Listen To Your Characters

characters in conversation

characters in conversation

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!
Ray Bradbury

The Writer’s Surprise Gift

Writer’s know when they are in the zone and the story flows. If you use an outline to hit the main beats of your story, you’ll know what you want to accomplish in the scene.
Your characters may be sitting on a park bench in the snow, digging a ditch as Nazi prisoners, chasing the bad guys, or any other scene you have imagined You begin a dialog between characters and all of a sudden they are saying things you hadn’t planned or considered.

Listen To The Characters

If you are into your story and know what makes your characters tick, when words start coming, listen. Your characters will add new dimension to the scene.
You already know to dispense with banalities–hello, it’s a great day, etc.–and get right to the conversation. Think of your dialog in the same way as the scene: start late, leave early.
Tweet: Think of your dialog in the same way as the scene: start late, leave early.
Dialogue that begins in media res (without preamble) is a strong way to begin a scene, drawing the reader in. Dialogue that ends early is a structured way to end a scene or chapter, often with a cliffhanger moment to keep the reader turning the page or, at the end, waiting for the next book in your series.

Add To The Story

As a storyteller, those unexpected words from a character can foreshadow a later moment in the story, add depth to both characters, complicate the plot, deepen the relationship within the story, and other story dimensions.
The benefit of having a rough outline is that as the dialog hints of story change you can make notes in the outline that further incorporate the discoveries as your characters speak. Those surprise moments from the characters often lead to other conversations later in the story.

Character Talk

In order for your characters to have conflict within their conversations, you need to know them inside and out. Know the backstory that is never mentioned that would prompt a character to think, respond, and say the words. Know how the two characters relate to each other with friendship, love, annoyance, hate, or unsuspecting naïveté.
The better you understand your characters, each one, the more surprising words will pop out unbidden. Then listen.

Zara Altair

Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Argolicus thinks he has retired, but he and his tutor, Nikolaos, are drawn into puzzles, politics, and murder.

Authors Go Wild with Free Books

May 2017 Book Promotion Crime Mysteries Thrillers Suspense

May Promotion!

A quick note to let you know the May promotion starts today!

Authors to Readers selected 20 authors in the Crime, Mystery, and Thriller genres. You know that’s a wide variety of books to read. Visit the promotion from today through May 12th for free novels and special promotions from each author.

Each author was personally invited and, then, vetted for quality.

Enjoy the reads. If you like the stories, show your appreciation and leave a review.

Forward this email on to your crime, mystery, and thriller loving friends. Share the joys of reading a favorite genre at a price you can’t beat–Free.

If you haven’t read The Used Virgin  or The Peach Widow this is your opportunity to read another Argolicus Mystery. The free version of The Peach Widow disappears at midnight, May 12, along with all the other specials. Be sure to visit today!



Character Change and Story Dynamic

The Death Star problem

Writing sequels…from Phill Barron

The Jobbing Scriptwriter

I was 10 when I first saw Return of the Jedi and, like the rest of the trilogy, loved it. It was the film I’d been waiting three years for and every frame of it etched itself onto my heart.

But even then, deep in my prepubescent lust for all things Star Wars, I recognised a problem … the second Death Star. The same thing again.

I didn’t know what a plot was, but I knew doing the same one twice was … well, a bit shit.

But it also kind of makes sense.

I’ve always found it weird in Batman comics when a supervillain almost succeeds in their nefarious schemes only to be thwarted at the last second by a combination of Batman’s awesomeness and pure dumb luck. It almost worked, if one variable had been different, if Batman had been one second longer defusing the bomb … different…

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More Mysteries for April

 Enter the world of Argolicus!

More Mysteries for You

Once your books are published, connecting with other authors is an excellent way to get your books in front of more people. The simplest way to do this is called cross-promotion. Join with one or several authors to promote each other’s books.

This month I joined with other crime writers. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t like mysteries. Here’s you chance to check out new writers in the mystery and crime genre.

Go to our April Crime Authors page to explore a variety of stories.
Along with The Peach Widow you’ll find more fun reads for free or low price. What better way to relax in this Spring Break time?

Fans of Argolicus may like these books:

A.K. Lakelett has a new Occupational Hazard series and the first book is The Good Riddance Project: A Project Management Mystery.

Cecelia Peartree offers the 5th in her Quest series with A Quest in Berlin. Reminiscent of the master Helen MacInnes, a couple plunges into danger in post-war Berlin.

Ryn Shell pairs two young girls in Australian history in Billabong Escape as an Aboriginal girl and a rich white girl become unlikely allies against inner-city crime.

Fans of female private investigators will love Judith Lucci’s Michaela MacPherson and her retired police dog Angel as they tackle international human trafficking in The Case of Dr. Dude.

There are more books, so head on over to the April Crime Authors page and find a book.

Don’t forget to tell your mystery-loving friends about this special promotion.

Independent authors rely on our readers for support. If you read any of the books please read a review. Retailers such as Amazon count reviews, the more review, the more a retailer features the book. That means authors like me are grateful for each and every review.

When you leave a review, you help other readers make a choice about purchasing the book.

Thanks again!


Get To The Story: The Beginning

Get to the story, tips for beginning a novel

L—d! said my mother, what is all this story about?
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman  Laurence Sterne

When readers begin your story, they want to know certain elements, and very soon. Gone are the days when the scenic, lingering beginning of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native will draw in a reader. In modern preference, readers want to know the genre, the protagonist, and the story right away.

New authors may struggle with introducing required story elements without getting to the story.

The other day I began reading a “suspenseful spy thriller.” Chapter One consisted of a finely detailed conversation “introducing” the main character in his everyday world but without one iota of suspense. The chapter was filled with finely detailed descriptions of the setting, the protagonist’s appearance including down-to-the-buttons attire description, tools used with experience, and backstory about a family member. I began to wonder if this was a romance presented in the guise of a thriller. If it had been billed that way I would not have purchased the book, much less started reading. OK, I’ll give the author a break. Maybe the story starts in the next chapter.

Nope! Chapter Two presented the “save the cat” details of the protagonist caring for an ailing family member and a long description of a native talent built to professional standards. Now I was curious: when does the story start?

Finally, in Chapter 3, the intrigue starts. The author had already lost me. My curiosity drove me to find where the story started but I had lost interest in the story. I stopped reading.

The Pitfalls of the Beginning

In the first few pages of your novel, you need to get the reader into the story. I am certain that the author of the spy thriller believed she had met story essentials by portraying the protagonist’s normal life, showing that he was empathetic, and illustrating his unique talent. In doing so, she left the story behind.

In a recent article literary agent Peter Miller described his pet peeve in opening pages of a novel:

I enjoy when writers can find a balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further.”
Peter Miller, PMA Literary and Film Management

Writers need to find the balance between the “accounting” and the initial intrigue that makes the reader wonder what will happen next. In order to get your reader to keep reading get them to care about the character and their story dilemma. Readers want a sense of this is only the beginning how is it going to get worse?

Other major novel beginning pitfalls:

  • The tone of the narrative immediately. Reassure the reader that the genre you promised is what is in the story.
  • Minimize descriptive details at the beginning. No laundry lists of features either of the protagonist or the setting. Sprinkle details as the story progresses.
  • A gratuitous hook that is there just for excitement but is not part of the story–often a sex scene.
  • Backstory – the protagonist thinking or dreaming about what happened before.
  • Adjective and adverb heavy sentences.

Start the Story

No matter how many books your read or formulas you consider for writing a story, at the beginning engage your reader. Reassure them that the story you promised feels like the genre they want, gets your protagonist in action right away, and delivers a dilemma that keeps them reading for more.

Zara Altair
Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Argolicus thinks he has retired, but he and his tutor, Nikolaos, are drawn into puzzles, politics, and murder.
She consults with a select group of writers as The Story Bodyguard.

Tips and Tools for Book Launch Success

book launch for a new book