So, here's the thing! I've just finished a little story called 'As You Sow, So Shall You Reap' for an anthology. Yeah, it's about murder! Yeah, the characters are fantastic! The Detective Inspector is a grumpy old sod, but nice with it - yeah, a bit like me, Toady - called Inigo Morgan. On his travels, he meets a pair of obese twins who run a cafe - and I had in mind Tweedledee and Tweedledum when I was writing their interactions with Inigo. There's strange places as well, like the London Necropolis Company who had their own railway line to transport the London dead to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey! You'll be glad to know that they don't do that anymore! Well, not legally anyway, but I understand there's been a few bodies dumped there with missing organs! Hey, maybe there's a story there somewhere!
The story is set in Little Haven in Pembrokeshire (see picture below) on the Welsh coast. No, you can't dowload the anthology yet because the other people who are writing their little stories aren't as task-centred as me! They're dragging their arses around wondering when, where, who, why? And generally shilly-shallying like writers do. Not me, I just do it, eh Toady? You and me against the world!
So, what's he going to do next, I hear you holler? The Graves Beneath Eternity Wharf is my considered answer. Well, after I've finished this bloggy thing, of course. Promises is promises, ain't they, Toady? The trouble is, as I was telling some body parts earlier, that when you write a number of different series, it takes a couple of days to swap heads. I mean, I've been a 59-year-old grumpy Inigo Morgan for two weeks. Before that, I was a 31-year-old Jed Parish for four months, and now I've got to become Quigg until June. I can't remember how old he is until I re-familiarise myself with the storylines again. What I do know is that, regardless of age, they all have different personalities. All I can say, is that it's a good job my own personality can accommodate multiple personalities. And you know what they say - one personality can do something the other personalities don't know about!
Which personality are you writing this bloggy thing in, I hear you ask? And well you might! The thing is, I could be anybody, couldn't I? I've put a picture up there on the right, so you know I'm 59 - or do you? I've created a complete personality on this website, but I might very well be someone else. I could be an 18 year-old Ukranian drummer girl for all you know. I'm not, but that picture doesn't do me justice. I'm often mistaken for a young Clint Eastwood - you know, the one in Dirty Harry - "Make my day, punk!" I have to autograph their Magnums (ice creams not guns) when they recognise me! But that's it see, you have to give your characters a personality, one that people will remember forever. Make 'em speak differently, give 'em a catchphrase, make it so that they seep into people's heads, so that they feel as though your characters are real, that they want to meet them when they're not so busy being characters. Yeah, it's not just writers who are crazy people, you know - readers are as well! Right, that's it! Ta ta for now, crazy people.
So, here's the thing! Some reviewers, in their reviews of my books, have said that they're not literary fiction! Excuse me! That's like buying a fridge and then complaining because you can't get the television channels on it! I think titles such as A Life for a Life and The Wages of Sin would give most people some idea that they're not literary fiction or 'high brow' to paraphrase one reviewer. Other clues, for the forensically-minded, would be the categories of 'police procedural' and 'thriller', and the blurbs might also suggest that my books are aimed at people who like a good murder mystery, with fabulous characters, and twists and turns like a roller coaster ride to a thrilling conclusion.
And, so that there's no doubt, none of my books are literary fiction. That's not to say I couldn't write some literary fiction if I wanted to, but I don't want to. For one, I don't particularly like literary fiction - it's too serious. For two, it's a slog to read and write. For three, it doesn't sell because it's not popular or genre fiction, and these are what most people like. For four, life's too short to sweat over a work of art that not many people will read. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm not going to win the Pullitzer Prize, or the Nobel Prize for Literature - I think I can live with that omission from my CV. Here's a website that explains what Literary Fiction is: Write Anything.
Here's some books that have won the Man Booker Prize, which are classified as literary fiction: The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes), The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson), Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel), The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga), The Gathering (Anne Enright), The Inheritance of Loss (Kiran Desai), and The Sea (John Banville). I haven't read any of them, however, I do possess a copy of Wolf Hall because my first love is historical fiction, and I particularly enjoy books about Thomas Cromwell. In fact, I think he's a distant relation, because I'd like to rule England when I grow up as well!
So, I suppose I'm a philistine! And I know some people read those literary books to say that they've read them. I'm probably the first person to not read them to say I've not read them! I better just get back to writing my old mass market penny dreadfuls!
So, here's the thing! I'd finished the 5th book in the Parish & Richards series 'His Wrath is Come', and started a long short for an anthology. As I was writing I began to wonder whether the lead characters in both sounded similar - well, you do, don't you? And it doesn't do any harm to remind oneself of the rudiments of creating characters, dontcha know!
I mean, let's mull over the author's voice. I know, you're asking, what the hell is that? Well, take these bloggy things for example. If someone read this blog - having read my previous blogs - they'd know it was my fabulous work because of my voice, which consists of a number of exceptionally well thought-out indicators: 1) I meander all over the damned place - so I've been told anyway; 2) Toady does a lot of jabbering from behind me, but when I turn round he's never there - how weird is that? There's a name for things that appear in the corner of your eye - they call them shadow people - I see a lot of them, and sometimes have conversations with them, invite them for tea, and...
Anyway, enough about my little idiosyncracies. So, you can see, some authors have a voice you can spot from a thousand other authors. Not all authors have got a unique voice though! If you read ten anonymous chapters from ten of your favourite authors all writing about the same thing, would you be able to say, "That's Stephen King" or "That's JRR Tolkein"? If you're an author, you gotta find your voice, and don't come looking round hereabouts 'cause I ain't stumbled over any strange sounding voices.
Next, is the characters. How do you make each one different from all your other characters? How can the reader spot it's that particular character in the middle of things without you having to say, this is Queequeg - don't you just love that name? I mean, didn't Dickens and Melville steal all the good names, like Uriah Heep (also a fantabulous band), Tommy Traddles, Ebenezer Scrooge, Samuel Slumkey... So many, and now what's left for us poor authors? I've named two characters today - Socrates Jones and Tegryn (Tig) Roberts - See, that's what I'm saying - that Dickens has got a lot to answer for! I've been playing around with Jones though. First I had Balthazar Jones, then Tiberius Jones, and now Socrates Jones - I know, call me wishy-washy - and I'm still not happy. If Dickens wasn't already dead...
So, apart from a name, how else can we make a character different from other characters. Hey up, Toady's made a list!
'Is it a long list, Toady?'
'Long lists are the only good lists, boss.'
'If you say so. Go on then, tell us what's on your list?'
'I haven't had time to put them in order of importance, boss.'
'Be reckless, do it anyway.'
'You got it.'
Differentiate your characters by one or more of:
The way they do things;
What drives them (motivations);
Provide an image, so that readers can visualise;
Differentiate even minor characters;
Flaws, strengths and weaknesses;
Use of similes and metaphors;
Psychologica traits: (Psychotic: aggressive, impulsive, cold, unempathetic, creative, anti-social, impersonal, egocentric, tough-minded. Neurotic: anxious, angry, guilty, depressed, easily stressed, interprets ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult, self-conscious, shy, trouble controlling urges, phobias);
Characters describe themselves;
Create an image of one person, but hint at another inside;
Don't infodump - build up a character's personality slowly;
Physical traits: Height, weight, colouring, features; sight, smell, hair, voice, dialect;
Social traits: Beliefs and attitudes.
Have I missed anything?
The other thing to remember, is to have your characters change over time - to grow. I made the mistake of keeping a character the same, and readers soon grow bored with a character who doesn't develop, mature, and grow over time.
In 'His Wrath is Come' I created a character called Lola Laveque - See what you think:
Constable Lola Laveque was a short rotund black woman of indeterminate age who wore a permanent smile on her face. He’d caught her eating some strange food out of a plastic container.
‘You wanted to see me?’ he said.
‘And you are?’
‘From the MIT?’
‘Okay, take a seat.’
He looked around but there was nowhere to sit. ‘Where?’
‘People usually perch on the corner of the desk.’
‘Do you want to share my ackee and saltfish?’ she said thrusting the fishy dish under his nose.
He hated fish. ‘Thank you, but I’ve just had lunch.’
‘Don’t know what you’re missing.’
‘Chief Kirby said that you’d found something?’
‘I’m always finding one thing or another in here.’
‘A pattern?’ He was beginning to wonder if he’d stumbled into the twilight zone. The tiny office boasted a desk, a computer, a filing cabinet, a chair, and stacks of files on every surface.
Also, I had Lola using malapropisms - that is misusing similar sounding words - i.e. instead of commendation > combination; instead of presentation > impersonation. And she also practised Hiatian vodou. So, you can see that I gradually created a 3-dimensional person, and people have already asked whether she'll be included in the next book in the series.
Oh, the other thing - before I shillyshally back to my writing - is do you know why I used Lucy Van Pelt in the picture? Give yourself a high-five if you do!
So, here's the thing! This morning, I published the 5th book in the Parish & Richards series called His Wrath is Come, and as I write this blog, it's No.1 in Amazon Uk's Movers and Shakers because you fabulous people have bought it and it's moved from previously unranked to 271 (and No.18 in the Police Procedurals Bestseller list) - Thank you!
For the writers, you'll be interested in how many books I had to sell for that to happen - 70! Currently, I'm No.252 (16 in Police Procedurals) and I've sold 94 books in the UK in about 8 hours. The number of books sold in a short space of time obviously factors into algorithms that are interested in that type of thing!
It took me about 4 months to write that book - 77,500-words, and after I'd written each chapter I sent it to the proofreader, and it worked very nicely, because as soon as I'd finished the book there was no delay - I simply published it.
Also, I've nearly finished the first chapter of the next book (No.6) in the series - 'The Breath of Life', which I'll publish on here soon, but don't get too excited because I've made promises. Apart from writing a short for an American anthology, I've also got to write 'The Skulls Beneath Eternity Wharf' (Quigg 3) and 'The Gordian Knot' (Stone & Randall 2) before I get to Parish & Richards 6.
Hi, I'm Tim Ellis - I write a lot and I hope you enjoy what I write.