Friday, September 30, 2016

Talented Jack Strandburg talks about Showing Character by Being Specific!

Show Character by Being Specific

There are arguably three basic ingredients to a work of fiction – Characters, Plot, and Setting.

You’ll find more information than you’ll ever need on all three. Since this blog addresses characters, at the time of this writing, I googled ‘Characterization,’ and returned 77,600,000 results.

Whether you believe characters, plot, or even setting is most important, I believe you cannot have one without the other two to write an interesting story.

You can profile the most interesting characters, but if nothing happens to them, you have no story. You also want something to happen in an interesting location. For example, the apparition of a Civil War soldier in a public mall would not create the same dramatic effect as if he appeared in a graveyard.

I went through a phase where I believed characters were the most critical component. (In my early days of writing, I was na├»ve and easily brainwashed). I developed a character profile consisting of over 250 rows in an Excel spreadsheet. Believing I had to know my main characters backwards and forwards before I could even consider writing a draft, I’d spend weeks determining how a character walked, sat, drank, ate, where he or she was from, in short, all the character’s sociological, psychological, geographical, and physical traits.

I eventually settled on a more basic and much shorter list, knowing if my story had no scene where my character dined, there was no reason to show how or even what, they liked to eat.

This brings me to the point of the blog.

One method I find effective is to be specific as to his or her actions and movements.

Specificity adds to the story without appearing as “fluff,” or “padding” for the sake of increasing word count, and is an effective way to fight writer’s block.

Consider this seven-word sentence. Tom Jones left home to go to college.

That sentence tells us little more about Tom other than he’s (we assume) at least 18 years old and (probably) graduated from high school.

Forgetting for the moment a physical description, you can tell the reader a lot about Tom just by filling in the blanks, and asking questions, starting with Who, What, When, Where, Why, How.

  1. Did Tom go with anyone? (Who)
  2. What did he take with him?
  3. When did he leave? (month, day, year, time, etc)
  4. Where did he leave from and where did he go?
  5. Why did he leave?
  6. How did he get to his destination?

Your seven-word sentence might become:

On the morning of August 21, 2015, Tom Jones stuffed three suitcases of clothes and personal items into the trunk of his 2002 Ford Civic, said goodbye to his parent’s home in Phoenix, Arizona, and began his three-day scheduled trip to Los Angeles, to study mechanical engineering at UCLA.

From the paragraph above, it sounds like Tom is planning to stay in Los Angeles for an extended period. We know he lived in Phoenix, Arizona, perhaps with his parents, and since the drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles is between five and six hours, depending on traffic, we know Tom is not planning to drive straight through. We also know what college he plans to attend, and has an interest in mechanical engineering.

The rewrite adds 42 words, but also provides potential for brainstorming, and can help avoid writers block.

  1. How does Tom plan to pay for tuition and books?
  2. Did he leave by choice or did his parents coerce him, or kick him out?
  3. Is Tom traveling alone? If not, with whom? Male or female?
  4. What will Tom do for money during the trip, and while in California?
  5. Since Tom is planning three days for the trip, what other plans does he have? Is he meeting someone? If so, who? Is he going sightseeing? If so, where? Do his plans work out as desired?
  6. What does he plan to do for a living?

I’m sure you can come up with many more questions, but depending on the answers to the above six, Tom’s character, the plot, and the setting can be worked in a number of ways, including change the genre of the story.

Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid (A Solstice Western)
Clarence Flannery was luckier than most men his age to discover his life’s ambition, particularly in the unpredictable years just following the Civil War. Born with an unmatched skill to play pool, he left his home in Kansas when he turned twenty-six and traveled throughout the Southwestern United States to make his mark as a legendary pool hustler, with every intention of amassing a fortune in the process.
Clarence needed help for both support and protection, and recruited James Skinner as his partner, along with nine other highly-skilled pool players to assist him in his quest.
Wanting to be included in the same sentence as Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great, Clarence changed his name to Hustle Henry, Skinner became the Cue-Ball Kid, and the eleven men would go down in history as The Hole-in-the-Table-Bunch, known far and wide for hustling wannabe pool sharks out of their life savings.
All goes to plan and life has a rosy and profitable outlook, but Henry and his men want more than what pool halls and saloons offer, so they decide to challenge the more affluent clientele on a riverboat.
Initially, the venture proves profitable, but the millionaire tycoon and owner of the fleet of riverboats, takes exception, and intends to bring down the Bunch and thrust Henry and The Kid into a life of destitution.
Taking along the Kid’s girlfriend, Penelope Henderson, the Kid and Henry flee to South America – where there will be a final showdown.
Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid is a fiction work of Western humor with an interesting and amusing cast of characters.
Buy Links

The Monogram Killer (A Solstice Mystery)
When Julia Ballard meets Kelly Nichols, she believed he was the man of her dreams. Julia’s best friend has doubts, and her investigation into Nichols’s life encourages her suspicions. Despite Jessica’s warnings, Julia is convinced he is sincere and cares for her.  Nichols is hiding secrets from a legacy he cannot escape, and Julia is the key to a sinister plan. When two homicide detectives combine forces to search for a serial killer, it becomes a race to see who accomplishes their goal first.
Buy Links

A Head in the Game (A Solstice Mystery - coming soon)
Chicago Homicide Inspector Aaron Randall faces his toughest case while dealing with doubts about his career and the potential of a romantic relationship.
Jared Prescott, a Heisman Trophy winner and Vice President of a large and respected pharmaceutical company, is found murdered at a seedy motel. The investigation uncovers multiple suspects with multiple motives. When the body of his close friend and informant is found stabbed to death in a deserted alley, followed by the murders of two women, Randall suspects a conspiracy.
Randall is hamstrung during the investigation by pressure from the commissioner down the chain of command because the president of the pharmaceutical company, anxious for resolution to Jared Prescott’s murder, is a close friend with a Senator whose sights are set on the Oval Office.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

It's Everybody Reads YA Sunday - Hike Up Devil's Mountain

Ten-year old Andy Thompson disobeys his mother and sneaks into the basement of an old abandoned house that’s due for demolition. He stumbles upon a mysterious box under an old cabinet. And his troubles begin when he looks inside.

The Crew brothers, twelve-year old Jason, and ten-year old Danny, also find their way to the basement. New to town, Jason has established himself as the school bully. A struggle ensues between Andy and Jason, and the bully ends up as a toad.

Somehow, the boys must reverse the magical spell. And that means hiking up the dreaded Devil’s Mountain to find the only person that can help them.  Hike up Devil’s Mountain is fast paced, lots of action and has some scary, hair-raising turns on the way! There is a surprise at the end, you just don’t see coming.  The lives of all three boys seem destined to change forever, if they survive…

Excerpt from Hike Up Devil’s Mountain

Jason was getting closer to Andy.  His voice hissed through his teeth.  “You must think we are some kind of stupid.  We aren’t like the hicks who live in this town and if you think we would even begin to believe some story about an old witch who lived here, then you better think again!”  Jason pushed Andy hard against the wooden cabinet.
            Andy shut his eyes waiting for the first blow.  Nothing happened.  He squinted open his left eye and saw Jason’s head cocked to one side, trying to see behind Andy’s back.  “What have you got there, Andy Pandy?”
            Uh oh, the glowing stick.  Andy wasn’t about to give that up.  “Nothing,” he told him, trying to back away but there was no place to go.
            “Oh I think there is something,” Jason sneered.
            “It’s mine!” Andy shouted.  “You will have to do your worst if you think you are taking this from me!”
“No problem,” Jason said, lunging forward.  Andy tried to fake him out, pretending to run one way and then the other.  That didn’t work.  That never worked!   Jason grabbed Andy’s arm that held the stick and tried to grab it.  Something was going to break, and Andy wasn’t sure if it would be the stick or his arm.  They both fell and were rolling on the floor.  Andy knew he was losing this battle.  No matter how hard he held on, he could feel his new-found treasure start to slip out of his grasp.
            “Jason, stop it!”  Danny shouted.  “You’re acting like a big dumb toad!”
            “Yeah…you’re … acting… like…a…toad!” Andy gasped between each word.
            The stick exploded into a flash of light and then the fight was over.  Andy jumped up, trying to fill his lungs with air.  What happened?  Danny came running over to where Andy stood.  “Where’s Jason?”  Andy couldn’t answer because he couldn’t catch his breath.  Danny yelled, “Jason, where are you?  Quit messing around!”
            His chest still heaving, Andy stammered, “I don’t know.  I . . . don’t know what just happened.” 
            They both looked to the floor.  Under one of the boxes was what looked like a pair of pants.  “Jason!” Danny hurried to lift the box.  No Jason — just his pants.  Lying close by were his nice Nike shoes, socks and a short distance away was his shirt.  “What did you do?” he yelled at Andy.
            “Nothing!  I didn’t do anything!  I . . . don’t know!”  Andy had no answers. 
            Danny tried again.  “Jason,” he screamed his name.  “Where are you?”

ebook -

print -

audio - 

I write for all ages, from the early reader to adults.  My books range from pictures books for the little ones, to fantasy, time-travel adventures for ages 9 to 13. I also write adult stories, including a family drama and contemporary, paranormal and historical westerns romances, under P. A. Estelle.

I was a school secretary for 21 years.  My husband and I moved to our retirement home in Kingman, AZ, on very rural 54 acres, living on solar and wind only. 
More about my books can be found in the following links: