Creating a Timeline

How do you map your protagonist’s family tree? Who are your characters’ relatives? What are their birthdays? And how much should they age from book to book if you’re writing a series?

Creating a Timeline is crucial to a series. Keeping records of your recurrent characters in this regard is essential. Currently I’m beginning work on my next Bad Hair Day mystery, tentatively titled Peril by Ponytail. Marla and Dalton take a delayed honeymoon to an Arizona dude ranch owned by his cousin, Wayne Campbell.

Well, guess what? Other than Dalton’s parents and teenage daughter, we haven’t mentioned his family members before. Suddenly I’m at a loss as to his family tree.

Family Tree

Not so with Marla. I created her family tree for Dead Roots, when Marla and Dalton spent Thanksgiving weekend with her extended family at a haunted Florida resort. Where can I find this record? With a sense of urgency, I searched my computer files. Nope, not there. So I pulled out my notebook for that particular title. I breathed a sigh of relief when I discoverd a handwritten diagram of Marla’s family tree. With newer technology at hand, I scanned this paper into a file so it doesn’t get lost.

Marla Family

Thank goodness I have extensive notebooks for each title. What I keep in them is subject for another blog, but suffice it to say that I have lots of rich material on character backgrounds, research notes and articles, and more.

Now I have to create Dalton’s family tree. I know his age and birthday and how it’s progressed from book to book because I write it down for each volume. Ditto for his daughter and what grade she’s in. When his parents came into the picture, they got added, too. But who else is there? How is cousin Wayne related to him?

I’ll need to work on this by drawing out his family tree. I don’t know how to do it on the computer without accessing complicated programs, and they’ll take too much time to learn. But considering my experience, here are some items you might want to add to your notes for each book you write and/or for your overall series bible. The timeline can include:

  1. Birthdays
  2. Time of Year each book takes place, i.e. Season and Month
  3. Day to Day Progression of Plot per story title
  4. Family Trees
  5. Proper Names. This might be a separate file or you can put them here. This means the name of your person’s housing development, favorite restaurants, type of cars people drive, pet’s names, etc.
  6. Maps of the town or neighborhood where your character lives and works
  7. Diagrams of a particular locale. Here is Sugar Crest Resort from Dead Roots.

resort map

Your needs may differ with each book as to what your timeline requires. Peril by Ponytail is the twelfth book in my series, and yet I’ve not had to create Dalton’s family tree before. So what you need for one volume might not apply to another. Whatever you do, make sure you record the material in print and on your computer files. Back it up so you don’t lose it. If I hadn’t found Marla’s family tree in that notebook, I would have been at a loss should I need it again.

So stay attuned to your timelines when plotting your story and lay down the necessary groundwork. And now, tell the rest of us what else we might  include in our Timeline folder.

Creating Realistic Characters

When Characters Stop Being Literal and Become Real
J.H. Bogran

On the dedication page of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling dedicates the book to her daughter, proclaiming Harry is her ink-and-paper twin. In just one sentence, Mrs. Rowling demonstrates how real the characters are for her.

Every writer worth his salt knows that only when we believe and treat our character as real people, they will become so to the readers. Why? I could bet it is because our perception of the character seeps into them while we type them.    Firefall

I don’t pretend to preach to the converted, what I’d like to share today is the way I develop my characters, not that I think it is the one and only way to go about it.

After I decide the story I want to tell, I spend time developing a list of characters that I think are required to tell the story. The list includes the lead, lead’s love interest if any, the antagonist, and the secondary characters. I don’t waste time on the character with bit parts; I trust they will show up when I need them for a particular scene. Yeah, it’s kind of “if I build it, they will come.”

Two books that have helped me with characters and how to write them are Angela Ackerman/Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus, and the other one is Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress.

The main characters get special attention, of course. I prepare a worksheet where I list name, description, personality, profession and extras. The first four are pretty self-explanatory. Extras can be tiny little things like if he/she smokes, or notes the appalling story of how they became the person they are at the start of my book.

For the physical description I cheat a little bit, if it can be called like that. I use people I’ve met, sometimes movie or TV actors, but someone to anchor me to what they look like and keep me from changing hair or eye colors between chapters. Their personality starts relatively empty as I’d like to leave room for the characters to grow. Of course, that character worksheet keeps getting revised while I’m writing the story.

The secondary characters are not as developed, but I keep a close watch on them as sometimes they come back with surprises, or they make appearances in other stories. For example, the doctor who treated my lead female character suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder in the story Love Me Two Times, turns out to have a younger brother. In the opening chapter of my new novel Firefall, Doctor James Martin is performing an intervention on his younger brother Sebastian, who is the lead character in that novel.

One tip I learned during a ThrillerFest class on craft imparted by Robert Dugoni was to give each character a unique trait. It can be anything from always chewing gum to a limp. The idea is that the trait would be big enough to make them appear better than two-dimensional.

The making of my character is far from a refined technique, but it works for me, so I’m sticking with it. They become real to me because I can picture them in my head.

I’m curious to know how others do it, so please leave a comment if you can. Thanks.

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About J. H. Bográn   JH Bogran

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers, where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

Website at: http://www.jhbogran.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jhbogran
Twitter: @JHBogran
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4307673.J_H_Bogran
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jhbogran

About Firefall:

After losing his wife and son in an air crash, former NYC firefighter Sebastian Martin is spiraling downward into alcoholic oblivion. Then his brother sets him up with a last-chance job investigating insurance fraud, but his first case takes a deadly turn as he crosses path with an international ring of car thieves. Sebastian ends up strapped to a chair facing torture at the hands of a former KGB trainee who enjoys playing with fire on his victims to get answers.

Firefall Buy Links:

Rebel E Publishers: http://rebelepublishers.com/about/our-books/firefall/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Firefall-ebook/dp/B00F6VYDE2
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/355941

Creating Mood

Word choices are important when creating mood. Next time you read a scary story, look at the particular descriptive words the author uses. It takes work to get these right. Now let’s see how I put this to work for me. Here is my original paragraph:

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs, blocking the light from street lamps. Crickets chirped their nightly chorus, nearly drowning the muted traffic sounds from Lake Avenue. Even that thoroughfare had quieted for the weekend.

streetlights

What’s wrong with this? “Crickets chirped” brightens the mood when I want this to description to raise tension. So here is version number two:

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs, blocking the light from street lamps. The low, steady thrum of crickets nearly drowned the muted traffic sounds from Lake Avenue. Even that thoroughfare had quieted for the weekend.

tree branches

Oops. Lake Avenue is a bustling town center with restaurants that would be lively on a weekend evening, so it wouldn’t be quiet on a Sunday. Better delete that line. I don’t quite like the muted traffic sounds, either. This line should add to the suspense. Here is my final version along with the next couple of lines. Tell me what you think:

woman alone

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs and blocked the light from street lamps. The low, steady thrum of crickets pulsed in the autumn air like a single-minded creature hidden in the shrubs.

A car engine idled nearby. I glanced over my shoulder, my nape prickling.

None of the cars parked along the curb had any lights on. I didn’t see anyone sitting in them, but somebody had started a motor within hearing distance.

The sensation grew that I was being watched, and goose bumps rose on my arms. My breath came short as my pulse rate rocketed.

I picked up speed, eager to reach my car. My foot banged against an uneven edge of pavement. I stumbled but regained my balance and hurried on. I’d just passed Elhambra’s Mystical Emporium when a roar sounded in my ears.

I whipped around. A pair of headlights lunged at me.

headlights

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This is a work in progress, so your suggestions are welcome. My advice is to write the story as it comes out and worry about nitpicking the word choices later. It’s easier to fix what’s already on the page. If you get too hung up with your pages being perfect, you’ll never progress. Write that first draft and then go back to polish.

Determining Theme in Novel Writing

Do you know your story’s theme before you begin writing? Many writing coaches will advise you to figure this out ahead of time and work symbolism into your story as you write. But what if you don’t have a clue as to what your theme should be? Sometimes the theme only becomes evident later, after you’ve completed the book. At that stage, a wise observer might point out that you’ve naturally incorporated symbolism into your story.

The point is not to worry about this analytical part of writing if you’d rather write your book in the heat of the moment.

writing

I’ve never set out to craft a story knowing my theme ahead of time. I’ll write a synopsis in my initial stage and do some character development, but heavy analysis would stop me dead. I need to let the story unravel, even though I know where it’s going. Thematic elements are there. I might not have recognized them yet.

Ask yourself this question after you’ve penned a few novels: What are your stories about? What is the core message that comes across? I’ve realized many of my works are about redemption. My heroine sleuth, Marla Shore, seeks to redeem herself for a past mistake. The first Bad Hair Day mystery, Permed to Death, reveals her sense of guilt and what she’s done to assuage it. Guilt is a great motivator. The theme of redemption is also evident in some of my romances where characters seek to redeem their self-respect or reputations.

coverPTD

But is that my only theme? Recently I’ve begun using the self-editing software mentioned below in a previous blog. I have been eliminating repetitive words within my manuscripts. One of my favored words is “just.” This word can also be found in “adjusted” and “justice.” Whoa. Justice?

justice scales

In Died Blonde, Marla goes to Cassadaga, FL and gets a reading from a certified medium. This spiritualist tells Marla the following:

The medium’s eyelids fluttered. “Right now, you’re obsessed with completing your task. You feel the need to pursue justice. Learning the truth will bring you peace.”

A chill captured Marla all the way to her toes. She’d pronounced similar words as part of her Bat Mitzvah speech: Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue. How could they form on Hazel’s lips?

“Treat yourself fairly as you would treat others,” the medium explained. “Accept who you are, and you’ll find the power within you to move forward. Above all, don’t give up. The truth is just around the horizon.”

coverDBmm

These words become Marla’s mantra throughout the series. She seeks truth and justice.

Warrior Lord, book 3 in my paranormal Drift Lords series, also deals with this theme. Lord Magnor has been unjustly accused of a crime. Ditto the hero, a wanted fugitive, in Silver Serenade. Is the pursuit of justice another one of my themes? I believe so, and it’s one I’ve only now realized.

One of my favorite book series is Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth fantasy series. Why? Because Richard Rahl, the protagonist, is the Seeker of Truth. Richard seeks the truth in all matters, as does his love Kahlan, the Mother Confessor. Once under her spell, no one can lie. If you’re not into the books, check out the TV series Legend of the Seeker for swashbuckling adventure, fantasy, and romance.

Seeker

I didn’t set out to write about this theme, but there it is. So, too, might your theme reveal itself in your body of work.

Do you determine your theme ahead of time? What is your core message?

 

 

This Week’s Events

Join me online today at Happily Ever After Thoughts where I discuss creating Larger than Life Heroes, and leave a comment for a chance to win an ebook copy of Circle of Light, book one in my paranormal/futuristic Light-Years Trilogy.

And this week in person….

June 27, Thursday, 1:00 – 2:30 pm, Creative Writers Club, South Regional/Broward College Library, 7300 Pines Blvd, Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.  954-201-8825.

June 29, Saturday, 10:00 – 12:00 noon, “How to Get Published the Traditional Way” with Nancy J. Cohen, Florida Authors Academy, Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL  33444, 561-279-7790, Fee for class; Advance Reservations required.

Writing the Smart Synopsis

Do you hate writing a synopsis? If so, get used to it, because this tool is essential to your career as a writer. Not only is a synopsis necessary for a book proposal, but the sales force at your publishing house will use it to design your cover or to plan marketing materials for your book.

A synopsis is a complete narrative of your story told in present tense. A synopsis should include essential plot points plus your character’s emotional reactions. It can act as a writing guideline while not being so rigid that your story can’t change. When you finish the actual writing portion, you can return to the original synopsis and revise it to suit the finished storyline.

So how should you proceed?

Consider adding a log line (i.e. one liner story blurb) on your first page before the story begins.

If it’s the first book in a series, you might start with a short profile of your main character. For a mystery proposal, offer a few paragraphs about the sleuth. For a romance, this means writing a paragraph or two each on your hero and heroine. What brought them to this situation? What do they hope to accomplish? What is keeping them from reaching their goal?

Open the action with a hook. You already know this is crucial in your manuscript, but it applies to your synopsis as well.

Use action verbs. Your story should be engaging as you convey it to the reader.

Make sure the story flows in a logical manner from scene to scene.

Leave out unnecessary details like minor characters and their names, physical descriptions unless applicable to the storyline, subplots unless critical to the resolution of the main plot.

Avoid snippets of conversation, point-to-point description of your character’s every move, jumping from one place to another without any explanation, gratuitous sex, or threats on a character’s life unless they evolve from the story.

Include your character’s emotional responses and stay in her head as you would in the story. Use transitions if you switch viewpoints.

Show your character’s internal struggle as well as her external conflict. What’s inhibiting her from making a commitment to the hero? What is causing her to doubt her abilities? What lesson does she need to learn about herself in this story? Motivate your character’s actions so her responses seem logical.

Explain the ending. In a mystery, this means you tell whodunit and why. In a romance, it’ll be your dark moment and the resolution of the romantic conflict. You’ll want to describe how your character has changed or grown from this experience.

If you’re writing a romance, make sure you cover the goals and motivation of your hero and heroine, how they first meet, what leads up to the first kiss, complications that keep them apart, what they admire in each other as they progress to more intimacy, the black moment, and the resolution.

If you’re writing a traditional mystery, present the crime, introduce the suspects and hint at their secrets. Then show how the sleuth uncovers their hidden agendas and unravels the clues.

Here are a couple of sample synopsis openings.

MYSTERY SAMPLE FROM PERMED TO DEATH (Bad Hair Day Mysteries #1)

Beauty salon owner Marla Shore greets her early morning client, grumpy Mrs. Kravitz. After wrapping the woman’s hair for a perm, she offers her a cup of coffee. Mrs. Kravitz accepts with her usual complaints. Hoping to escape from the woman’s demands, Marla heads into the storeroom. She is reaching for a clean towel when a strangled sound strikes her ears. She sprints back into the salon and halts in shock. Mrs. Kravitz is slumped in the shampoo chair, her bagged head lolling against the sink. Her face is stretched in a hideous grimace, her eyes staring sightlessly. With a jolt of horror, Marla realizes the woman is dead.

ROMANCE SAMPLE FROM WARRIOR PRINCE (The Drift Lords Series #1)

Nira Larsen’s day gets off to a bad start when she flunks her first two job interviews. She hopes she’ll land the next position as a makeup artist for a popular theme park in Orlando, Florida. As she searches for the personnel office, a squat wood building materializes at the designated address. Inside, a lovely blond woman named Algie greets her. As part of the interview, Algie instructs her to use the cosmetics supplied to make an ugly male look human.

When Nira balks, the brute tosses her onto a treatment table and ties her down. Algie demands to know how she is able to block their spell. Before Nira can ask what she means, the door crashes open and black-garbed men swarm inside.

After chasing away her assailants, their fierce leader approaches. He studies Nira with keen turquoise eyes that fascinate her. She’s not so pleased when he hauls her outside and thrusts her into a van. The log structure vanishes before her eyes.

Her abductor introduces himself as Zohar Thorald. He’s accompanied by five other hunks. They take her home, where Zohar offers her a job as their local tour guide. She figures they’re undercover agents aiding a federal investigation, perhaps into a weird cult. From their accents and cultural blunders, they must be foreigners. They can certainly use her help.

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Writing a smart synopsis takes practice. It’s good to run this tool through your critique partners to make sure everything makes sense and the story flows logically. They’ll tell you if your character motivations are missing or if your plot has holes. Some writers are “pantsers” and don’t like to plan out so far in advance. I’m not one of them. I like to have a road map, even though the paths may change. With a synopsis, you know where you’re going. How you get there can still be a surprise, and that’s where the story magic happens.

So how many of you write a synopsis before beginning the story?

Make Your Characters Stronger

How can you make your characters sound stronger when they speak? Think of the ways authoritative people talk in terms of their word choices and tone of voice.

Choose one of each:

1.A. “I think we should hit the beach at dawn. That way, we’ll probably be able to avoid the patrol boats.”

B. “We’ll hit the beach at dawn so we can avoid the patrol boats.”

2.A. “It is my belief that it would be best if we took the right-hand path.”

B. “Let’s make a right-hand turn.”

3.A. “I suppose I could agree.”

B. “I agree.”

4.A. “Oh, dear, perhaps this yellow dress would be more suitable. It brings out the highlights in my hair, and I do want Butler to notice me.”

B. “The yellow dress complements my hair, so I’ll wear that one. Butler has to notice me tonight.”

5.A. “I guess it would be all right if you borrowed my bracelet, but if you don’t mind, please see if you can return it tomorrow.”

B. “You can borrow the bracelet, but I’d like it returned tomorrow.”

If you chose any “A” answers, you’re making your character sound weak. To strengthen your heroine, have her sound positive and determined. Characters should focus on their goals, not on their appearance or performance. Avoid phrases such as I think, I guess, I suppose, dear me, maybe we should, It is my belief that, I don’t know.

Of course, exceptions to the rule do exist. Just make certain your character doesn’t sound wimpy when he speaks or has an introspection. Cutting extra verbiage can help. Aim for precision of speech, but avoid curtness. Remember that dialog should further your plot or reveal character. Phrases that reveal hesitation or self-doubt may indicate places that need revision unless you purposefully want your character to act this way.

Strong heroes appeal to readers, so take out your pen and get to work. Good luck!

Character Names

clip_image002How does a writer devise a name for a character? First, we can’t choose a name similar to the other main characters or you’ll run into people named Maria, Marilyn, and Merle. It gets confusing for the reader. So that eliminates certain sounds and letters. The character’s ethnic heritage or her role in the story may influence your choice. For example, I can’t proceed with plotting my next romance without obtaining a name for my heroine, but so far, nothing has struck my fancy. The story is based on Norse mythology so that gives me a place to start. I looked in The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, an excellent resource that lists names by nationality and gives their meanings. Then I drew up a list of Norwegian female names that caught my interest. I narrowed these down to selections with a certain sound I wanted.

To visualize my characters, I cut out pix from magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. So here is my heroine. She’s the perfect counterpart to my serious, brooding hero, Lord Magnor.

clip_image004

My female name choices:

Dagny (joy of the Danes)

Kelci (from the ship’s island) Kelsey

Mildri (mild and lovely)

Randi (lovely, goddess) Ragnfrid, Ragni

Brief character sketch: Heroine sculpts mythical figures of trolls and fairies out of natural materials and sells them online. Owns a pottery studio, wants to open a gift shop, and maybe teach children arts and crafts.

Other Women in the series: Nira, Jennifer, Lianne, Algie

Men: Zohar, Paz, Magnor, Dal, Kaj, Yaron

If I name her Dagny, I can’t call her Dag for short because one of the established heroes is Dal. So I have to keep in mind these other people when I choose her name. Mildri is cute but maybe too mild for her. Kelsey is too ordinary, although Kelci is a different spelling that might work. Ragni? Call her Rage for short? Hey, that might do. She looks kinda angry at the world, doesn’t she? I can’t nickname her Rag with a soft “g” because it would sound too much like Kaj.

What do you think? Who does she look like to you? Any other suggestions? What means do you, the writer, use to determine your character names?