Friday, May 25, 2018

Writing: Character List

As many of you know, I often re-read novels by some of my favorite authors. Many of these feature the same characters, forming a series. I haven't done this yet,  although I'll do it in my novella I plan to publish toward the end of the year. Stay tuned for details. But in the meantime, have you ever paused to consider how a favorite author recalls the hair color a character has, the car he/she drives, the city in which they live?

The answer, of course, is that all authors--at least, all whom I know--maintain some sort of character sketch on each person featured in each of their books. These are helpful in maintaining continuity and accuracy, and are also beneficial to the person designing a book cover. I've heard stories about cover pictures of blonde heroines that don't match up with the brunettes about whom the author wrote.

Here's one such character sketch from my files. It's of the main character in my recently published novella, Doctor's Dilemma, which takes place in Sommers, Texas:

Tyler Gentry, MD: Surgeon, finished residency and accepts position with Hall group. Dark brown hair, brown eyes. Olive complexion. About 6’ tall, 200#. Drives old Ford (which blows up). Went with Hall group because he was in need of money after residency. New car is a black Chevrolet Malibu. Lives in an apartment (furnished with what he had as a resident).


Father was a surgeon in Houston. Parents killed in private plane crash. Alcohol involved—he now avoids it.

Simple, but it has all the details I need. Have you given any thought to how series authors kept things straight? Have you ever thought about the character list for your favorite book? What would you include? 

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NOTE: The Kindle version of my novella, Doctor's Dilemma, is available for a reduced price through the end of this month. (And, even if you don't have a Kindle, there are free apps available from Amazon that allow you to read Kindle books on your PC, Mac, or smart phone). 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Public Speaking

According to Google, fear of speaking in public is the most common fear among people, weighing in at number one, ahead of death at number 5 and loneliness at number 7. Supposedly, we're afraid of not having the right words to say, afraid we'll do something foolish. I guess I skipped that one, though.

I don't recall much about my childhood, but recently I was reminded that at an early age (probably six or seven) I attended some classes in "Expression." Looking back on it, these were probably aimed at getting a rather shy and introverted child comfortable with appearing before others. As I recall, I gave a few "canned" speeches (at the time called "Declamation") and subsequently sang, along with three other kids my own age. This group must have either been fairly good or the only ones who would do it, since I recall singing before the local Lions Club and a time or two at school activities.

As an adult, I didn't really fear public speaking. As a physician, as a solo practitioner and later a medical school professor, I lectured all over the world. Matter of fact, when I remarried after the death of my first wife, our honeymoon was spent in Singapore and Thailand, where I was scheduled to deliver lectures.  When God sort of pushed me into non-medical writing, I taught at a number of writing conferences. I don't think that during it all I had any anxious moments due to public speaking. I don't know whether to give the credit to knowledge of my subject matter, God's grace for the moment, or my early Expression experiences. But at least I've avoided the number one fear of most people.

How about you? Are you more afraid of public speaking than of other things--including death and loneliness? I'd like to hear your stories.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Writing: Character Description

NOTE: The price of the Kindle version of my novella, Surgeon's Choice, has been cut by $1, and it is available via Amazon for this reduced price of $2.99 for the remainder of May. If you've already read it, tell your friends. (Actually, tell everyone--your enemies may enjoy it, too).

One of the problems I have is that I get so wound up in the story I'm telling that I neglect to at least give a minimal description of the person about whom I'm talking. That usually comes in the second or third draft, often following a suggestion by my first reader.

As many of you know, I like fiction by the late Robert B. Parker, and I often read through those books again and again, learning each time I do. I going through Taming A Sea Horse I found these two examples of describing a woman (his permanent girl-friend) and a man (who isn't a very wholesome character).

Here's his description of the woman's clothes. "She was wearing a black skirt and a lemon-yellow blouse with black polka dots and a pearl-gray jacket. Her necklace was crystal and pearl, large beads. She wore clunky black earrings and a big bracelet of black and gray chunks of something." He goes on to describe her stockings, her shoes, her purse, and the overnight bag she carried. I think it's a bit much, but maybe not.

Then the man: "Sitting on a barstool drinking Budweiser beer from a long-necked bottle was a guy with a round red face and a big hard belly. He was entirely bald and his head seemed to swell out of his thick shoulders without benefit of neck. He had small piggy eyes under scant eyebrows that were blond or white and barely visible, and his thick flared short nose looked like a snout." He goes on to describe his dirty white T-shirt, his overalls and work boots. I could really picture this man from what Parker wrote.

So, what do you like when a character is introduced? Do you like a physical description, something about their clothes, a particular mannerism? Prefer to picture the character in your mind from the author's description, or formulate your own picture of them? Let me know.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Money and Religion

Bloggers are subject to lots of different rules, or at least, suggestions. They're told to involve their readers, tell a bit about their own lives, talk about current subjects that might interest their followers. But conventional wisdom is to shy away from two subjects: money and religion.

More subjects have been added to that list, and I wonder about them. For instance, it may be okay for a blogger--especially an author (we wouldn't want to drive away a potential reader, would we?)--to talk about their devotion to a particular football team...unless the people who read it are fans of another team that's an arch-rival. So we soft-pedal that.

Those who blog or otherwise post on the Internet have been warned that they should only use photos and images that are freely available. Otherwise, they might be sued for copyright infringement. (Note: I use Pexels, so the images I post are okay).

Recently authors have been told to be careful about using a particular word in a series title, because that word is copyrighted. That has kept the authorial world stirred up even further.

There was a time (although it seems so long ago) that we could express our opinion without someone jumping in and not only voicing one that dissents (which is fine with me) but trashing us for holding that belief (which isn't fine, in my opinion).

So, authors and others who blog, are you careful about what you post? Or, for that matter, what you say in public? Is this a new thing, or has it been going on for a long time, and I've not noticed it? Let me know.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Writing: Just Write?

There's an old joke about employing people with small hands to screw in a stubborn lightbulb, because "mini hands make light work." There are times when I'd like to have some of those hands working for me. I had no idea when I first began writing that this is a business, not a hobby--and there's a lot more to it than just choosing words and putting them on paper.

When I was under contract with a traditional publisher, they did a great deal of the marketing, although I found that quite often the things I lined up were more effective than an outside publicity entity. I had some input into cover design, but the final product was--at best--a joint effort in which I didn't make the final decision. And the editing of my manuscript was often "farmed out" to an independent editor--but I still had to respond to those edits and later check the galley proofs for errors. In other words, I still had to do things in addition to writing.

As an indie author, I can pay for a professional cover designer (well worth it) and an independent editor (also a valid expense, although some indie authors choose to skip that step). But I have to approve a cover, and as an editor once told me, it's my name that goes on the book, so how I respond to edits is up to me. In summary, the details of publication, including the how and when, fall to me. And that's when I long for those additional hands.

The trade-off? Better royalty payments for indie authors and more true independence. Is it worth it? Sometimes. Would I change? It varies from day to day. Is there more to writing than crafting a plot that holds the reader's attention? Definitely.

Unfortunately, along with the "Love your books" comments that come our way, authors sometimes get the question, "When's the next one coming out?" Do you now realize what goes on behind the scenes? I'd like to know.

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