Writer blogs and their lifetime

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Some few years ago I began my first writer blog:

http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com. But I didn’t want to show myself– I let my characters do the talking. Sadly, the characters didn’t live up to the image of Moliére’s group above.  It was more like this on the left. womensclub

I had just published my collection of satirical short stories and I wanted a writer blog that would speak about them, but one that would stop short of marketing. In that respect I fully succeeded; I talked about all the characters, it was humorous, and it didn’t market. I doubt if I sold one copy of the book as result of that site.

But I did have fun and, it seems, this writer blog appealed to the Ukrainians who followed every post(!) The characters became real, including one with a fish phobia, another who could only operate from a chaise longue, and one who was worried about her husband lurking near, ready to snatch her back from her recent liaison. The characters took over the blog completely, writing the dialogue including blistering criticism of me, their author. They started a literary criticism group, discussing each others’ tales. That was extremely unedifying and more than a tad bitchy. Altogether, this wasn’t an author blog, it was a characters’ blog. There was even an intruder, Russell, a character from one of my as-yet incomplete novels.  It’s always good to have an outside perspective on things, isn’t it?

I have just written the final post on this blog. It’s had nearly 23,000 visitors but it’s run its course. The book, Me-Time Tales,  is in its second and expanded edition with new stories, additional characters. Kindle_Cover_opt I need to spend time writing on this blog, and on the author website (http://RosalindMinett.com) that, very belatedly, I am preparing.

I have said Goodbye today to my quirky blog giving this representation of one of mymattress characters. She was moaning that I hadn’t included the new characters from the 2nd edition so, as a swan song, I mentioned her and two others (rather miserable characters).

Now to the serious business of writing. The site you are on is straightforward if far less creative than fictionalcharacterswriting. I learned a lot while blogging on there. But I am not recommending such a time-consuming exercise to new writers or any writers, unless as an alternative to doing Codewords or Adult Colouring.

How far should we write for our own pleasure? One successful marketer, MaAnna Stephenson, has recently stated that before even writing a book she would carry out her marketing exercise: appetite for such a book, pitch, response, audience and so on.

Oh dear. We writers know what we should do but we just carry on writing the stuff in our heads. Our silly heads?

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Strengthening your writing via stimuli.

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Writing stimuli. What gave you that sudden idea that made you urgently scribble it down? It’s worth exploring.

The power of olfactory stimuli in activating memory is well known. But it’s much harder to ‘dream up’ a smell that might affect the character in your story, than it is a sound or sight.

When we’re stuck for ideas for a visual stimulus,  Art can provide perspectives, narratives, symbols to enrich our writing.  For auditory stimuli, theatre and radio present us with ideas and emotions through sound patterns, speech or music.  snuff_optThere is no equivalent for smells.

So having found the right sound or sight stimuli to cause your hero to pale with emotion how to find the right smell/scent/perfume/stink to cause emotional impact? Leave aside the obvious triggers: magnolia, blood, excrement, cabbage (who wants to write hackneyed stuff?). Will the character stop short as spinach fumes enter his/her nostrils, or candy floss?  What particular scent might have been recorded in his/her long term memory?

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You can prepare for that blank moment. How about noting down your own strong reactions to any smell, pleasant or unpleasant? List the source for each. This will make you rack your brains, and may well summon up incidents that you can use in your story. Add any smells that you already know act as powerful reminders for you – and write down why.

A scent for one person may be a stink for another. One perfume might raise very different memories for two different characters. Identifying that memory can enrich your story line. For instance, the whiff of musty clothes in a charity shop reminds Kara of a great aunt, but Debra of pass-me-downs when she was young.  The scent of aloe vera takes Anna back to the birth of her baby, but reminds Dan of a little lane in Almeria where he was set on by teenage thugs. They find themselves quarrelling . . .

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With such a list of smells, you can google them to add any interesting facts to their source and the memories they evoke for you.  Strengthen your writing with that detail that enthralls readers and brings them right into your story.

Title Optional

Struggling to find the right title?

A writer recently remarked that she had difficulty in thinking of titles. I thought I’d concoct a list for beginner writers allowing use for different genres. Let me know if you like this kind of post. It can be taken seriously or not. Who knows, one of these may spark the next novel for someone. These titles are intended for you to make your own associations (and stories). I had fun.

 

One day too long

Caught in Time

Idyll in Back Alley

Plenary Session

Forbidden Journey

Is There Hair on my Burger?  (or their hair – works as well)

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An Intricate Endeavour

It Takes Time to Jam

Black is the New Grey

They never called me Edna

Not Everyone Marries in a Cathedral

Blogging To Bliss

Entropy

 

IF YOU LIKE THIS, I CAN DO MORE. (But I should be finishing my next chapter).

9 points on writing edgy stories

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My second post on writing edgy short stories.

Here are some suggestions. (My previous post will add meaning to this.)

1. Write with a clear voice. Not yours, your character’s. It doesn’t have to be first person. You can write third person from the main character’s (MC) point of view. What matters is that point of view, the reader feeling sure s/he is standing in the MC’s shoes.

2.  The reader doesn’t have to like the MC. It is edgier if a sneaky liking for a character makes the reader uneasy or worse. (What sort of person must I be if I feel sympathy for this baddie I’m reading about?)

3. Short stories can’t cope with having too many characters. The edginess may depend on being in the MC’s head most of the read, so the reader has to be drawn to him/her in some way – even horror or outrage can achieve this.

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4. Dialogue has to do its job well and pithily. Every word counts; every unnecessary word detracts. A character merely saying ‘Whatever‘ can give a total feel of his/her reaction, whereas a whole sentence may not.

5.  Structure. If you are working on : 1/5 start, 3/5 middle. 1/5 end, that final fifth must hit home. Either shock the reader by reversing all his/her expectations or let your MC cross over some unacceptable line. It may ‘only’ mean stealing a child’s bike and pretending innocence. However, the ‘journey’ must be there, and it’s vital that whatever happened is some kind of shock to the system.

6.  Edginess doesn’t necessarily require extreme sexual or aggressive behaviour. Risk of some form is usually involved but an action close to home can cause the uneasiest feelings, or an everyday event suddenly appearing to have a different significance.

7.  The edgy story does not have to be crime or erotica. It can suggest something subtly sinister. It can be socially provocative. It can be funny.  It’s no longer edgy for sexual abuse to be involved, not because it’s any more acceptable, but because it’s now hackneyed as a character device.

8.   It is still edgy to nudge into those actions that would be too awkward to admit to a friend. e.g. a friendship established in the first 4/5th of the tale where we worry that this friend is about to cheat or betray. The last fifth reveals that we are wrong. The kickback is that the assumptions we made highlight our own prejudices.  Edginess must produce unease.

I hope I’ve achieved this in the first two of my Crime Shorts, A Boy with Potential and Homed. Do let me know if I have.

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A Rich Read: writers’ sudden ideas.

A SUDDEN IDEA –

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Deviant Art

What prompts a writer to suddenly write down an idea? Author – there’s a lot going on when you write.

When your idea appears ‘out-of-the-blue’ , more likely the germ of the idea lies in some unconscious association. Past experience affects the significance of something that appears novel, something just seen or heard or half-remembered.

Why notice say, the length of someone’s thumb, rather than their choice of tie? Subliminal exposure can influence kaleidoscopepreferences. Even patients with amnesia may show that someone/something is emotionally important to them, without remembering ever encountering these objects of their affection.

The reason for the significance of the idea is unconscious. But the emotional experience is conscious.

As a writer, you are just aware of ‘the good idea’ and the urge to write it down. But every scene, even the familiar surrounds of the working or home environment, holds a kaleidoscope of auditory, olfactory and visual stimuli.

At a party, Perry can’t relax because of the scent coming from the candles. It brings on some very uneasy feelings connected to – what? If only he could say why.   aroma

Jane focuses on a woman’s blue-grey dress. She doesn’t know why. She distorts its appearance later in a story. Long forgotten, Jane’s shouting aunt was wearing such a dress during a traumatic quarrel.

Derek, beside her, is irritated by the gestures of another guest. He can’t say why but worries away at the conundrum. He may dredge up the original stimulus.  If so, that is very satisfying. Catching the germ feels good even if the original stimulus was upsetting. It’s a feeling of getting things into place. catchingball

This unconscious layer of memory has a social and a survival function. To know the minds of others, (are they dangerous, are they to be trusted?) is useful, often vital. From our very early days we must attend to the available cues, whether in their verbal or nonverbal behaviour.  I remember saying something cheeky as a small child and peering at an adult to work out whether their mouth bore a smile or an annoyed grimace.

We unconsciously absorb tiny details that contain information about a person’s inner qualities; there is a kind of template against which new experiences can be tested over time. When a writer includes such detail it is recognised as significant by the reader. The reader may not know why but s/he also has this layer of awareness built up from infancy that alerts him or her to such clues.

Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904 A character may be softly rubbing his eyebrow as he reads. The reader enjoys noticing this detail as a guide to that character’s reaction, and ultimately, personality. It is this kind of detail that moves a piece of writing to another level, (and is often missing from plot-driven fiction). Whether it is the writer writing it, or the reader reading it, such detail makes for what we often call a ‘rich’ read.

© Copyright 2015 Rosalind Minett

The posts on this blog are the original work of Rosalind Minett. If sharing or quoting, please credit the author.

The detail in writing fiction

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Jonathan Wolstenholme “The Collector” 2005

It is often the tiny detail that remains in the reader’s mind and catapults him into the imaginary world the writer tries to create.

I’ve used Jonathan Wolstenholme‘s painting to portray a focus on detail. Minute detail is the interest in another post featuring cross-fertilization.

The collector uses detail to identify his butterfly, the artist and dancer attend to detail to create a new perception or meaning, and the writer can produce significance and emotion through tiny touches of detail.

It was while watching the DVD of Room on the Broom with little people that this post suggested itself. In the delightful children’s book, a dog, a cat, a bird, a frog in turn ask for a place on the witch’s broom in return for finding her lost items. But the DVD adds a layer to the original. After the cat is installed, it suffers jealousy when the witch takes on new passengers. All this is conveyed silently, by a raised eyebrow or a turned-down mouth, the invention of the animator. The book is satisfying enough to the child (theme: one good turn deserves another) but with the added detail of the cat’s facial expressions, the child’s own difficulty in sharing or accepting a new sibling, is illustrated safely. An added layer is given to the story.

In an expensive perfume, it may be one drop of a rare plant essence that makes it unforgettable (perhaps irresistable).

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival,  a flowing wordless narrative about emigration, is chockful of meaningful detail. One example: leaving his country, the emigrant says goodbye to his loved ones. Tan portrays this by a close-up of the hands clasped, the next when loosened, then the fingers leaving those of the others; a tremendously evocative set of images. This is detail that resonates with the reader. Another graphic artist might have left it to the hug or sad face.

pavlovaTurning to dance,  the delicacy of Pavlova’s left arm makes this pose arresting.

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The drop of blood changes perceptions and significance in this book cover for True Blood.

In textual works, small detail can hit the heart-strings. I’ve tried to do this in Intrusion (Book 1 of A Relative Invasion). Seven-year-old Billy is on the station platform without his parents. As other evacuees are hugged goodbye, a wind from the oncoming train lifts Billy’s name tag against his face, and lets it fall again. (A moment of hope that the exodus won’t happen, thwarted.)

Kate Atkinson’s heroine in One Good Turn breaks an established routine of breakfast by eating the remains of a packet of chocolate digestives with her coffee, and on the peach sofa in the living room. This little detail implies rebellion against her absent house-proud husband.

When in Brick Lane, Nazneem, poor, in an East End flat, gives money for a charity that has touched her lover’s emotions, she gets it from a tupperware box under the sink, a telling detail.

I’ve been arbitrary in my choice of examples. Many writers boost the crises in their plot , but it’s these little details that can give satisfaction during and after the read. This often doesn’t happen with a wholly plot driven novel.

It’s like the difference between eating a large pizza, and a meat and two veg  meal. We may feel full initially but the protein makes the sense of satisfaction lasts so much longer.

Intrusion and Infiltration. Impact out in summer 2016.

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Stuck with your fiction writing?

Getting un-stuck. There are times when writers need to refresh.

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You need help in getting un-stuck? The novel had been going well but suddenly writing comes to a halt. Either you keep taking too many breaks, or find yourself re-doing the same section, or you sit staring at the screen knowing your narrative palls.

The problem?

Your ideas are going round and round the same path. You need different mental associations to move things along. Your brain needs oxygen, your body needs movement.

Here is a suggested ploy for unsticking yourself. If the points below don’t resonate with you, read my example.

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Stuck in slow motion
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Leave the garage behind. Full speed ahead.

 

ACTION

1.  Take a mental refresher, not a writing break.

Read any non-fiction article on any subject. Pick out one item or aspect of interest.  Let it run through your thoughts.

2.  Refresh your creative intake.

You can’t give out all of the time, you have to take in as well. Look at any piece of art work.  You can do this online. Not many people have a gallery conveniently around the corner. Look at the work carefully. Focus on one detail. Let that stay in your immediate visual memory.

3.  Take some form of exercise straight away.

Writers spend too much time sitting still. . You don’t need to visit the gym; a swim or brisk walk of half an hour may be sufficient, even an exercise routine in a different room.  Think of your physical sensations, muscles aching, feet pounding etc.

4.  Ignore the sticking point in your story.

Try to put that out of your mind for the moment. The idea that resonated with you in the non-fiction article; how could that bear upon some aspect of your narrative?

NOW Return to your desk. Take one of your characters and think how you might write about that detail in the art work, how it might illuminate his/her appearance or behaviour.

Where can your story comes utilise the above visual and intellectual stimuli? Write a quick first draft while the ideas are fresh.

If this drafting activity has taken over an hour, have your next meal and then go back to the part where you were stuck.

Cynical? Try it. Here’s an example, for illustration only.

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EXAMPLE

Reading: Alain de Boton –  What is a beautiful building? How does someone think about his home, streets or business building? (The Architecture of Happiness). Possible ideas coming from this: the effect of certain buildings in upon one or more of your characters; how the choice of furnishings increases the tensions between two characters;  how the architecture in your characters’  town helps set the tone of your novel.

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Art:         A painting.  (Georges de la Tour) Detail – one hand of one figure. The delicate way that hand describes an emotion. Use that description for ‘painting’ one of your characters in a dramatic scene. i.e. one character, under duresse, notices the hand of another and that description shows the reader some of the emotion present.

Whatever else, the above will be more productive than staring miserably at the screen or chatting on Facebook about how you are stuck.

Good luck and keep writing.

© Copyright 2015 Rosalind Minett

Historical trilogy


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If you like to read historical fiction, especially set in WWII:-

INFILTRATION is the second in the trilogy, A Relative Invasion. It begins in the blitz, September 1940 where Billy, my sturdy, well-meaning main character, is arriving at his new billet in the country, delivered by horse and cart.

When Book One ended, Billy, had just been evacuated for the second time – but this time sinister Cousin Kenneth, is evacuated too. To Billy’s dismay, he finds that Kenneth will be billeted with Aunty right near to Billy’s mother and baby sister, while Billy will be some miles off. As Book Two starts, Billy is mustering all his bravery to enter another unknown home, but this time, not to poverty.

Adaptations, anxieties and adventures lie ahead. Infiltration is a story of boy rivals evacuated to the country. More than that, it explores the resilience of children sent away for a large proportion of their childhood, often five full years. Some of them were miserable the whole time, others bonded more with their foster parents than with their own . . .

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My two boy characters must grow towards their teens developing their different talents, and, crucially, their fateful rivalry in an environment very different to the one they were born into, while their mothers also struggle to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances where they are distinctly not at home.

I’m happy to report that Book One,  INTRUSION, has just been awarded a B.R.A.G medallionbrag-med-gold

INFILTRATION is 5* on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

IMPACT – post-war London, and the fall-out of war and rivalry

Both books available in paperback and on ebook platforms

Intrusion:     ebooks  Kindle

Infiltration: ebooks   Kindle

Impact:         ebooks    Kindle

Alternative history. Is it fiction?

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The Roman Empire active, 2016? Alternative history in fiction

Today’s post features a very successful independent author of historical fiction in an imagined scenario. ALISON MORTON, is the author of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA, B.R.A.G. Medallion® honorees. Her premise for her ROMA NOVA series is: Suppose the Roman Empire never died? This idea has fascinated her readers,leading them into this world of alternative history.

Alison has had a recent fillip to her success. As an independent author and member of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) she has become an inspiring forerunner of what is to become; that is, the possibility for real commercial success, not through any gimmick or useful network of associates, but by sheer hard work, talent, thorough knowledge of her subject and an inspired theme.

I wanted to interview her so that other authors could gain some sense of her literary path.

ROSALIND
Alison, the warmest of welcomes. Please tell us about this latest, exciting success.

ALISON
Thank you for the welcome, Rosalind. Yes, it’s all very exciting. I’ve signed with Blake Friedmann Literary Agency who will be representing me for translation, audio and other ancillary rights. With all the other things I have to do, like writing books(!), I don’t have the time (or energy) to pursue these areas. Carole Blake and her team have exactly the experience, expertise and contacts to exploit these rights properly for me. Carole read INCEPTIO and was bitten by the whole Roma Nova idea.

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ROSALIND
To have Carole Blake representing you is the acme of success in itself. How exciting to know that your books will be enjoyed in different countries and in different forms. Can you predict the outcome of this widening of your reading audience? Perhaps your agents have suggested one?

ALISON
I can’t predict really, but from meeting my new agents(!), there are numerous possibilities. I’m hoping for audio and some translation deals this year, but I’m leaving that to the experts. Once readers discover the Roma Nova books, they seem to love them, so my aim is to widen the audience. I’m confident that the Romans are on the march to conquer the known world in the 21st century.

ROSALIND
That’s a wonderful 2016 ahead of you. What will it mean to you in practical terms?

ALISON
Lots more book sales! Being serious for a moment, Book 5 in the series has gone to my copy editor and I’ve drafted about 36,000 words of Book 6. I hope therefore to be able to offer new readers two more books this year which will then give them two Roma Nova trilogies. As a reader, I like series, so when I discover a new author who has written one, I’m in heaven.

If translation deals appear, that may mean more travel to give talks which I LOVE doing, and an increase in my profile. Of course, I’m waiting for Hollywood to knock at my door…

ROSALIND
Enviable! However, this success was not won overnight and it’s important for readers of this interview how much really came before. I know, for instance, that you have a military background. Do you think this training enabled you to plan an effective strategy?

ALISON
I’m not sure I had a strong strategic plan. As you learn your way around any profession, you discover the ins and outs and the players and influencers, you make friendships, you collaborate on promotion, you secure speaking and blogging spots. You monitor your own progress and amend your wishes, aims and goals accordingly.

Serving in the military does give you the purpose and the self-discipline to carry out plans. But I’d been in a government policy unit before then and also read an awful lot of crime and thriller novels, so I’m a plotter by habit. Also, to be truthful, by nature. It ties in with the whole ‘what if’ idea behind the Roma Nova books; you have to think everything through to see the possible consequences.

ROSALIND
Can you outline for readers the steps upon the way to your success? I note that Book 1 is a precursor of the following books in the series. Did you intend it to be a stand-alone originally, the further books emerging as you got immersed in the alternate world of Roma Nova?

ALISON
Well, the first one, INCEPTIO, burst out of my head after seeing a rubbishy film in 2009. I thought I must be able to do better. I’d had my strong character (Karen who became Carina) rampaging around in my head for years, so I plonked myself down in front of my computer and poured her story out.

ROSALIND
This strong female character did interest me, this blog being developed around character-driven fiction. Even though you are a plotter, Carina has been a factor in your success. And what about the professional steps toward publication?

ALISON
I’d written much of my life: translation, government policy papers and reports, academic papers, marketing and PR materials, but hadn’t written fiction since I was at school. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association which had a new writers’ scheme, read books, went on an Arvon Foundation commercial fiction course, attended conferences, talks and classes. IRoma Nova books_sm_opt put INCEPTIO through critique partner, beta readers, professional editors – you name it – in my drive for perfection.

As I wrote INCEPTIO, I realised I was going to have to write a trilogy; there was just too much story to contain in one book! More seriously, I wanted to find out what had happened to Carina a few years on. Book 2, PERFIDITAS, was half written by the time I (eventually) published INCEPTIO in March 2013, and I had the character development for Book 3, SUCCESSIO, in my head. Thus, although each book is a complete standalone, readers will a gain a richer experience if read one after another.

So that was the trilogy done and dusted, but I had become fascinated by Aurelia, who was a main secondary character in Carina’s story. She was Carina’s grandmother, but as a young woman had lived through a dangerous time in Roma Nova’s history, the Great Rebellion. Aurelia was still haunted by the charismatic rebellion leader, Caius Tellus, thirty years later. So of course, I had to write her story and this has developed into a second trilogy.

ROSALIND
You’ve certainly undertaken the whole process in a manner that writing and publishing professionals would admire. You have been so thorough and well organised in your approach. Finally, coming to the last stage – publication itself. I have seen several books published by SilverWood Books. They always have such good presentation: good quality paper, attractive lay-out, and a sense that the concept is geared to the particular book rather than pushed out in a set format aimed at speed of turnover. How did you come to SilverWood and what difference has it made?

ALISON
I was determined to publish my novels and to publish them with the highest possible production values. Once I decided I needed help, I researched the whole thing to death, asking other indies, reading articles and posts, searching and searching. Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine was especially helpful.

A publishing services company has to make money – they’re in business – but I wanted one with a book-oriented approach, rather than a services one, and an organisation run by caring human beings. In the end, I compiled a huge spreadsheet of questions about prices, services, rights, timings, and processes then narrowed the ‘finalists’ down to three. After a long telephone call to each, I chose SilverWood Books.

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AURELIA shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award

ROSALIND

Thank you so much, Alison. I think there will be many writers wanting to follow your path. However, the concept, knowledge and research your books entail, as well as the whole marketing process, will perhaps daunt them. Do you have any final words of encouragement?

ALISON
Persist! 
- Write stories you are passionate about 

‘Good enough’ is not good enough – Listen to advice and don’t be precious.

Be nice.

Strong characters capture readers

The US presidential election campaign! How rich a source of strong characters and plot for any writer to capture!

Simon Schama didn’t predict it in his 2010 article where he discussed passionately what historical events all school children should learn.  Otherwise he might have included it.

The study of Machiavelli can raise the temperature of university seminars and one day, no doubt the phenomenon of Trump will do so.

One way of involving readers with your characters is to make them bold, multi-faceted, unconventional and unpredictable. But creating one or two strong characters shouldn’t mean falling short on remaining characters.

I was captivated by The Girl on a Train because the main character’s complex personality and back story were gradually revealed. The plot had me gripped because of her difficulties and situation.  She had strengths as well as weaknesses, and could be unpredictable so that the book was a good page-turner. I stayed involved until late in the plot when another character’s behaviour wasn’t credible. As a psychologist, I know that is not how such a person in that situation would behave. The book lost a fan at that point. Hawkins had not so carefully researched and designed that (male) character, and having lost my belief, I didn’t enjoy the novel from then on.

However, should Paula Hawkins write a novel with the same main character, I would want to read it. This is the power a writer has: strong or complex characters attract readers. Inadequately researched ones, lose readers. If you’re a new writer, there’s a useful article here from Writers’ Digest on character building.

It’s taken me a long time to complete my trilogy about a boyhood rivalry that begins in 1937.  I’ve worked hard to ensure that any actions make full sense in the light of the character’s personality. Readers love my protagonist and hate my antagonist – a psychological bully – but there are aspects of the plot that invite sympathy for him, and by the third novel, the hero is examining his own short-comings. The rivalry culminates in an act extraordinary enough to make an unpredictable but satisfying ending (I trust).

Endings have to satisfy readers by being believable in the context of the characters. It can surprise but I like to leave the reader feeling “Yes, that would happen” or “he would do that”.  It’s easier for a trilogy or series to achieve this than a single novel. The writer can lay the necessary stones on a path within each book.  Development of plot and personality is being built up over time. Less prominent characters affect the main ones. Wittingly or not, they are change agents. It’s best if the reader realises their effect on the main character’s behaviour  – rather than the writer pointing it out.

What a student remembers of his/her history lessons is often due to the character: king, rebel, victim, adventurer, cardinal, causing the historical event.

Whether it’s on TV or in a book, it’s the strength of characterization that makes for my involvement and enjoyment. I wonder if it’s the same for you?

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A RELATIVE INVASION 

 

WWII, two boys, a fateful rivalry

                       INTRUSION    INFILTRATION    IMPACT