph in this post for those who read the previous post-oh yeah, that guy.
But Grover walks away. The reason is that now the reader knows he will factor in the story. Why was Grover watching them? Is he a bad guy? What is he up to? Is he mentally impaired because of the head injury? It is a nice plot device to make a mystery of someone, or two, within a mystery. It keeps the reader turning pages, clicking enter for next page, or tapping, clicking, to find out about Grover and what he will do or say next.
My amazon page
Every tale needs a protagonist and antagonist, a hero and villain, a good guy and bad guy. But a tale also needs minor characters, maybe just a character in a barbershop, something to divert or give a change of pace, a set-up for what is to come. Consider this scene for my work-in-progress. My lead character, the good guy, is investigating a murder in a small town in 1927. He goes to a barbershop to get a haircut, one in which he will learn something from the barber that will help him in his search for what happened. But we might want to delay that a bit because you don’t want to cut to the chase, you want to give credence to everyday life. So here is a scene where I introduce a minor character.
When the second man got out of his chair and paid Delfare, the proprietor of the shop, I was told I was next. I looked at the man sitting by the window, about 5’8” with a bald head, maybe about thirty. He was wearing Levi’s, a green wool shirt with red suspenders keeping his Levi’s in place, his large blubbery gut sagging over the top of the Levi’s, covering his crotch like giant padding. He had to sit straight, his feet spread to accommodate what seemed to be emergent fat.
“Oh Hargrove don’t mind, do you Grover?” Grover shrugged his blubber.
“Grover is a fixture here aren’t you? He got in the way of a falling tree, thumped him on the head real good. Grover can’t work anymore. He gets bored, comes in here to partake of town talk. He gets bored every day, don’t you Groves?” Grover sighed.
The scene creates verisimilitude, it delays the heart of the scene, and every tale needs sidebars and small little diversions. And this seemingly innocuous character could play a pivotal scene later. After all, he is hanging around a barbershop, hearing all sorts of gossip and rumors. It could be this innocuous character could play a big part later. And this is one way to set up the reader for what comes later, for they already know about Grover Hargrove.
You won’t find Grover in Silent Murder, but you will find my protagonist and what happened before he got to this small town.
In a previous blog I talked about ending a chapter in my book with a character named Pamela slowly opening the door to a shack deep in the woods. A writer always hopes to end a chapter leaving something that makes the reader start the next chapter, always a good idea because it prevents the reader from raiding the refrigerator or cupboards for comfort food while reading your comfort story. You kids out there-eat healthy snacks.
There are two good methods for this. One is to pick up where you left off and this I did at the beginning of the next chapter. You keep the action and story moving.
But there is another method and that will frustrate the reader-and in this case it is a good thing. And that is to delay what the reader expects is going to happen. At the end of the chapter in which we find out what is in the shack, three characters are deciding what to do with new information they learned that clouds the murder investigation they are working on.
This time I do not pick up where I left off, but begin the next chapter with what would be termed in film language as a jump cut. I cut to a conversation with an unknown person telling a story. But who? After whoever tells a lengthy story one of the three characters from the previous chapter asks a question of the unknown narrator of the story. So the chapter begins with a story and reader has no idea who is talking. Only after the three characters ask questions of the storyteller do they find out who he is and how they came together for the conversation.
Good writing gets the reader to the point where they must know what happens next-keeps them away from cookies and such you know-and cutting the chapter with a cliffhanger is one way, and beginning a chapter with something unexpected that keeps the reader reading to find out what is going on is another.
If you can do this trick with seamless precision the reader is unaware of what you are doing-and if they do they are glad you know what you are doing- and they are aware they must keep reading.
The following e-book has no chapters just short stories, but I think you will keep reading them. It is here at Amazon
The following is a story that takes place in the 19th century and you are to guess what it has to do with a murder mystery I am writing set in 1927. I was doing some research for my novel and ran across the story in a file cabinet at a museum.
The story goes that an Indian woman and a white man hired a wagon and driver at a livery stable. They had the driver take them to a specific location that is outside of town. The driver noted that they carried two bags of tools. The white man told the driver to return at four in the afternoon to pick them up. This the driver did. He noticed when he returned the two bags of tools were gone, but the Indian girl and white man each had a heavy suitcase with them. It was thought the Indian girl knew about some treasure that was somewhere nearby where they were dropped off and she got the white man to help her. Neither were known in the town and neither were seen again. So what does this have to do with a murder mystery set in 1927?
Nothing. At least on the surface.
But a writer should not dismiss anything, no matter how remote it is to your story. I kept the story in my notes, then in writing a chapter I realized how I could use it. My murder mystery began, interestingly enough, where the Indian girl and white man were dropped off. It was Ford’s Prairie. In my mystery a woman’s head was found on top of a grave leaning on the tombstone at the Ford’s Prairie cemetery.
So I had a local from the community relate this old tale from the 1800’s to my amateur detective. The reason is that it could be a red herring, to make the reader think the two stories might be related. Then again there just might be a connection. Doesn’t matter. The point is never ignore what you find while researching. It may seem unrelated to what you are working on, but you might be able to use it. As a researcher you are mining for nuggets and what you think is fool’s gold could be more useful than you think.
This e-novel has already been researched and is found on that Amazon place, not the jungle; that is another story.
The birth of Otis came not from a woman, and not in the usual method. He sprang from my brain cells. You see, Otis is a fictional character and following is how he got his name.
The story takes place in 1927, so using a name common to contemporary times won’t work. As a writer you need to search and find a name that resonates with the time period. I could use a common name, ones used decade after decade like Tom, Dick, and Harry, but those names are kind of boring-sorry guys, nothing personal. If this were a King Arthur era tale, those names, of course, would not do. You see what I am getting at, so the first name that came to mind was Otis. To me it sounds like a laborer from another time period, or perhaps a farmer; Otis is not a name I hear much anymore.
I needed a last name and could not think of one, until that is, I sat down to watch a football game on television and the Nano-second I sat down, the name Oglethorpe sprung full blown into my consciousness. I had to go to my room and jot the name down, otherwise I would forget, and then I returned to the NFL.
There are many ways to name a character. If you are of the literate mind, you can name a character to reference something critics and those ‘in the know’ will pick up on; for example naming a willful adult male Sawyer after the Mark Twain boy named Tom. Often the references are quite obtuse, referencing a Greek or Roman God, something from Norse myth, or a stray cat.
If say you want to have character who is cold-hearted, the last name could be Winter; if you want a character who has a happy disposition, Sunny would work as a caricature for a female, but something more even keel would be Sonny, for both male of female. There was a famous NFL quarterback named Sonny Jorgensen, so the name works for a male as well. The name can fit the character of the character.
There are many things to keep in mind for a character, such as nationality, the sound of the name, and even length should come into play. To me Otis Oglethorpe has a rhythm to it, it flows off the tongue despite the awkward looking last name.
In my novel in progress this is how he is introduced in a first draft, no doubt to be revised:
“Otis Oglethorpe, about thirty with a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves, but he sank his arms to the elbows into the clear water anyway and scrubbed them, hoping to wash the blood away.
He thought about stealing a boat at Gig Harbor or there about, but decided to take the long way, driving from Shelton up towards Bremerton, before turning right and heading south through Key Peninsula until he reached Home. Many people honed in on Home, a beacon to the wayward thinkers of the world, the originators, the oddballs, the free thinkers, the loonies, and perhaps, a hideout for those on the run. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off.”
Cut to a man finding a head on a grave. I think it fair to say readers will immediately suspect Otis of murder. But is he? Or just a red herring? That is a matter for another blog.
Otis does not appear in “Silent Murder” but the man looking for him is. You can find the e-book at Amazon
Let me be specific. While non-fiction writers and journalists sometimes make errors in research, get their facts wrong, or shade their story to suit their bias, overt or otherwise, I am talking fiction writers. They are all liars.
Their is no Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. No Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. There was no Ahab chasing a whale (didn’t he have something better to do?) and there is no Count Dracula with a neck fetish. All lies. None of it is true.
Jane Austen lied to you, as did Mark Twain, and yes even contemporary writers like Thomas Pynchon, Gillian Flynn, Roberto Bolano, Umberto Eco, Paula Hawkins, and every other writer in the entire history of literature. Al liars.
So why do we read these insidious devils who have trampled on one of the ten commandments? I think lying is one, but I’m not sure, I don’t pay attention to most of the commandments; but if it isn’t a commandment it should be. And while we are at it, there is nothing wrong with looking at my neighbors wife. Touching is out, but looking should be okay.
We read these liars, to get back to the point, because in reading these lies we see truth. For within the lies are emotional truths we recognize as our own; the experience we see that happens with the characters we recognize as our experience, even if the action is crazy. We might not be astronauts, but the feelings they have, the experience they have we can identify with. We can empathize.
Unlike Ahab, I will not chase a whale. I get seasick. But I understand his motivation; I know why he goes on the insane hunt. I will not venture to Dracula’s castle (yes there is one) for I have heard rumors about him and know to stay away from people who avoid the sun. I also know to use garlic and carry a cross. This is what happens when you believe the lie. It becomes real, you see.
So if you want to be a writer who wants to tell the truth of the world, then start writing lies. We all do. And it works.
My lies at Amazon