Character Observers in Crime Fiction by Lisa Ciarfella

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Well it’s a pleasure and an honor to be asked back to NoWastedInk.com once again as guest blogger. Wendy’s asked me to chime in on my choice of the writing craft, so we’re talking about character observers in crime-fiction, the ones who help the sleuths solve the crimes and how they can help when writing in backstory.  It was Author Margot Kinberg’s latest blog post, “I Am the Observer Who is Observing* — at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist https://margotkinberg.wordpress.com/2018/05/31/ that got me thinking on all this…

So, how can the observer characters in crime-fiction help us write better backstory into our novels? In Kinberg’s post, she likens writers to those people in life who tend to be natural observers, hanging back and taking it all in. I tend to be like this, and I think most good authors probably are. In fact, we often like nothing better than to sit in open air cafe’s, pretending to be reading or writing on our laptops when really, we’re zeroed in on other people’s juicy conversations, stealing our next tantalizing idea for a story. Observers in our crime fiction stories do this a lot; nothing escapes these people.

As Kinberg points out, if you’ve ever read Agatha Christie, you know her main man Poirot is always looking to interview the observers in the room, and that these types are ultimately the best source for detectives and cops wanting to solve crimes. Likewise, if you’ve ever watched FX’s Criminal Minds or any of BBC’s Masterpiece mystery shows, you know that observers are often more helpful than any physical evidence found on the scene since they can point the crime solvers in the right direction when the evidence can only say so much!

“Observers often have a very interesting perspective, because they stand back and notice everything… Observers can give valuable information on what they’ve seen. And their perspectives can give the detective a sense of what a group of people is like So, it’s little wonder that we see them so often in crime fiction.” Kinberg

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Photo by Pam Evans

What intrigued me the most in Kinberg’s post was her mention of author Louise Penny’s book, Still Life. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list now. According to Kinberg, the victim, Jane Neal, seems to be the observer, albeit from after the grave. She helps the cops by letting them know she’d known things, a lot of things, that other people in town just may have wished she hadn’t! And that very fact, helped seal her doom!

Now since I’m writing up a novel where the victim chimes in after the deadly deed, this intrigues me! Especially as a way of dealing with a character’s backstory. Backstory is so challenging to write. It engrosses us as authors as we create our characters, and it can be all consuming if we let it. After all, it’s so easy to get caught up in the how and the why of our main players and lose sight of the most important part of the story, the action! Action is where it’s at for the readers, and if there’s too much backstory and too little movement, the story can fall fabulously flat!

And we all want to avoid that dreaded dumping scenario, right? The one where the reader becomes barraged with info. overload in one fell swoop! Or, as renowned crime fiction author Les Edgerton like to call it, doing “The Rubber Ducky” (http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/rubber-ducky.):

“The “Rubber Ducky” is Paddy Chayevsky’s term for when the hero or villain, at a lull in the action, explains that he is the way he is because his mother took away his rubber ducky when he was three…Always a nice scene… And totally unnecessary … It usually comes from not trusting the reader’s or viewer’s intelligence to “get it” ….

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…if all you’re trying to do is give your hero more emotional depth, for the sake of emotional depth, without integrating his back-story into your story, you run the risk of awakening the dread Ducky.” Edgerton

I don’t know how my attempt at incorporating my vic from beyond the grave will turn out, but it seems like going back in time and letting my victim tell some of the tale from an observer standpoint is a great way to deal- in her back-story without awakening that dreaded RD! 

I’m giving it my best shot anyway. Could make my tale so much more present for the reader, involving them intimately in the life of my vic by hearing her own voice relay her rough-ride. Much better her than me! And as author, I so want to get out of my character’s way and let them do the heavy lifting!

lisa ciarfella headshot Lisa’s a recent MFA graduate from California State University, Long Beach. She writes darkly tainted, noir style prose where bad things happen to bad people and not so bad people get caught up in the madness. In 2018, her fiction was featured at http://www.outofthegutteronline.com, Near to the Knuckle.uk, and at Short Mystery Fiction Society’s  https://shortmystery.blogspot.com/2018, as part of theirMay short story month’ series.

You can also find her work at PulpMetalmagazine.com, Nowastedink.com, Ashedit.com, StudentHealth101.com and other places.

By night Lisa’s currently cranking out more short stories and her first crime fiction novel, doggedly pursuing the game! By day, she shepherds high school kids with their daily grind, and on the weekends, likes throwing Frisbees around the beach with her pups and catching ball games.

Find her on Facebook at @lisajohnljc, or on her blog, at Ciarfella’s Fiction Corner

Flashfiction: SOS by Wendy Van Camp

SOS

SOS
a science fiction flashfiction by Wendy Van Camp

Lola stood on the crater edge, a tablet and stylus in her hand. Her ear itched, but there was use in scratching at it, her head was completely covered by her spacesuit helmet. She bent over and picked up a few of the grey stones and let them tumble from her fingers.

“Lola, have you finished your determination?” Professor McCranky – ahem – Professor McCranston, was tapping his wrist to indicate that time was passing.

“One minute!” Lola toggled the sensors in her helmet and a grid pattern appeared before her. She used the chip in her brain to interface with the tools in her suit to measure the cup-shaped crater. It was around 10 kilometers and had no central floor. A small one, known as an Albategnius C, or ALC. She spun in the light lunar gravity and then bunny hopped back to the rover. Before she entered the rover with the other students, she tapped her tablet to the Professors. He looked at her result and grunted. Then the group was off to the next stop.

Johnny nudged her. It would be a long ride to the next crater example. Topography was a required course at Lunar University. Learning to identify terrain was a survival skill on Earth’s single moon. Through his faceplate, she could see his dark eyes and skin. His father was seldom home on Luna Colony, he piloted one of the supply ships that made the trek between the Moon and Mars and the turnaround time was a long 18 months. That was one of the reasons why he started coming around her home dome, but over time they developed a friendship that had turned into something sweeter than either had expected. However, graduation was approaching. Soon both would need to make a choice about their future.

The rover stopped and the group of students tumbled out into the grey dust. The Professor tapped his wrist and then gestured for the group to spread out. Johnny touched her arm and then bounded off, leaping far too high in the air as if he were Buzz Aldrin exploring the moon on the first moon landing. Showoff. She took smaller steps and found the edge of the new crater in good time. She toggled on the measurement system and scanned the crater. This one she had seen before. She had visited it with her Mom and Dad on an outing years ago. The complex crater had to be close to fifty kilometers in diameter. She did not wish to approach the edge since the inner walls slumped to the bottom floor. Its archetype was isTriesnecker also known as TRI.

There was a crackle in her helmet. “Aiee! The wall is going down.”

Lola froze and then whirled toward where her friend had run off and in horror, she realized that the lip of the crater had collapsed taking her best friend down with it. She ran for the wall, not caring if she was putting herself in danger. Before she could reach the edge, a hand clamped down on her shoulder and stopped her forward motion. It was McCranky!

“It is too dangerous. Stay here. I’m going to send for help from the rangers.” The other students gathered together, their shoulders hunched, helmets tapped together to allow them to talk in private without using the radio. The professor returned to the rover.

Lola felt as if the air had squeezed from her lungs. Disregarding the professor’s instructions she made her way to the edge of the crater, inching forward until she could see over the lip. Down below, on the smooth floor, Johnny lay with his arms and legs spread wide. Was he dead? She sighed. When you’re gone. How can I even try to go on?

There was another crackle in her helmet. “SOS.”

“Johnny! Are you okay?” Her eyes widened and her breath came out in ragged gasps. Her oxygen levels were doing a wild dance. Was he crying out for help? Where were those damn rangers!

“The crater is an isSosigenes. SOS.”

“You asshole! Are you playing me?” Down below, Johnny pulled his legs and arms in and rolled over. He sat up and gazed up the long slope of the crater. He tilted his helmet to one side and shrugged his shoulders.

“Stay where you are, John. The wall of the crater could go down further. This is not a laughing matter.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Oh, and you are wrong in your determination.” The professor said. “The crater is known as an isTriesnecker.”

“Doh. A TRI? No wonder the wall collapsed.”

“This is why we take you out here to observe the craters. It is for your own safety. Next time, watch your step.” The professor put a hand on her shoulder and tapped his helmet to her for a private conversation. “Be careful, but stay here with him. We’ll get him out of there soon enough.”

“Thank you, Professor Cranston.” Maybe the man wasn’t so cranky after all.


SOS is a science fiction flash fiction. Maybe I was up too late at night studying topography when this little story came to my mind.  This is a little fun one with no connection to a future project.  A little YA adventure.

This story is also available to members of Medium. If you would like to support me as an author, please go to Medium and give my story claps. Clapping lets the Medium system know that my story is popular and it will gain more visibility.

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

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Happy Monday!  It is time for another batch of links that would prove useful to writers and readers of fiction.  I’ve stayed mainly on topic this week.  There are plenty of general writing tip articles to read, along with a few related to writing science fiction.  Enjoy!

Building Characters Layer by Layer

Five Things Your Editor Hates About You

A Need for Speed

Forget Your Muse

Wax On, Wax Off: 5 Areas To Polish Before Submitting A Manuscript

The Difference Between Editing and Revising a Novel

I AM NOT A GATEKEEPER

My three decades at Disney taught me not to fear automation

THE SURPRISING STORIES BEHIND THE PEN NAMES OF 10 FAMOUS AUTHORS

How to Live in a Dystopian Fiction

Author Interview: Jeffrey L Kohanek

From a young age, Author Jeffrey L Kohanek felt driven by an internal desire to create. With an early love for heroes with superpowers, he found his childhood-self creating his own comic books. When he finally decided to write his own epic fantasy series, it was with the desire to instill that same sense of wonder in his readers. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.

Author Jeffery L KohanekMy name is Jeffrey L. Kohanek. I grew up in frigid Minnesota and moved to sunny Southern California fourteen years ago, where I currently live. I am married, and I have two children who are both in college. Among my favorite activities are: hiking, traveling, reading, spending time with my family, and playing the occasional video game.

When and why did you begin writing?

Like many others, I took the responsible route in college and graduated with an engineering degree rather than one in creative writing, although I loved it. When my children neared the end of their high school careers, I found time in my schedule that had previously been filled with their activities. That was when I decided to resurrect my passion for creative writing. Four years later, I have four published novels with two more releasing this year. I love being an author, and I intend to keep writing for many years.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I guess the moment came when I was offered a contract for my first book. It was published by a mid-sized press, and I have since reclaimed the rights and self-published the same book. However, the validation that someone else saw value in my writing flipped a switch inside my head and made it all seem so much more real.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

I currently have four books published, all set in the fantasy world of Issalia. A Warden’s Purpose, the first book of a new series set in the same world. Set seventeen years after a major war that destroyed half of the continent, the story is told through the eyes of a brother and sister. Here is a synopsis:

Two schools: One of magic and science, the other about military excellence.
A dangerous undercurrent flows within both…dark and deadly.

Everson is brilliant, ingenious, and broken. Cursed with a disability, he dreams of nothing more than being useful. Quinn is bold, defiant, and will do anything to protect her brother. When Everson is accepted to an academy of magic and engineering, Quinn enters a school of combat in order to join him in Fallbrandt. However, things within the fabled institutions are not what they seem. Beneath a mantra of good intentions and the objective of a better future, conspiracies lurk.

Quinn finds herself embroiled in a struggle she doesn’t understand, one that has dire consequences as her training shifts from difficult to deadly. Her relentless determination and will to survive might be enough if she only knew whom she could trust.

Within the other school, Everson learns about a dangerous power known as Chaos. Unable to wield this magic, he instead focuses his efforts of melding Chaos with science, dreaming of inventions that would shape the future. Perceptive, imaginative, and curious, his endeavors lead him to a revelation that could change the world…and then he discovers the truth.

What inspired you to write this book?

When I finished the Runes of Issalia trilogy, I felt that there were many more stories within the world I had created and characters that I had yet to explore. Everson and Quinn drive the story. I feel like they demanded it be told and I was merely a conduit to making that happen.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My prose tends more toward action and emotion, with tight worldbuilding and a limited narrative rather than trying to astound the reader with poetic verse. This keeps the pacing up and has worked well for me.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

A Warden’s Purpose is the first book in the Wardens of Issalia series. The title itself came through the book and was not set until I was almost finished with the first draft. In the end, the people who are recruited to be a Warden must have a purpose that drives them, something that makes them who they are while also suiting the overarching needs of the Wardens.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Inclusion. Many of my books feature inclusion or prejudice as an overarching theme. In this case, Everson’s disability may limit him physically, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a whole person or that he cannot be useful.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know or events in your own life?

I always include some personal experiences in my stories, but Everson’s tale is fully original, as is Quinn’s.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

In the early years, David Eddings and Raymond E. Feist were significant influences on me. More recently, Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss are two who authors whom I admire.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I would love to have Brandon Sanderson as a mentor. His BYU 318R courses on Youtube show how well he can break down a story in an analytical way and his support would be very helpful.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

J. Caleb designed my cover. I chose him because I am attracted to his style. He did a wonderful job taking my guidance and bringing images of Everson and Quinn to life.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I have three bits of advice to other writers:

1. Write. The more you do it, the better you get.
2. Editors are important and you MUST have someone qualified edit your work and make it the best it can be.
3. Lastly, share your writing. Authors are often afraid to do so, fearing that their work isn’t good enough. Don’t worry about that. If you’ve written a book, get it in front of other people for them to experience and to provide feedback. Not everyone will love it, but that’s fine.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I love, love, love my readers. I enjoy hearing your feedback and I read every review about my books. The positive reviews give me an emotional boost and feed my muse. The critical ones help make me a better writer. Also, don’t be afraid to email me.

A Wardens Purpose eCoverJeffrey L. Kohanek
Huntington Beach, CA

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A Warden’s Purpose

Cover Artist: J. Caleb
Publisher: Fallbrandt Press

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