Friday, May 30, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between, by Beverly Stowe McCLure

Hello, MB4 fans and friends!

Today we welcome Beverly Stowe McClure, a fellow Twilight Times Books author who writes for children and teens. Beverly had shared some great insights about building better characters today, including one concept about her "vision boards." I love that idea and might just have to start pasting photos of my characters up on my walls, too. ;o)

Welcome, Beverly!

Aaron Lazar

The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between

copyright 2014, Beverly Stowe McClure

What do you remember about a novel you've read? Is it the setting? The plots? The characters? Or something else?

I remember the characters. To me, they make the story. A character, whether fantasy or real life, and how he or she solves a problem, or doesn’t, stays with me long after I’ve closed the book. As a reader, I want to care about the hero or heroine. I want to see the bad guy get what he/she deserves. For a time, their lives become part of me.

As a writer, I need to create characters that are so real readers will identify with them and perhaps even find a solution to a situation they are dealing with through the actions of the hero or heroine.

How do writers create unforgettable characters? I can only speak for myself, but here are some things I do.
When a young voice whispers in my ear that she’s ugly, or an article I read in the newspaper, or a conversation I overhear between two children or teens plants an idea in my head, I know a story is there somewhere. I just have to find it. As an image of the girl grows in my thoughts, I want to learn more about her. Why does she believe she’s ugly? Is it her physical appearance or her inner being that disturbs her? So, I search for a picture of who this girl is. When I find her, I make a vision board to learn more about the girl.

A vision board is simply a poster board where you paste pictures from magazines. On this particular board, I put pictures of the girl, her family members, her friends, and even a VW Bug. Why the car? The car helps show personalities of the characters. By each picture, I add personal information: eye color, hair, age, etc. After several days of getting acquainted with the girl in my mind, and people in her life, she turned out to be Breeze Brannigan, with her own book titled JUST BREEZE. I’ve also done vision boards for my other books. The walls in my writing room are a collage of faces, staring at me. It’s spooky at times. Are they analyzing me the way I am them? But back to creating real life characters.

The protagonist, or main character, is usually the good guy. Now this does not mean he/she has no faults. A perfect person is boring. Give the protagonist an attitude. Give her a bad habit. Sometimes, let her do things she shouldn’t, like cause trouble between friends by gossiping. Give her a temper. Make her human. She has to be believable, or the reader will not care about her. Take Myra, another of my characters, in her award winning novel, LIFE ON HOLD, for example. She’s usually the ideal daughter. She doesn’t cause trouble, until one day she makes a discovery that changes her life forever. She ends up disobeying her parents to learn the truth they’ve hidden from her for sixteen years. Given a motive, most characters will morph from the gentle person they normally are to one determined to achieve their goal, regardless of the consequences.
The antagonist is the bad guy, the character we love to hate. An antagonist makes life miserable for the protagonist and other characters in the story. An antagonist should have a good point or two, though. He’s not all evil (though it seems in real life some people are). I like to make the villain powerful. To make it look like he/she will win. I also believe the villain must justify his/her actions. Why does he do the things he does? What secret is he hiding from the world that makes him/her strike out at others? Is there hope for his/her redemption in the end? Think of Ebenezer Scrooge, in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and how he discovers the true meaning of Christmas. One of the most villainous villains I’ve encountered is Dark Lord Voldemort from HARRY POTTER, who is so evil the other characters won’t even speak his name. I want to write a villain like Voldemort.

The villain isn’t always a person. In a novel about a hurricane, tornado, or other natural disasters that disrupt the lives of the characters, the weather can be the villain. Also, the protagonist’s inner self can be the troublemaker. The girls in THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS each face decisions that only they can make. An illness can disrupt a character’s life, too, thus being the bad guy. In my award winning historical fiction, CAVES, CANNONS, AND CRINOLINES, the Civil War is the villain, bringing changes, even death to everyone’s life.

Last, but very important to a story are the in-betweens, the supporting characters. In books for children and teens, which I write if you haven’t already guessed, these are parents, friends, teachers, and other people the child/teen comes in contact with. Breeze has her best friend, Amy, who’s always there to support her. Unlike many teens, Breeze also has a caring mother, father, and siblings. Her problem is the image she has of herself, typical of many Jr. High girls. In Myra’s story, her friends, especially her boyfriend, help Myra discover the true meaning of being a father, even though at the end she must choose which way she goes for herself.

Fantasy novels contain witches, ghosts, dragons, fairies, and other supernatural beings. I really have fun with fantasy characters. An author’s imagination has no limits, as long as the characters are kept within the realm of possibility, which can be stretched a lot. In my latest ghost story for tweens, the ghosts, although they’re supporting characters, are vital to the novel. I wanted to make them believable, so I researched facts and fiction about ghosts to see how to portray the pirate, the blockade runner, and the cat. Why are they ghosts? Can the other characters talk to them, touch them, and even help them solve the problems that keep them in limbo, caught between worlds, so they can pass over to the other side? Complicating this novel even more, is the fact the ghosts are historical figures that really lived, except for the cat. Staying with the true facts was important because young readers would pick up on mistakes, and I would lose my credibility as a writer. More research yielded great information to add to the plot of the novel, and A PIRATE, A BLOCKADE RUNNER, AND A CAT was born, with a mixture of good, bad, and in-between personalities.

Another thing I try to avoid is stereotyping my characters, whether in fantasy or real-life. They are individuals, with their likes and dislikes. They are not from a special group of people that have certain reputations. In addition to the vision boards, writing a profile for my protagonist, antagonist, and other important characters helps me develop personalities for each person, so they don’t seem like carbon copies of each other. I jot down their physical features, but I don’t stop there. What does each character want? What are their flaws, beliefs, hobbies, motivations? Does each character grow in the story. I need to see the character’s arc. Interviewing each character is another way to become acquainted with my characters. What they keep to themselves when they refuse to answer a question (yes, they often stay silent), tells me more than the answers they give. My main goal is to bring my characters to life, to make the reader relate to their needs and wants and to cheer for them when they achieve their goals. When this happens, and I especially love it when a reviewer mentions how much they like a character, I’ve reached my goal. And don’t be surprised when the characters say, “Thank you.” That’s what it’s all about.

Happy Writing.

Beverly Stowe McClure


About the author:

When Beverly was in eighth grade her teacher sent her poem “Stars” to the National High School Poety Association, and she was soon a published writer in Young America Sings, an anthology of Texas high school poetry. Forty years later, she sent an article on fire safety in the home to Happiness magazine, and it was published. In between she went to high school, played clarinet in the band, was a majorette, and graduated. Then she got married had three sons (one an angel in heaven), and attended Midwestern State University. She graduated cum laude with a teaching certificate and had a fourth son. She taught children in elementary school for twenty-two years. Writing was the farthest thing from her mind.

She lives in the country, where deer sometimes drink from the pond, skunks prowl the yard for leftover dog food, armadillos dig for bugs, and a roadrunner peeks in the glass doors to see what’s happening. Beverly enjoys long walks, photographing birds, deer, clouds, and just about anything. She plays the piano, talks to her cats, and researches her ancestors. She teaches a woman’s Sunday school class. And she writes most every day.

She misses her husband of 56 years.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summertime Hiatus: See you in the fall

Hey everyone! I am off to celebrate the warm weather months donned in a pair of shorts and tee shirt with my flip flops on and my notebook at the ready to get some major writing done.

This means I will not be posting as regularly as usual. I will check in on the blog periodically over the next few months-when I am busily sipping lemonade

in the shade of my big old oak tree in the front yard.

As some of you may know, this is the busy season for my business, VideoVision Entertainment, and we will be shooting videos and photos of weddings,

graduations, and plays all summer. It's such a busy time at Smith Casa that I will not be able to be as connected as I usually am. So...have a glass of something tall and delicious, and smell the flowers and enjoy this season!

Just hoping you all have a wonderful summer and get the next blockbuster written.

Happy Summer!

Friday, May 23, 2014

What month is it anyway? by Marsali Taylor

Hello, MB4 friends!

Today we have a lovely guest blog by one of our favorite Scottish writers - Marsali Taylor. Please show her a big MB4 welcome by commenting on her article, below. Enjoy!

Aaron Lazar

copyright Marsali Taylor, 2014

Shetland is one of these places where you really notice the weather – and live by it.  A blink of sunshine and I’m outside, pottering round the garden or taking my beloved boat out for a sail; wind has me closing the double curtain behind the front door and bringing in peats to light the fire; rain means there’s a little river down the front path, and I need my sailing oilskins just to feed the ponies. Each season has its own colours: spring’s heralded by the fresh yellows of celandine, daffodil, buttercups, and the blue-green of spring grass; summer’s the pink and white of ladysmock in the ditches, scented dame’s violet in every garden, and hills of soft emerald; in autumn, the hills are purple with heather, and the spagnum moss turns garnet red; in winter, the dead grass clumps fade to gold, and the heather is chocolate brown.  The clouds in the sky, the colours of sea and shore, the feel of the wind, all change according to the seasons – oh, and the sounds: the peep, peep of the oystercatchers that fills the spring, and the screag of the summer terns, the houb-houb-boub of snipe wings as the light dims; the rumbustious gales of autumn, with waves crashing on the shore, and the sullen whistle of a winter wind, or the hush of deep snow, with the hoot of swans flying over.

This gives me a problem as a writer.  I find it hard to remember other times of year: when the summer sun shines in on my face at 4.30 am, I can’t quite visualise the winter days when we woke in the dark at 7, and while we’re shivering in three jumpers, it’s hard to believe I wore shorts all summer... and so, given that it takes about a year to write one of my Cass novels, it’s really hard to keep that feel of the season it’s set in.  Her first murder, Death on a Longship, was set in late May / early June; her second, The Trowie Mound Murders,  takes place three months later, at the start of August.  The third, A Handful of Ash, is set at Halloween, and I’m now working on the fourth, as yet untitled, and set at Christmas.  It has to be finished for September, so I’ll be writing all through these summer months.  Help!

I don’t know how other writers cope with this, but here’s my solution.  I knew it was to be a Christmas book, so I began just before Christmas.  I opened up a word document and wrote the days and dates of the period covered by the novel – I’d expect it to be between a week and a fortnight.  Then I looked up the tide times and heights for the west side of Shetland (two hours different from the east side), two high waters, two low waters for each day, and copied them below the dates.  There’s a useful website for this, and it also has what the moon’s doing, so I add that.  Cass, my heroine, is a liveabord sailor, and the tide is the first thing she’d notice – whether it’s flowing or ebbing, and how far up the slip it is.  That, of course, depends on the phase of the moon: full and new moons give you full tides, half moons give you neaps.  The more tide, the faster it flows, so it’s something Cass has to think about if she’s going anywhere by water.

Next, from the same website, I add the official time of sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset.  The sun doesn’t change a lot in that time – five minutes earlier and later each day – but it’s good to remind myself of how little daylight there is.  Come the summer, when I’m out sailing until after eleven at night, it’s hard to believe I was in the house with ponies fed and the night falling outside at just four o clock.  The moon changes more quickly, and it’s useful to know if it was a daytime moon, or at night – for the Christmas we’ve just had, the moon rose in the early hours and set just before dark.  The story will begin with Cass sailing down from Shetland to Scotland, and how long she can keep sailing and where she can stop depends on how much light she has.  If it’s black dark and she’s near shore, she may have to stop overnight; out at sea, or if she has a moon, she can just keep going.

After that, I carry a notebook everywhere as I go about my normal day, and note down description: the sun coming up through long, thin clouds, the chill of the wind on my face, the dampened gold of the grass by the verges.  I go down to the boat and sit with a cup of tea, and imagine how cold I’d get living aboard now, and what I’d do to warm up (I’ve been ill, so I didn’t take verisimilitude as far as spending a night aboard an unheated boat).  I tramp along the shore and look at the colours of the pebbles, the crisp curls of blackened seaweed, and the way the kelp is wrinkled with ice.  A brisk walk up the hill shows me the peat banks, dark with water, like sliced chocolate cake; the heather crunches under my feet, and I hear the thin cry of the curlew.  I scribble phrases as I sit at my desk:  Just after noon, the sky clouded over, and the sea darkened from pewter to navy; the far hills were blotted out as a curtain of rain swept down the voe.  I’ll hone them later; for now, I just need to record.  As I give our ponies their tea, I look up at the colours of the sky, and smell the frost in the air.  I even go out after dark to look at the stars and the moon, and, if I’m lucky, the northern lights, or mirrie dancers, as they’re called in Shetland, shimmer in a neon-green arc across the northern horizon. the end of my novel’s time, I’ve written pages of observations, several short paragraphs about each day.  I won’t use all of them, of course, but when I start writing, then I’ll cut and paste that day’s weather and landscape and sound, smell, feel into my main writing file, to inspire me as I write, and to help me bring Cass’s winter world alive.

I’ve also thought about my plotting, and let what’s happening outside inspire me. That still day would be a good one for her to go for a walk and spot someone acting suspiciously.  It’d be a good action sequence if someone cut her mooring lines on that day when she’d be blown offshore in too much wind to be able to sail back in again.  I start looking for characters, and creating backgrounds for them; the whiteboard in my writing room gets covered with plot ideas and possible twists. 

With luck and work, by the end of the novel’s time days, the plot is clear in my head.  Now all I have to do is sit down and write it ... 

About the author:

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group. 


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Audiobooks? by Mike Wells

Dear friends of MB4,

Please help me welcome Mike Wells to our site today! Mr. Wells is an American bestselling author of the Lust, Money & Murder series and over 20 other 'unputdownable' thriller and suspense books. He lives in Europe and has taught in the Creative Writing Diploma Program at the University of Oxford. Neat, huh?

Today Mr. Wells writes about audio books, a favorite topic of mine. Since I discovered 3-4 years ago that with a click of a button I could download books to my iPhone, and play them through Bluetooth in my car without CDs, wires, or earphones, I've been in love with this media. On any day of the week, you'll find me with ear buds plugged in while I'm hiking, doing dishes, weeding, or mowing the lawn. It's such a great way to get even more books into your head. ;o) I've also arranged for all my books to be produced as audio books, and have been loving the process of choosing narrators/actors and helping the books to come alive, as it were, through narration. What fun! You can see my complete audio book listings here. If you would like to listen to them and do a review, I also dole out free coupons from time to time. Contact me if you're interested!

Okay, without further ado, here is Mr. Wells to talk about audio books.

Aaron Lazar

Why Audiobooks?  

copyright 2014, Mike Wells

As you may know, I recently decided to offer all my novels in audio format (listed at the bottom of the page).  Some of my readers have been a bit puzzled about why I'm doing this and a few have commented that it seems I'm trying to push audiobooks on them, or that I think listening to audiobooks is somehow a better experience than reading the same book the usual way.
     This could not be further from the truth. 
     First, deciding whether to read a book or listen to the same book in audio format is a bit like deciding whether you want your ice cream in a cup or a cone.  A lot of it has to do with the way the material is presented and tastes, and also the environment you'll be in when you consume it.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both.   With an audiobook, the main upside is that your eyes and hands are free to do something else while you're experience the story--such as driving, for example, or doing your laundry.
     The following are the most common reasons people listen to audiobooks, or at least the reasons they start listening to them.
- Commuting back and forth to work via car, bus, train, ferry, etc.
- Exercising/working out/hiking/walking
- Performing repetitive tasks such as housework/cooking/gardening, etc.
- Traveling on long trips by car, bus, train, or plane
- Experiencing a story in a group setting (with family or friends while on a road trip, for example).  

     As I said, these are the main reasons that people start listening to audiobooks.  What many folks discover after they try one or two of them is that the experience is quite different than reading, and that it has one unexpected advantage:  the ice cream "cone" itself tastes good, too!  A great narrator can add to the drama as the story unfolds and the overall impression that various characters make.
     When I was in the sixth grade, I was lucky enough to have a teacher read a novel aloud to us for 30 minutes every day when we came back from lunch.  One was the bestselling thriller Failsafe.  To simply say he "read" the book to us is doing the man a great disservice.  He had a lot of acting experience, and he didn't just read the book, he performed it for us, almost like a stage play. The story made such a powerful, lasting impression on me that I've never forgotten it. I can still vividly remember various scenes and bits of dialogue, and that was almost 50 years ago!  A good narrator can definitely enhance a story, increase the dramatic impact with his/her voice.
     Of course, there are downsides to audiobooks, such as the fact that you may not like the way the narrator interprets the characters or the story. But I've found that if the narrator is skilled, most readers will enjoy audiobooks and the hands-free, eyes-free, group listening advantages they provide.  I spend a great deal of time auditioning narrators and choosing just the right one for each book, the one that I think is the perfect fit and brings the most to the story.
     So, in summary, please don't think I'm pushing audiobooks on you, or that I believe they are superior in any way to good, old-fashioned reading.  I simply want to provide all my books in audio format so that those who want them can have them.  It also pleases me to see my work interpreted and "acted out" by talented people--an audiobook is an interpretation of a book, similar to a movie or stage play.  As an author, I would be thrilled to see every one of my books adapted in all these different forms.
     And who knows?  If you've never listened to an audiobook before, maybe you'll try one and discover a new form of entertainment with benefits that will surprise you.

Now in Audio!
(Note:  you can download any of the below FREE by becoming an Audible member on a no-risk 30 day trial basis)

Lust, Money & Murder - International Thriller (Unabridged)

Buy:  Audible  Amazon USA  Amazon UK  iTunes

The Drive-By Wife - Psychological Thriller (Unabridged)

  Buy: Audible Amazon USA  Amazon UK  iTunes

Baby Talk - Horror (Unabridged)

  Buy: Audible Amazon USA  Amazon UK  iTunes

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