Thursday, March 20, 2014

Character Mapping

Ernie Bisquets is an accomplished pickpocket, plying his trade in the affluent Mayfair section of London. Always impeccably dressed, and well versed in the current topics of interest to the swells he targets, he is able to blend in amongst them without raising a suspicious brow. He has his own code of honor ‘I don’t steal from those who can’t afford it’, and always thinks twice before putting himself or others in danger.  Likable, philosophical & pragmatic, streetwise, capable, and knowledgeable in his own fashion. He suffered hardship in life, never knowing his father and losing his mother at an early age, but has kept his kindness toward others and a positive attitude. Etc., etc., etc.
This is character mapping, one of the most important aspects in story creation. Besides the basic physical appearance of a character, you need to map the background, cause and affect of motivation, and, most importantly, how they interact with all the other characters. A simple grid can accommodate this last portion of the mapping, but for the essentials try this link- It’s rather extensive, but for complex characters you’ll need all the background you can dream up. For most characters you won’t need to fill in the entire chart at first, but as your story progresses you can continue to fill in as needed. All this is extremely helpful for a character series.
Once the backgrounds are established you can move on to relationships. I use a basic chart for this. Starting with character #1, chart their relationship with character #2, character #3, etc. After that, move on to character #2, charting their relationship with character #1, character #3, character #4, etc.  Do this until you’ve got a sound relationship between all your characters.
To continue this further, take your main characters–antagonist and protagonist–and detail what their intentions/motivations are, what obstacles are in their way, how they intend to overcome those obstacles, and who will ultimately triumph through the interaction between themselves and other characters. This will also give you the bones of a synopsis.
Once this is established, move on to your plot lines. How many plot lines in the story? The main plot is a given, but then there are the sub-plots. How do they affect the overall story? Which characters drive the plot lines? I find sub-plots to be an especially fun part of story creation. Taking what appears to be an unimportant plot diversion at the beginning of the story and weaving a specific aspect of it into the main story for that “Aha!” moment near the end is always exciting. Think of these little sub-plots as great foreshadowing tools.
Now, down to the writing. Like anything else, there is always more than one way to do something. Sift through all the advice that’s out there, but you need to find your own voice. As for the mechanics, some writers work from detailed outlines, some just forge ahead with a basic idea and a keyboard. You also need to figure this out for yourself. As for me, I start out with a basic synopsis of the story, and write a three of four line outline for the first three chapters. Once these are underway I let the characters takeover, continuing to jot down additional chapter outlines as we move along. My thought here is–if the twist in a chapter surprises me, it will probably surprise my readers.
Above all this advice is one basic rule, never give up. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Take the criticism in stride, pull from it what you can to make the story better, and then keep at it until it’s published.

Look for Passage Of Crime, 3rd book in the Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. Available now!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What's in a name?

In case you missed my guest post on Christa Reads and Writes, here is a recap...

You would think naming a character would be relatively easy task. We are surrounded by names of all sorts–heavy in regional or foreign origin; plain as the nose on your face; barely pronounceable; etc. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is you most certainly want your character to be memorable to your readers and, perhaps, beyond. Maybe it’s the Dickensian spirit in me, but I believe the mere utterance of a name should conjure up a visual of the character it relates to, or at least give the reader a glimpse into what is to come. This is never more important than with supporting/tertiary characters.
When I do the character mapping for a supporting character in a book the last thing I pen is the name. I’ve found this to be the easiest way. Done right, the name almost presents itself. In Along Came A Fifer I had a tertiary character that, though only briefly presented in the book, had an important roll in establishing the character/motives of two of the main characters through sub-text. For this, his character description was of the utmost importance, and from there his name. He’s only briefly included in three chapters, but is mentioned by name throughout the book. For that reason he needed to carry his character along with him. This is where the right name comes in.
In my mapping of this character he his described as such:
He was a vile little man, devoid of friend and conscience. He was just short of five feet, but every inch meaner and lazier than the one below it. His character was as crooked as his smile, but he was well known in the London underworld as a source of information. Anyone wishing to extract that information from him did so with contempt and then made every effort to leave behind any recollection of the transaction. To say he read the daily papers is an understatement. He dissected them, line-by-line and word-by­word. He could read an obscure article in the classifieds relating to a grieving woman’s attempt to locate a lost article, and by the time he was done he would know who had nicked it and how much they had gotten for it. Anyone else of questionable character would parlay this kind of knowledge into a handsome income, but to him, the gathering of information was nothing more than a hobby that filled his otherwise empty afternoons.
Women found him most unnerving, cringing at the sight of his lascivious glare and fending off his endless advances. They certainly wouldn’t have him over for high tea, but if someone nicked their silver tea service it’s a good bet he’d know where to take the fairy cakes. He very rarely left his flat in the church building, so a person would have no other choice but to inquire for him there. To anyone outside the murky puddle of villains he associated with he was just a rambling fool of little or no social value.
So, what would you name this character in keeping with the description above? It took about an hour of perusing the digital thesaurus, but I came up with what I thought best framed this vile little man–Maunder. First name? Last Name? It didn’t much matter, in the book he is just Maunder.  

maun·der [mawn-der]
verb (used without object)
1. to talk in a rambling, foolish, or meaningless way.
2. to move, go, or act in an aimless, confused manner: He maundered through life 
    without a single ambition.
Origin: 1615–25; origin uncertain

In the first book he’s there and then gone, but Along Came A Fifer is part of the Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. Developing tertiary characters like this allows me to call on them again in future books to fulfill similar rolls.

Not all are this difficult to establish. In Rook, Rhyme and Sinker an old friend of Ernie’s gets himself into a bit of a jam. He’s a pick pocket/confidence man like Ernie, but still on the wrong side of the law. I called him Simon Railes. His street name is “Slippery”, Slippery Railes. That name came to me while listening to a weather report and the reason for the local train delays due to a surprise snowstorm. It isn’t hard to imagine his place among the characters. He’s returning in a new story, but that’s a post for another day.

It was great sharing some insights with Christa and her readers. If you get a chance, stop by her blog and read other insights from the authors that have stopped by.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A day in the life of a London pickpocket...

In case you missed my guest blog spot on Dru’s Book Musings, here is a recap...

Ernie Bisquets blames his lot in life on many things, but never on his name. To the contrary, it rolls off his tongue as if he were the mayor of London. Add to that the confident swagger in his walk and you have a gentleman who fits right in among the swells of Mayfair society. He’s always impeccably dressed, with shoes polished and the day’s paper tucked neatly under his arm. On a leisurely stroll through Grosvenor Square he might stop you for a light, commenting on the weather or a bit of business he thought you might find of interest. You would share pleasantries, even commend him for seeing your point of view on the latest headline, and then with a wink and a nod he bids you good day.

Most people walk away feeling good about sharing a pleasant moment of their day with a new acquaintance. I’m sure a few even convinced themselves they had met before over cocktails at the club. Did he mention his name? No matter, you’re quite sure you’ll see him again on Bond Street or strolling through Berkeley Square. Ernie Bisquets has quite an effect on people, so it’s no wonder it would be hours before you realized your wallet was missing.

Common pickpocket? Not Ernie Bisquets. In the shadows of London, where others less skilled in his profession can be found, his name is whispered with respect. “Anybody can nick a purse at night in a crowd” they would say, “but it’s a true artist what does it midday in Mayfair.” And it was midday in Mayfair that Ernie Bisquets earned his reputation.

Lord Patterson Coats, now retired, was HM Chief Inspector of Prisons at the time Ernie Bisquets was working in the prison cafeteria in Edmunds Hill. A dripping soup ladle at lunch one autumn day brought the two together. Ernie’s life took a hard right turn, though the aspect of murder and mayhem tugging relentlessly at his coattails was somehow overlooked in Patterson’s proposal of uniting their talents.

From time to time Patterson Coats is called on to investigate particularly challenging police cases, or handle delicate matters for the Crown. Despite his personal reach into all aspects of British society he lacks the ability to walk about in the shadows of London. It was to fill that void he extended an opportunity to Ernie to give back to the society he spent years making withdraws from. Ernie was quick to accept. His stay at Edmunds Hill was enough for him to consider stepping over to the other side of the law, but not everyone welcomed him with open arms.

If putting his past behind him and the new challenge of dealing with proper villains isn’t enough, Detective Inspector “Derby” Flannel stands just out of the shadows waiting for Bisquets to slip back into his old ways. The good inspector and Ernie have a history, and Flannel intends to write the last chapter sooner rather than later.

This last fact makes the new book, Passage OfCrime, that much more intriguing. Flannel finds himself navigating a very treacherous course. The recent murder of a young woman has links to 5 previously unsolved murders. Flannel’s superiors have warned him for the last time to tread cautiously around an MP he suspects was involved in the past. Because of the MP’s association with Patterson Coats, the inspector is left with no choice but to go behind his back and rely on the assistance of Ernie Bisquets. Together they disentangle a mesh of old lies and current clues attempting to bring a ruthless murderer to justice–ignoring the dangerous notion of murder being a carefully disguised trait passed from one generation to the next.

It was great having the opportunity to share a little bit of the life of Ernie Bisquets with Dru and her readers. If you get a chance, stop by her blog and see what's new.

Bone Yard Coffee Interview

In case you missed the interview with Betsy at Latte' Da!, here is a recap...

BB:  How long did it take for you to come up with the Ernie Bisquets character?

RMP: The character, Ernie Bisquets, came to me while I was painting a copy of Manet’s, Le Fifre  for an old museum frame I acquired. I’m a trained artist and I keep at least one painting going at all times. Since painting is a solitary endeavor, my mind has a tendency to wander freely. So, there I was, painting a copy of a famous painting, and I had this “What it…” moment. That “what if” was Ernie Bisquets–a retired pickpocket tricked into helping a couple Mayfair swells solve a museum forgery case. It took me 3 months to finish the painting, but by the time I was done I had the bones of a character and the outline for the first book. An added bonus–I was able to use the finished painting for the cover.

BB:  Do you see more of yourself in Ernie or Inspector Flannel?

RMP: I’d like to think there is more of me in Ernie than in the good Inspector. Ernie is a pleasant sort, a bit mischievous, but he knows right from wrong. If someone asks his help he’ll jump in with both feet, never worrying about himself in the process. He also has a remarkable way of sifting through clues to get at the solution, much to the irritation of the good Inspector. Ernie is also fiercely loyal to his friends.

BB:  Of your two characters, Flannel and Bisquets, what would be their favorite Boneyard Coffee and Tea drink? A strong black Oolong tea or a flavorful Boneyard latte?

RMP: Inspector Flannel would certainly lean more towards the Oolong tea–being as strong and dark as the hearts of the villains he chases. 
Ernie, on the other hand, would favor the Boneyard latte. His tastes are more refined, which allowed him to blend seamlessly among the Mayfair swells that fell prey to his nimble fingers.

BB: Do you chart out the events ahead of time or do the characters first scramble onto your page and you have to organize the plot later?

RMP: I start each book with a basic synopsis and a brief outline of chapters. Once the setting is established, and the antagonist revealed, I
 reach a point where the characters take over the direction of the story. I find this very exciting, hoping that if the twists and turns in the plot have surprised me they will also surprise my readers.

BB: I loved book three so much she truly wants to review books one and two and kindly requests a copy so that all three books can be reviewed at once.

RMP: I would be delighted to forward the first 2 books. The first book, Along Came A Fifer, really gets into the character’s backgrounds, along with the introduction of the treacherous Phynley Paine. The second book, Rook, Rhyme & Sinker, gives a glimpse of Ernie’s rough childhood and the surprising appearance of his old mate Simon “Slippery” Railes.  

BB: Your setting descriptions are very well done and include all five senses.  Do you write those moments from memory or do you take notes as you visit places?

RMP: Thank you very much. Some are from memory, but I will modestly admit that my talents as an artist have a great deal to do with the painting of the scenes in the books. I’m also fortunate enough to be able to pop over to London when I need to walk the streets of a new story, making notes of the sights and sounds. To me the settings in the books are as important as the characters. Some dodgy old purists will tell you never to start out a chapter with the weather, or describing a room, but if you look at the greats they do just that–it really sets the mood.

BB: Who is your favorite author?

RMP: This is a tough one. I grew up reading Conan-Doyle and Christie, which is where my love of mysteries came from. Even though my books take place in contemporary London I like to think I keep a little of the mystique of turn-of-the-century London in the characters and mood. As for current mainstream favorites? I would say Robert Parker has always been a must read for me, along with Lisa Scottoline. I also enjoy finding a good book amongst the independent writers who have blossomed from the self-publishing boom. There are some great writers out there just waiting to be discovered.

BB: At what age did you feel you were a writer?

RMP: Last week . . . Only kidding. I think the realization I was a writer came to me at the first book signing I did in 2009. Walking in, seeing the books stacked up, and hearing my name announced over the intercom was a thrill. And, I must admit, it still is. It’s one thing to create a character and write a mystery, but it’s the readers who decide if you are a writer or not. I’ve feel very fortunate Ernie has become endeared to so many. To that end, I try ever so hard with every book not to disappoint. The greatest compliment a writer receives comes from the enjoyment expressed by those who have read his/her work. If they’re looking forward to the next book, you’ve done a good job.

BB: If Ernie and Flannel were dropped off at a cinema, what movie would each one prefer to watch?

RMP: I think Ernie would most identify with Jack in Titanic. Here’s a street-wise, young guy from a rough beginning, thrown into the 
cauldron on High Society. To some he fits right in, but to others he will never be more than what he is. Like Jack, Ernie will ignore the doubters and continue to follow his dreams and ambitions. As for the good Inspector, if you dropped him off in front of a theater he would probably scoff at the idea of wasting time on such sentimental nonsense. An unsavory character in the crowd would then capture his attention; upon which he would call him out for the villain he is and haul him down to the station for booking.  

BB: If you do book signings, what was your most memorable moment or phrase from a fan?

RMP: Book signings are the best part about being an author. Meeting readers, getting their insights about what you did right and what you did wrong, and enjoying the experience is without measure. “What does the “R” stand for in your name?” is usually the first question and the one I enjoy most. I’m a bit of a lad with the responses– Ridiculously-charming, Rudely-abrupt, Remotely-amusing, Relatively-handsome, etc., etc., etc. It helps me relax and sets a friendly atmosphere. And, after all, I’m a mystery writer; there should be at least a little bit of mystery about me.

It was great talking to Betsy Bean and her readers. You’ll never find me too far from a good cup of coffee, so this was such a delight. When you get a minute, stop by and see what Betsy has brewing.