As seen on SLEUTHSAYERS today, repeated here for my regular readers:
By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)
Last month, I wrote about Endings, and reader expectations for each of
the main genres. The response was positive, and some people have asked
that I bring more stuff from class onto these pages. So here are some
notes from the very beginning, class 1, hour 1.
People often ask what comes first: character or plot?
Do you start with a character? Or do you start with a plot?
This is too simplistic.
Here’s what you need for a novel: A main character With a problem or goal Obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end.
PLOT is essential for all novels. It’s not as easy as just sitting down and just starting to write 80,000 words. Ask yourself: What does your main character want? Why can’t he get it?
Your character wants something. It could be safety, money, love, revenge…
There are obstacles in the way of her getting what she wants. THAT PROVIDES CONFLICT.
So…you need a character, with a problem or goal, and obstacles to
reaching that goal. Believable obstacles that matter. Even in a
There must be RISK. Your character must stand to lose a lot, if they
don’t overcome those obstacles. In crime books, it’s usually their
So…you may think you have a nice story of a man and woman meeting and
falling in love, and deciding to make a commitment. Awfully nice for
the man and woman, but dead boring for the reader. Even in a romance,
there must be obstacles to the man and woman getting together. If you
don’t have obstacles, you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a plot,
and you don’t have a novel.
Put another way: When X happens, Y must do Z, otherwise ABCD will happen.
That’s what you need for a novel.
GIVE YOUR CHARACTER GOALS
1. Readers must know what each character’s goals are so they can keep score.
2. Goals must be clearly defined, and they must be evident from the beginning.
3. There must be opposition, which creates the possibility of losing.
>>this conflict makes up your plot<<
4. Will the character achieve his goal? Readers will keep turning pages to find out.
If you don’t provide goals, readers will get bored.
They won’t know the significance of the ‘actions’ the hero takes.
Until we know what your character wants, we don’t know what the story is about.
Until we know what’s at stake, we don’t care.
Part of being a writer is being honest. Even in fiction, we talk about 'the honesty of the writing.' Reality can be a bugger. Even humour writers - or perhaps especially humour writers - peel back masks to uncover the truth.
I’m at week seven of being a widow.In hope of helping others, here’s what I’ve learned:
say things they don’t mean.
I can’t count the number of people who
said, “If there’s anything I can do…anything at all.”Well, of course there are things you can
do.If you live close by, you can invite
me out to lunch or dinner.You don’t
need me to ask you to do that.
So many people said
this well-meaning platitude, and then did nothing.I guess saying it made them feel good – as good
as if they had actually done something.But it’s not the same. Truly, if you are well-meaning (and several people are, bless them) don't forget to follow through.
If you see someone hurting, give them
suggestions of what you could do.Here
are a few:
a meal for the freezer.Four friends
came through in ways that just astounded me.They kept both of us fed for over a month, and me later, for another
month.Bless them. I'll never forget this.
2.Invite them out for a meal.Suggest something to spend time with
them.They are going to be lonely.
3.If you live farther away, send them a gift
certificate for Skip the Dishes or other restaurants.Or Amazon, and other bookstores.I appreciated every one.
2.You have to
be very careful how you answer people who reach out to you.They really don’t want an honest response.
They don’t want to hear – as an example – the truth of how
your loved one died.They may ask for details,
but unless they are medical professionals, they don’t want to hear the painful
details.Death is rarely gentle.So you will need to lie about this, to some
extent.Otherwise your well-meaning
friend will be horrified.And when
people are horrified, they avoid you
You also don’t want to tell them that you felt like killing
yourself that first week.That you now
understand suicide.The pain of what you
are going through right now is so great that the possibility of some
pleasurable moments in the future means nothing.Don’t tell them that.They want to hear that you are grieving as
you should, as society expects, but ‘coping.’
be truthful about how you are coping, weeks on.
If you tell the truth – that you are so lonely – many will back away, afraid you will
ask them to fulfill a role they are not prepared to do.Maybe they give you platitudes in
response.One cousin, who lives 45
minutes away, said to me:“You can be
lonely even in a group of people.”Take
it from me: this is exactly the wrong thing to say.
Instead, why didn’t she acknowledge my loneliness, and perhaps invite me to lunch?
What I know now:if a
grieving widow tells me she is lonely, I will ask her to dinner.I can’t be company for her all day.That’s not expected.But something I *can* do is make her a little
less lonely for a few hours, here and there.Show that I care about her loneliness.
So:The sad truth
about being a widow is you can’t be honest.You must show that you are coping, so that people don't avoid you.And in truth, I understand this.Everyone has their burdens within their own
families.Very few people can invite taking
on additional difficulties.
So how am I really coping?I’m still haunted by how he died, but have learned to compartmentalize
it so it doesn’t paralyse me. The loneliness is there, like an illness that won’t
go away.I am blessed to have two wonderful
daughters, several close friends, and readers who care.I’m writing again, and not just blogs as you see here.I’m even writing humour again.
In short, I’m coping.Thanks for listening. I hope you never have to go through this. But if you come across someone who is, perhaps this post will help.
On Sleuthsayers today, with the following post, repeated here for my regular readers:
By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)
“Your first page sells the book. Your last page sells the next book.” Mickey Spillane
all my classes and workshops, we talk about satisfying the reader. As
authors we make a ‘promise to the reader’. We establish this promise in
the first few pages and chapters. Who will this story be about? What
genre? Is it romance, mystery, thriller, western or one of the others?
Readers are attached to different genres, whether we authors like it or
not. We have to be aware that when we promise something, we need to
As an example: a thing that drives me crazy
is when books are promoted as mysteries, and they are really
thrillers. I like murder mysteries; my favourite book is an intelligent
whodunit, with diabolically clever plotting. In a thriller, the plot
usually centres on a character in jeopardy. Not the same.
authors, we want to satisfy the reader, and that is exactly what Mickey
Spillane was getting at in the quote above. To do this, we need to
know what the reader expects. Here’s the handout I use in class to
explain the different expectations in the main genres of fiction.
(Note: there are always exceptions.)
ENDING EXPECTATIONS IN THE GENRES:
ROMANCE: The man and woman will come together to have a HEA (happy ever after) after surmounting great obstacles.
In a whodunit, the ending will reveal the killer. In a thriller, the
protagonist will escape the danger. All loose ends will be tied up.
Justice will be seen to be done in some manner. (This does not mean
that the law will be satisfied. We’re all about justice here, and the
most interesting stories often have characters acting outside the law to
achieve justice. In mystery/suspense books you probably have the most
opportunity for gray.)
FANTASY/Sci-Fi: The battle will
be won for now, but the war may continue in future books. You should
give your characters a HFN (happy for now) – at least a short amount of
time to enjoy their
WESTERN: The good guy will win. Simple as that.
ACTION-ADVENTURE: The Bond-clone will survive and triumph. Sometimes the bad guy will get away to allow for a future story.
Usually, the protagonist will survive. If not, he will usually die
heroically saving others. Hope is key. If readers have lost hope, they
will stop reading.
LITERARY: Again, the reader must be
satisfied by the end of the story. The protagonist will grow from the
challenge. He/she will probably be faced with difficult choices, and by
the end of the story, the choice will be made. In other stories, it
may be that by the end of the story the protagonist discovers something
she has been seeking: i.e. The Progress of Love by Alice Munro
ENDINGS – The argument against using real life for your plot. (Why things that really happened to you don’t make good novels.)
“I am always telling my writing students that the anecdotes that make
up their own lives, no matter how heart-wrenching they may have been for
their subjects, are not in themselves stories. Stories have endings.
Endings are contrived. In order to come up with a great ending, you’re
probably going to have to make something up, something that didn’t
actually happen. Autobiographical fiction can never do these things,
because our lives contain few endings or even resolutions of any
kind.” Russell Smith
Remember what we do: Fiction authors write about things that never happened and people who don’t exist. Remember what fiction writers must provide: The ending must satisfy the reader.
Don’t tell a publisher that your book/short story is based on real
life. The publisher doesn’t care. They are only looking for a good
Melodie Campbell is the author of the multi-award-winning Goddaughter series. Book 6, The Goddaughter Does Vegas, is now available at all the usual suspects.
Yes, libraries pay the publisher to have a copy of our book in their library. But usually, they get the book from the publisher at half price.
Since most authors get paid 10% of cover, we only see $1 for a $10 book. If that book is sold for half price, we only get 50 cents a book.
But what if that book is read by 50 people in a library? And I was only paid 50 cents of royalty for that book? Doesn't seem fair, does it.
For those who don't know, one of the ways authors get paid in
Canada is through the Canada Council tally of which books are in a
random 7 libraries across Canada. They do this once a year. We get paid per book hit in those
libraries. REALLY nice to see all 7 Orca books (the Goddaughter series and others)
in all 7 PLR selected libraries (plus a few other books.) Yay PLR
cheques! They can make all the difference to an author.
You can make a difference to authors too. If you love an author's books, tell her via email, or on her website. If you can afford to, buy her books. If you can't afford to, ask your local library to bring them in. Let me know that you did, and I'll be very grateful.
You love all your book babies. But I have a particular love for this YA crime book, coming out in August.
Two years ago, I contributed a "Name that Character" item to the Burlington Humane Society gala silent auction. The winner gave us all a grin, when he asked if I could include his pug Wolfgang in a book.
Well, readers, I made Wolfgang a key character - a supporting actor, in fact - in Crime Club! And what fun he is. Then my publisher, Orca Books, gave Wolfgang even more promo by putting him on the cover. The money raised from the character name donation went to support needy animals. I couldn't be happier about that. A small ray of sunshine in the darkest winter of my life. Out Aug. 29 from all the usual suspects, and available for preorder from Amazon now.