Sunday, February 28, 2010

Barnes & Noble And The Coattails Of Technology

I was very excited to read an article about B&N's efforts in becoming an E-Commerce Retailer. It really gets to the heart of the battle about giving readers what they want, in the form they want it in, and at different price options. With all this doom and gloom forecasting about what technology is doing to the publishing industry it's encouraging to see B&N has taken up the challenge and is charging forward, instead of whimpering in the corner. As an author, I applaud every effort that gets the written word out in front of people. As a reader I have to say, isn't that what it's all about?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What I Learned Sitting On A Train Platform

Characters- Part II

This is the second of three short observations about Characters.

No matter what traits a fiction writer can dream up for the characters that populate their stories, nothing compares to the quirks and traits of those you meet in real life. Allow me to expound a bit. Well, there I was, sitting on a train platform in Worcester waiting for my return train to London. It was a bright morning with just the slightest chill, but enough to warrant holding my coffee with two hands. I’m a cordial person by nature, so it was very easy to fill my time with pleasant conversations with the people waiting along with me. And, to be honest, there is always a very soft line between character research and my genuine interest in the conversation.

There was quite an assortment to choose from that morning. An attractive businesswoman was first up. I was quite pleased when she sat down next to me. Surely such an engaging woman as this will appreciate a stimulating conversation about the latest business news. Instead she went on in nauseating detail about how late she was running that morning. Another monumental concern was the wind’s effect on her hair. I assured her there was little need to worry; it looked just fine. In an effort to save her from embarrassment later I mentioned she was wearing one black shoe and one blue. You would have thought she suddenly recognized me as someone who might steal away in a woman’s closet overnight and rearranged all her shoes. I got a sharp “harrumph!” and she stormed off down the platform. As I watched her walk away I decided it best to let someone else inform her the back of her skirt was tucked into her pantyhose.

And then there was this young chap with leather, a spiked dog collar, and a blue Mohawk. He had pierced things I had no idea you could possibly pierce. My first thought was a firm grip of my wallet and a quick move to the other end of the bench, but he proved most amusing and incredibly articulate. He spoke right up, engaging me in a conversation about my thoughts on the decline of soulful interpretation in pop music lyrics of the day. Despite my embarrassing lack of musical knowledge, we chatted for a while under the questioning glances of those who walked by. I couldn’t fault them for it, because it was my first reaction to his appearance also. Just another reason you shouldn’t judge a book by its coiffure. When his train arrived he bid me good day, and thanked me for the conversation.

I could see my train coming just round the bend. As I stood up a maintenance man who had been sweeping the platform greeted me. Much like my earlier attempt to save the attractive businesswoman from embarrassment he apparently felt compelled to point out her aforementioned wardrobe malfunction. “That woman seemed quite proud of her bum,” he said in a most sincere tone, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. He looked up at me, scratched his head and continued, “Strange though, she wasn’t at all pleased when I remarked about it.”

There you have it. Just a quick glimpse at how remarkable and influential chance encounters can be in character development. Keep an open mind about you whenever you’re in a social situation. That bothersome chap who keeps chatting you up could possess the foundation of your next villain. Or that charming woman who was so helpful in the library could inspire the creation of a new sleuth. Either way, why take on the whole burden of creating a character from scratch when life is so willing to provide such amusing examples to start from.

Next: Characters Part III

Every Character Has A Past.

Photo courtesy- Photos8

Monday, February 1, 2010

Even Vampires Need Dating Sites

Characters- Part I

This is the first of three short observations about Characters.

When we thought the world was flat no one found it very interesting. You sailed west, arrived at the edge, and fell off. But once it was determined it was round they lined up at the docks, signing on to explore the new and different lands that were promised just over the horizon. The same can be said of the characters that populate your stories. Your characters should never be flat. They should have depth and feeling, likes and dislikes. Characters should leave readers with the impression they have lives outside of your story. Whether primary, secondary or tertiary characters they need form, much like the influence Masaccio had on the art of the Renaissance.

Prior to Masaccio Italian paintings were flat, or idealized images of subjects. He changed this direction by adding perspective and giving weight to the people depicted in his alter pieces and frescos. In other words, they were more life-like. His subjects came alive. Instead of being cutout and glued down to a board they were passing through his life, pausing only long enough to be captured by the artist. Characters in a work of fiction should have this same weight and dimension. They should have lives outside of the pages of our stories.

I have established the main characters in my books, but I look forward to creating the secondary and tertiary characters for each new book in the series. There are a number of fun exercises you can use to develop characters. One of the basics is the Character Profile Form, or the “Dating Site Questionnaire.” This covers just about everything you would ever want to know about your characters, and then some. Starting with a basic form you should amend it to your specific genres, adding in any traits/characteristics you may not find on a dating site – i.e. Vampire: yes/no, Ghost: yes/no, etc. It’s been years since I was on a dating site, so I’m just assuming newly divorced vampires and ghosts aren’t signing up and looking for their perfect matches. Thinking about that now, there just might be a paranormal romance novel in that idea.

The form is very handy. I’ve seen it suggested this be done for only main characters, but I would recommend following through with all characters. Have some fun with it. You never know when you would need to know a small detail about a secondary character. This will save you the aggravation of thumbing through all those pages, looking for the sentence that mentioned whether Watson was shot in his left leg or left arm.

Next: Characters Part II-

What I learned sitting on a train platform in Worcester.

Photo courtesy